Being the parents to a boy with cerebral palsy, we are well versed in making arrangements ahead of visiting any establishment that we’ve not been to before. We try and give our son a rich and varied range of experiences, but we’d not been anywhere with a crowd of 60,000 people with him before, so out first trip to the Emirates Stadium was always going to pose a challenge. On Saturday 19th February, for the game against Brentford, we made the dream of seeing Arsenal play live at the Emirates Stadium a reality.
Tom is 8 years old and uses a Kaye Walker to assist his mobility. He’s been an Arsenal fan all of his life as he comes from a line of Gooners and is a passionate and knowledgeable football supporter in general. For one reason or another we’d previously watched matches together at the homes of Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth and Havant and Waterlooville, but this trip was on a whole other level.
Booking the tickets
In order to get tickets to watch Arsenal you need to be a member. Adults need to be at least Red Members and children need to be Junior Gunners. We signed him up as a JG and when his membership card finally arrived we called to book some tickets. I spent a lot of time on hold and spoke to a few different people. Everyone I spoke to in the hour long (lots of time on hold/waiting) phone call was very friendly and wanted to help. The trouble was, they all told me slightly different things. The (very) long and the short of it was that he had the wrong kind of Junior Gunners membership. He was meant to have a Purple one. Purple membership is for disabled supporters. It couldn’t just be transferred though, we had to fill in some forms and provide evidence. No problem, just a little time consuming. Sadly though, these took another month+ to be verified, so more games missed. It was only when I chased it up that they then asked me for the information that I’d sent the previous month, so I forwarded them the same email, to the same address. They apologised and everything was approved pretty quickly.
It was at this point that Jacqueline from the disability team got involved. She emailed a few times and asked and answered a whole load of questions. Finally, she called me to book the tickets to make sure everything was exactly how we needed. She was/is great and a real asset to Arsenal Football Club.
One of the really important things that are offered to disabled members that need it, is the opportunity to park at the stadium. This was crucial in making this whole experience possible because if we had to go on the Tube it would have been considerably more challenging.
I’d read that I had to arrive before 2pm (3pm kick off) because of road closures and the like. As it was the boy’s first game, we wanted to get there early to have a look around and get some food. So we arrived at midday. It turns out we weren’t allowed in until 12:30pm because we’re not diamond members. So we waited. In the car. Looking at the crowd building.
We were waved through at 12:30pm and the man outside the entrance asked to see our tickets, he asked if we were going straight up or leaving the stadium. I explained that we wanted to visit the shop and see the statues so he said he wouldn’t scan the tickets or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. Helpful.
We drove though and found the area we were meant to park. Once we’d sorted ourselves out, we found the nearest member of staff and asked how we get out. He searched our bag, put a tag on it and told us to take a lift upstairs. He was a kind and friendly man, but his advice turned out to not be the most helpful.
Taking the lift up to the ground floor, we found ourselves in a stadium that was not yet open to the public and no way of getting out. I asked how we get out and was repeatedly told that, ‘once you’re in, you’re in.’ Not ideal as that meant we wouldn’t see the stadium from the outside. Wouldn’t see the statues. Wouldn’t see the Armoury. Wouldn’t drink in the pre-game atmosphere.
One member of staff took pity on us and tried to help. He spent a few minutes on a red phone talking to someone (security HQ maybe or possibly Batman) and eventually he came up with a plan. I asked why we couldn’t just go out of the the fire exit, he said, ‘you just can’t, don’t ask why’. We both laughed. Then he found someone with a special pass/key/clearance who opened an airlock for us, which released us outside. It was absolutely pissing it down. I suspect security protocols were broken for our benefit, so that was nice, but it would have been better if there was just a simple way to leave the carpark and the staff in the carpark knew what it was.
We ate a phenomenal pizza at Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria on Hornsey road and then headed to the shop. Busy, tight spaces are always a challenge for us, but once people clock Tom’s walker, they generally give him space. The club shop (the Armoury) an hour before kick off is always going to be busy and challenging, but it’s an important part of part of the match day experience for anyone, let alone an 8 year old at his first game, so it had to be done.
We had two objectives. Tom needed a scarf and some dry socks – it really was very wet outside. The scarf bit was easy, they are all over the shop. Socks were a bit more tricky. We asked a member of staff, he said, ‘they are down that way I think’. The next member of staff said, ‘I don’t think we do them.’ The third guy said, ‘I think they are this way, follow me.’ We found some socks. Guy number 3 rocks – when you need socks.
There was a massive queue, which was well managed. We joined the back of the queue and within a few seconds we were approached by a member of staff who invited us to follow her as, she explained that, we had ‘priority’. She led us a little way up the queue, but we were actually keen to see the merchandise that was on offer through the rest of the shop that you pass in the queue. Consequently, to her surprise, we declined the queue-jump option and lined up with everyone else. She said, ‘ok, but I’m around, so if you need me, let me know.’ A lovely and extremely helpful lady. We eventually got to the till and paid and were given a free copy of Ray Parlour’s book. Happy days.
Entering the ground
This bit was pretty simple. We went to join the line but one of the stewards spotted us quickly and ushered us to the airlock entrance. My printed ticket and iPhone wallet ticket didn’t scan properly on the door scanner, so they checked out our tickets and then just opened the airlock and let us in. Helpful people who looked after us quickly.
Finding our seats
Pretty straightforward. The entrance to Block 7 is just opposite where we get into the stadium. That’s probably why we went in that way. The steward at the top of the steps helped us to locate our seats. The disabled viewing area is up 3 short steps, not ideal, but not a massive problem. I helped Tom up and then went back for his walker. We took a seat and changed Tom’s socks for the new dry ones. The area we were located in was pretty good. Great view of the pitch, a few additional screens because we can’t see the big screens higher up in the stadium and a really good atmosphere because it was at the back of the North Bank lower tier.
Other members that were on the viewing platform with us were in wheelchairs, and it was clear they hadn’t come up the 3 steps that we had navigated. They had clearly come in through Block 8, where the ramp to the platform is located. It would probably make sense for all members that are using the platform (aka Row 29) to come in through Block 8. Not a massive problem, but it would have been just that little bit easier for us. We’ll know for next time.
Brilliant. We were absolutely part of the amazing atmosphere within the North Bank and we loved every minute of it – apart from some dubious refereeing decisions. Tom’s Match Report can be found here. We chose to stay in our seats during half time because neither of us needed the toilet and I wasn’t keen to leave Tom on his own while I queued for the refreshments, so we didn’t get any. No biggy, we came prepared, but maybe we’ll try it next time to get the full experience and see how it goes.
We stayed in our seats and waited for the stadium to empty a bit. We knew there was no rush because the cars weren’t going to be released until around 45 minutes after the game finished. After we’d sung that song about Saka and Emile Smith Rowe a bunch of times, we headed downstairs.
As promised, when the roads outside began to clear, the carpark was opened and we were free to join the traffic jam of North London and begin to make our way home.
Consistently, the numerous staff members that we encountered before and during our time at Arsenal professional, friendly and keen to help. The tricky part was that, while they wanted to help, they didn’t all know the procedures they and us were meant to follow. This led to a few complications and some frustrations, but nothing that took away the magic of standing on the North Bank with my son when Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka scored their goals. The fact that they all wanted to help and do what they thought was best, is certainly all I can really ask. I know our requirements are pretty unique and I don’t expect every member of staff to be fully versed on every possible eventuality. When we found the right people, we were brilliantly looked after.
My hope in writing this blog is that someone at Arsenal sees it and gets an understanding of the match day experience of one of their disabled members. I’d also like it if those in senior management got to hear how wonderful their teams are across many departments are, but particularly Jacqueline the Disability Liaison Officer. She liaised brilliantly.