Saturday, 4 October 2014

Introducing The Rugby Football League To The Existence Of Fans With Disabilities..........

This time next week I will be on my way to Manchester for the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. It’s Saints v Wigan. One of the great rivalries. Up there with Liverpool v United, Benn v Eubank and Ken Barlow v Mike Baldwin. The fact that the Super League title is on the line makes it all the more unmissable.

On Thursday night Saints took their place in the Grand Final with a 30-12 win over Catalan Dragons. Tickets for the Grand Final went on sale the following day to season ticket holders only. The Saints website proclaimed that season ticket holders would have all of Friday and Saturday to secure their tickets before they were to go on general sale on Sunday. Only right and proper. You’ve followed the team throughout the season and forked out a fortune for the privilege so you should have first dibs on the Grand Final seats. Only this does not apply if you happen to be a wheelchair user.

I am a season ticket holder, and have been since the club moved to Langtree Park at the start of the 2012 season. I’ve had to watch Josh Perry in driving rain and sub-zero temperatures. Yet when I rang the club to book my tickets I was informed that the RFL (Rugby Football League) had not sent the club any tickets for wheelchair accessible seating in the West Stand, where the majority of Saints fans will be housed on the night. All they had was ticketing in the East Stand among what would later that day be confirmed as the Wigan end after they edged out Warrington to take their place. They advised me to ring the RFL ticketing hotline to see if they could help.

They could not. They advised me that there was no wheelchair accessible seating in the West Stand available. But I’m a season ticket holder, I said. Where is my right to secure my place during all of Friday and Saturday along with the rest of the season ticket holders? I was told basically that I have no such right, that they are there to sell tickets to any old bugger who phones up to ask for them, and that they have been selling them all year. Having no choice at this point I managed to get tickets in what the RFL claim is a ‘neutral’ area which they tried to sweeten up by describing as the ‘ability suite’. This means that me and my friends won’t have to queue for our drinks but oh, by the way, you can’t drink inside a football stadium anyway. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to spend 80 minutes with me while Saints are playing Wigan in a game of this magnitude will know anyway that even if you could, my nerves will be far too shredded to even contemplate the idea of leaving my seat to buy a drink. All that will be done in the bars around Manchester before and afterwards.

I emailed both the RFL and St Helens RFC to suggest to them that they might not be treating wheelchair users fairly. And that if it is not possible for a season ticket holder of one of the participating clubs to book tickets among his fellow supporters on the very day they become available to season ticket holders only, then Old Trafford is an unsuitable venue for the event. I don’t have the statistics to hand but it all suggests to me that Old Trafford is palpably failing to meet the minimum requirement of wheelchair accessible seating available which is now law in English football stadia. If I had been trying to book late having ignored the advice published on the Saints website then I would understand their position. But I didn’t. I did exactly as I was advised and was blatantly treated differently and unfairly. The RFL tried to hide behind the idea that the Grand Final is for all Super League fans and that they want an ‘eclectic mix’ of fans to generate the atmosphere. But surely the participating clubs should be given the opportunity to meet their fans’ ticketing needs before the rest of the rugby league supporting community get their hands on them? All of which reminds me of an exchange in The Simpsons featuring Lisa Simpson and her dance teacher when Lisa is overlooked for a part in the production;

Teacher; I'm sorry, Lisa, but giving everyone an equal part when they're clearly not equal is called what, again, class?

Class: Communism!

Beautifully, the RFL advisor who I spoke with and who took part in the subsequent email exchange is called Chris Burns. Stop chortling and saying ‘Smithers…..’ at the back. Mr Burns has advised me to write to Mr Ralph Rimmer who, aswell as being on something pompously called the Executive Board of the RFL has a beard of many colours. Perhaps he is trying to promote an eclectic mix of beard colours to appease all rugby league fans.

I will write to Mr Rimmer with absolutely no hope of getting anything done differently in the future. They will pay me lip service, perhaps follow Merseytravel’s lead and send me a £1 voucher to be spent on something only they offer, and then go back to their firm conviction that seating arrangements and the fan experience as a whole are only important when applied to people who can walk into a stadium.

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