Leigh Sports Village stadium is seen before the game Manchester United Women v Lewes Women, Women's Championship football match, Leigh Sports Village, Leigh, UK - 11 May 2019 Photo: Jon Super for The FA

Manchester United home games an accessible experience for all

Looking around Leigh Sports Village before any Manchester United game, I always find the make-up of the crowd quite striking.

There are many families with young children, especially girls, who are hopefully being inspired by watching the team while you can’t miss the Barmy Army, who add some bite to proceedings.

In amongst the crowd, there are also many people with disabilities or who use crutches, like myself. This accessibility is one of the things that makes women’s football so special, and it’s why I cherish going to matches.

The simple act of attending football matches helped transform my mood and made me feel much
more positively about life. I’ve been unable to attend men’s games for a while, as I’ve been suffering
some mobility issues since October 2017, following an illness. While this has significantly limited my
walking ability, it is not deemed great enough to allow me a blue badge. This means that attending a
game at a full Old Trafford would be a very stressful experience, requiring lots of careful planning
and probably a couple expensive taxi rides. It is something I have been avoiding but plan to attempt
later this season (Coronavirus permitting).

Comparatively, going to the Leigh Sports Village is a far easier and less stressful experience for me, and
those with mobility issues. We can park very close to the ground and walk up without worry and without
being jostled by crowds of thousands of people. The stadium has some great facilities and is very
accessible, the only downside is the lack of public transport routes, which means that I’m reliant upon
my friend driving.

United tend to average between 1,000 to 2,000 supporters mostly sat in the West Stand and there is an exciting atmosphere during games. I think everyone in the crowd feels the excitement of this newly-formed side gaining ground and popularity. In some ways, it feels more special than supporting a big, worldwide club with millions of supporters. It’s also clear that the players really appreciate the support, they always come over to fans and take pictures after the game. I find that the players are all approachable and relatable to in a
way that is no longer true in the men’s game.

There’s an ongoing discussion within the FA Women’s Super League about playing in bigger stadiums. This season we’ve seen games at Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which have seen crowds of up to 38,000. There was also the Manchester Derby at The Etihad Stadium which I thankfully managed to get to.

I find myself in an interesting position regarding this. I want the players to have more visibility and have larger crowds attending the games. They are professional athletes playing at a high level who deserve more fans but at the same time, I feel that as numbers do hopefully grow and clubs start to play in bigger stadiums, I’ll miss the intimacy, camaraderie, and accessibility of the early days of Manchester United.

By Daniel Fine

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