WFC Enables Members Meeting - 12th April 2022 Meeting Minutes

Held in the Players Lounge, Vicarage Road Stadium

Present:

WFC Enables Officers

David Butler Chairman Phil Nightingale Vice Chairman Gary Armstrong Social Secretary

Philip Linnegar Secretary Iain Lamb Treasurer

WFC Officers

Dave Messenger WFC EDI Lead

Simona Rakovic-Irish WFC EDI & Disability Access Officer

Welcome from the Chair

Firstly may I welcome you all to our Members Meeting and secondly thanks to Dave Messenger and WFC for hosting our Meeting.

And a special warm welcome to our guest this evening - Watford Legend -Nigel Gibbs.

Great pleasure to congratulate both Dave Messenger and Simona Rakovic-Irish on their recent promotions.

The whole meeting thanked Dave for supporting Enables so effectively and professionally over many years. We will miss his every day influence.

Minutes of the last meeting - Matters arising :-

TV screens have been installed in the LGT stand but not all the information from the main screens can yet be shown because of technical problems with cabling . A solution is being sought.

The extra "P" rails have been installed.

Digital ticking - Although WFC would prefer all supporters to use digital tickets in exceptional cases, particularly affecting some elderly or disabled supporters, plastic cards will be issued by the Ticket Office.

No other matters arose.

Chairman’s Report

Unusually I am going to start with Membership.

I have to be realistic with our membership numbers, in that WFC and Dave Messenger in particular have done such a good job of meeting the needs of the disabled supporters over the years that we will have to strive harder to maintain that level of support of the fans because we are satisfying the disabled football community.

Often people only join organisations to make sure their complaints are heard!

However, I am pleased to say that our membership – 197 - 4 more than last year plus if you count in carers and assistants Enables represents the majority of Watford disabled supporters.

As ever there is a continual need to promote Enables Membership as we strive to represent ALL WFC disabled supporters. Please promote us at every opportunity. The average age of fans is increasing which gives us a marketing opportunity.

You know my mantra - If you see anyone with a slight limp get them to join!

According to my equivalent in other disabled supporter’s associations, large attendances usually mean lots of gripes and lists of problems.

Thank you, Watford FC, for your continued support and consideration for your disabled supporters which is much valued. Other PL clubs visiting our ground are also appreciative of the attention they receive. I very rarely get any adverse comments usually praise!

Stadium Parking – Becoming more difficult with development behind the Rookery stand eating up the disabled parking places.

Our stadium is very hemmed by the hospital and residential properties.

WFC have now secured the whole of the Chater School parking for the next 4 years but it will not compensate for the recent loss.

Away end safety WFC and other stadiums

I have always felt that my responsibilities are not just for Enables members while they are inside Vicarage Road but also for their safety and easy of access when they visit other stadiums.

Aston Villa – fully opened away wheelchair area which is now situated in with the away fans – added safety new gates – more improvements to come

Gary, thankyou for your valuble input

Crystal Palace – difficult older stadium but if you look on LPF website the complaints go back 18 years! Able bodied fans stand up through out the match obsrtructing the view. I have raised all the issues directly with the owner Steve Parish making it clear that the views from away disabled fans are unacceptable .

Be interested when Watford visit if , as suggested, he has netted off the two rows of seats in front of the wheelchairs. I know you will tell me!

Let me explain how I am dealing with these issues and in relation to - Permitted standing

Recently the Government have agreed that Licenced areas for standing can be applied for and be operational by January 2022.

5 clubs applied plus Wolves already had the railed seating.

I have sent out an email to you all requesting feedback on your experiences in these stadiums selected for the experiment – copy in the meeting papers.

Please let me have as much input as possible to send to the Sports Ground Safety Authority who are monitoring the impact of the change.

Martyn Henderson CEO SGSA will be attending my Premier League Disability Advisory Group (DAG) meeting at West Ham on 20th April.

Permitted Standing is unanimously supported by DAG for the increased safety aspects preventing crowd surge but with the strong caveat of protecting sight lines for disabled supporters. However, the advent of permitted standing appears to have given the green light to standing in all parts of the ground – home and away, that has not been experienced in recent decades since Hillsborough.

In the SGSA’s February Newsletter the issue of deteriorating crowd behaviour was highlighted.

Standing up in front of the disabled supporters in wheelchairs and ambulant fans, who cannot stand and where they are not in an elevated position, ruins their view and the enjoyment of the game.

In the case of Crystal Palace I believe that, as these disabled fans are not afforded unobstructed views that they have paid for and are entitled to, this is clear discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, as the affected clubs cannot claim to have made a “reasonable adjustment” under Section 20 to deal with these genuine concerns.

EHRC have committed to providing me with a legal opinion has to whether discrimination has occurred and if so they will take action. I have also asked them whether the “obstructed” seats and wheelchair positions should be excluded from qualifying for a club’s ASG Table 4 compliance.

The photographs and videos you have sent me of the away end problems provided the evidence I needed and have been submitted to EHRC. Our Enables Group really can make a difference to overall safety and accessibility. I must thank Gary and Paul in particular for their continued input.

Accessible Stadia Guidelines are being revised – planned to be published by the end of year

Ruth Hopkins of LPF is compiling ASG2 which my group, as one of the consulting associations, will gain access to the draft in late May and will review it in detail and report back to LPF and the Premier League.

There are three particular areas which will affect all disabled supporters where clarification from the current version is important -

Firstly - What is meant by “elevation” Currently there is no definition so clubs can ignore this important requirement.

Secondly - For ambulant supporters – there is no definition as to what constitutes “extra legroom” so again many clubs don’t bother providing any.

Thirdly - that where stadiums split the supporters - home and away - that disabled facilities are available in proportion to the split (usually 10%) Often the clubs meet the overall facility requirement for their stadium but the split favours the disabled home supporters. That could also be classified as discriminatory.

I am delighted to say that our club will not be affected as they already meet all the revised requirements.

Let me pass around a couple of copies of our input to the revision so you can see some of the graphics of the changes we are proposing.

Lastly an apology from me - that Enables were not represented at the first Forum meeting as it was announced at such short notice and I was away. We will be represented at Forums in the future by one of our committee members.

David Butler

Chair Enables Group


Minutes of this meeting :-

From the floor #1: Aston Villa match. WFC Supporter in a wheelchair was situated with with AV fans as the new arrangements were being safety checked and a limited number allowed on the new away wheelchair platform. David reported that additional safety gates have now been installed.

From the floor #2: Liverpool match. WFC Supporter noted raised wheelchair area was occupied by a number of children. Dave gave an example of why WFC occasionally do this with unsold wheelchair bays at away games, regarding hidden or other disabilities.

From the floor #3: WFC Supporter noted toilets had been occupied by people who did not appear to be disabled. Dave explained toilets are usually secured and accessed by Radar Key and that staff are not able to challenge supporters asking to use Radar Keys. Dave List, disabled liaison steward in this area on matchdays, will keep an eye out for the people identified by the supporter.

Dave Messenger's Watford FC update

Parking. Accessible car parking is available at Chater School. The Lower Hospital car park and Occupation Road car parking provision ends after Burnley vs Watford match.

Leicester and Everton games arrangements are being finalised,and will be announced. If the arrangements work well, they may continue on to future seasons. All of the very limited parking available to supporters is used for accessible parking. Parking will continue to be kept under regular review.

From the floor #4: Recent home match. Watford Supporter's car had a flat tyre and flat spare tyre. Who would be available to assist after the match? Dave replied that CSP Stewards would always check public areas at the end of each match.

WFC and Arsenal: The Level Playing Fields video is on the front page of our website www.wfcenables.co.uk to show how premier league disabled groups work together.

Staff changes. Dave is taking up a new role for the Club, EDI Lead. Simona will take over as Disability Access Officer. Dave explained that his new responsibilities were exciting and remembered WFCE members he had worked with and helped since 2015, including Tom Sharkey and John Young.

Social Media: David asked for a volunteer to coordinate and edit the WFCE social media. Gary Armstrong has taken on the role.

From the floor #5: Travel on coaches. WFC Supporter reported comments made, and questioned why supporters now had to take an allocated seat, rather than chose their own. Simona responded that following some incidents on board the coaches, an assigned seat allows for an investigation to take place later. This answer was accepted.


From the floor #6: Supporters missed the Watford Open Day. Dave gave examples of the why holding the event in that guise had become too dangerous, but noted that Junior Hornet events are good for players to meet young fans, for example.

Any Other Business

There was no other business.

Guest Speaker: Nigel Gibbs

Nigel started by explaining that his Mum was disabled, and he appreciated the work of WFC and WFCE. It was great to be back, as his Father had been the Club's Maintenance Manager. He still lives locally, but works at Spurs coaching the under 17s.

Nigel talked about an enjoyable career at Watford, with many of those years with Graham Taylor: He brought the team to the community and the community to the team. Everyone has a personal GT story, and Nigel shared some uplifting stories of his own.

Over the years, Nigel had also worked for Ray Lewington, as Reserves Manager, and later Assistant Manager. The best footballer he played with was John Barnes.

From the floor #6: How does a world of social media compare to years ago? Nigel felt social media may be a distraction. Players have to be careful: Social media and print media bring pressures, that come with the territory and superstar wages.

From the floor #7: Joining football clubs at an early age place a big commitment on a young person and their families. He thought that they should not be signed on until 12 years old. Nigel commented that the release from contracts and the transition from their club appears to have improved when young players are not kept on.

Thanks and Close

Meeting closed by David at 9.00pm.