Level Playing Field: Stephen and Morgan’s Story

As part of Level Playing Field’s Week of Action, we chatted to Stephen Parry - a lifelong Wanderers fan, season ticket holder and father of Morgan. Morgan, like his dad, is a huge fan, and is also a disabled supporter and ambassador of the charity.

Stephen spoke about their collective experiences on a matchday, how the facilities at the University of Bolton Stadium are useful to their family, Morgan’s involvement in Level Playing Field and some of the improvements they hope to see for disabled fans at sports stadiums.

How did you become a Bolton Wanderers fan?

I was born and brought up in Bolton. My parents lived on Bromwich Street so you couldn’t be anything other than a Bolton Wanderers fan, because Bromwich Street was where Bolton Wanderers’ training ground was when they were at Burnden Park!

When did Morgan start coming to the games?

Morgan came to his first game when he was about seven years old. The club were very welcoming. When he was younger, he was very sensitive to sudden and loud noises. That’s how we got a place in the UK Healthcare Suite, because one of the advantages of that was the sound wasn’t so intense. My father is 94 and I have another son, Rhys, who is 9. Daniel Scott, the club's Disability Liaison Officer, and his team were also able to move them to be with us. It may seem like a simple thing but it made a big difference.

Tell us about Morgan’s disability

Morgan’s diagnosis is in the world of cerebral palsy and this also has a progressive dimension to it. It affects his whole body – he needs 24 hour care, he has to be fed, he can’t eat himself or drink himself without help. Communication is an issue but he now has a device that uses eye gaze technology, so he types using his eyes. Physically, he has always been a wheelchair user. He doesn’t have any control upper or lower body so he is in a manual chair. He has an escort or a carer with him at all times to get from A to B.

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What is your usual matchday routine when you come to games at the University of Bolton Stadium?

We create more time. I have a wheelchair accessible vehicle so we drive to games. With our season tickets, we get a parking pass that allows us to be on the lower concourse which is near the entrance to the UK Healthcare Suite. We can avoid the worst of the weather to get into the stadium! We meet up with a few friends before the game, we get a programme and then a steward, Tom, greets us as we get into the UK Healthcare Suite.

The UK Healthcare Suite is pretty unique as a facility in the country as it has a glass front, so it muffles the sound but there is live sound piped in. The Suite is great because you get a really good elevated view. The other thing is, you don’t get an interrupted view. One of major issues for wheelchair users are sight lines but you just don’t get that issue at Bolton Wanderers. People below can stand as high as they can and they will never interrupt your viewing. That’s a really big bonus.

How did Morgan become a Level Playing Field Ambassador?

Morgan did two weeks work experience at Bolton Central when he was at school. As part of that project, Morgan looked at the accessibility issues at the stadium and it was then that he became aware of Level Playing Field as an organisation. They campaign on access to live sport for disabled people. And it’s not just wheelchairs users, that’s an important thing. It’s all disabilities they address; sight, hearing, autism, colour blindness, mental health. It’s across all disabilities.

Over time, Morgan would tweet reports on his experiences at games to Level Playing Field. Together, we’ve also done presentations on our experiences at conferences and we did one for Level Playing Field’s sister organisation, CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe), in Bilbao. They then made Morgan an ambassador about four years ago and the involvement just kept going.

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What change has Morgan helped to drive at the University of Bolton Stadium?

Morgan quite often becomes the person to trigger some changes. For example, Morgan started to express a desire to travel with the fans to away games. We asked if we could go in the supporters’ coach and the club said yes but explained the coaches weren’t accessible. We gave it a go anyway to see if Morgan would enjoy the experience and we decided yes – we would like this to be a more regular thing. It’s another fan experience.

Danny and the team then changed the contract with the coaches to make sure at least one coach would be wheelchair accessible. There was then a period of time where Morgan travelled on the coaches with the fans. It’s that being part of a group – not necessarily having to be in the disabled mini bus. Tiny little things emerged from that. Morgan became friends with another fan on the bus who, every game, would buy Morgan a programme and a pin badge. We’d pay him back but it became a little routine. That wouldn’t have happened if Morgan hadn’t been on that accessible coach. It’s those tiny, ordinary inclusive things.

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What does accessibility to live sport mean to Morgan and your family?

On one level, it’s no different for Morgan and our family than it is for any other family. It’s the pattern of the week, the ups and downs of supporting a team. It’s the shared experience that families have.

And the other thing is away games. It’s going to see the game but often it’s about seeing the place. I took Morgan to the Brazil World Cup, to the Euros in France and the World Cup in Russia. Football for Morgan, and for me, is an adventure.

What improvements would you like to see at stadiums for disabled fans?

Because Morgan is completely dependent in terms of care; eating, drinking, personal care and he has no mobility at all, he needs toilets called Changing Places toilets. We have to do a lot of planning around that. I have an app that tells me where these changing facilities are but there are only around 1,500 in the country. I’d like to see that change. Sometimes we travel to away games the night before if I know there is no Changing Places facility at the stadium we’re going to. You can visit new places and make it in more than just a trip to the game but there are some facilities you just wish ideally were there.

Level Playing Field also do a lot around staff and stewarding training. Our experience is that this is good at the Wanderers but it can be an issue at some other grounds. Since lockdown, the awareness seems to be an issue – it’s something to think about.

Our thanks to Stephen to chatting to us as part of Level Playing Field’s Weeks of Action.

We are continually looking to improve our facilties and accessibililty for disabled fans at the University of Bolton Stadium. We look forward to working with Level Playing Field later in the year to look into this further. 

If you would like to find out more about the work of Level Playing Field, please visit their website here.

You can also find out more about the facilities available to disabled fans at the University of Bolton Stadium here.

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