Disability team are an absolute credit to Argyle

By Chris Girdler, Publisher of the Plymouth Magazine

Like thousands of Plymouth Argyle supporters I was really looking forward to the start of the new season back in League One. But just days before our first home match against much-fancied Charlton Athletic I ended up in A&E with a dislocated and broken ankle and a fractured fibula.

It meant an initial spell in plaster, followed by surgery at Derriford and then two months in another (appropriately green) cast which meant I had to rely on crutches and a wheelchair to get around.

I was forced to follow Argyle’s fortunes on radio and TV as I recovered from the operation – but by the end of August I was getting increasingly frustrated at missing out on match days.

As a season ticket holder for many years in the Lyndhurst I decided to contact the club to see if there was any way that I could get to future home matches, despite being in a wheelchair.

The response was immediate and positive. I was put in touch with the club’s disability liaison officer Steph Barker, who could not have been more helpful.

Like most able-bodied supporters I was only vaguely aware of the facilities for disabled spectators in Home Park. Steph explained that, along with my pal Les Walters – a fellow-season ticket holder and temporary wheelchair operative – we could sit in the stand reserved for fans with disabilities.

The disabled section is located between the Devonport End and the Mayflower Stand and offers a great view of the pitch. Better still it is fully accessible for wheelchair users.

Problem solved…but as if that was not enough Steph not only sorted out places for Les and I in the disabled section, but also arranged for a car parking space in the ground so that I could be wheeled in without too much difficulty.

It was then that I came into contact with Argyle’s disability ambassadors – a small team of experienced people specially chosen to help disabled supporters and their carers on match days. The decision to introduce the ambassadors at the start of this season came after discussions between the club and PADSA – the Plymouth Argyle Disabled Supporters Association.

Two of the ambassadors are husband and wife Paul and Nikki Francis, along with Chris Foster – all of whom are qualified St John Ambulance first aiders.

I had the pleasure of being looked after by Steph, Nikki and Paul for the next few home games – and they simply could not have been more attentive or helpful.

As I progressed over the weeks from my wheelchair to crutches and then to a support boot, the ambassadors were always on hand to make sure that the matchday experience was an enjoyable one.

Nikki and Paul had both been regular St John Ambulance volunteers at Home Park for a number of years when Steph asked them if they would be willing to become disability ambassadors.

Nikki said: “When Steph approached us to take on the role, we didn’t hesitate. It’s a real pleasure to be able to help people in different ways – whether it is assisting them from their car or ensuring that they are comfortable and have everything they need during the match.”

Paul said: “Thanks to a joint effort by the club, PADSA and the Green Taverners, we now have a PADSA lounge located at the back of the Mayflower Stand. The portakabin was installed in time for the start of the new season and is a safe place for disabled supporters and their carers.

“They can relax in the warm and watch football on the TV before taking their place in the disabled section,” added Paul.

The lounge has kitchen facilities which are used by PADSA for their monthly coffee mornings.

Fully accessible disabled toilet facilities were also funded by the club, PADSA and the Green Taverners for the start of the season.

Steve Helley, chair of PADSA, said: “The lounge has been a godsend and is a great facility for our members and their carers. This, combined with the introduction of the disability ambassadors has been a huge boost and underlines the club’s willingness to meet the needs of disabled supporters.”

Steve said that PADSA, which has 300 members, have been in detailed discussions with the Argyle directors about facilities for the disabled in the new Mayflower Grandstand.

“The board have been very supportive and we are optimistic that the new grandstand will be a beacon for disabled supporters,” he added.

For more information on PADSA go to www.padsa.co.uk

 

First published in the Plymouth Magazine – December 2017

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