Today (27thFeb) sees the start of the MK Dons offering a range of events for disabled fans to promote Level Playing Field’s 2021 Weeks of Action. To mark this, we have caught up with MKDSA’s new Disability Officers, Jo & Jeff Newall. Jo & Jeff have between them over 100 years’ experience of living with a disability. Jo in her powerchair and Jeff wielding a very mean white cane and are in normal times to be found at the back of the Cowshed or in the Club’s accessible minibus going to away games. They reckon they are passionate about MK Dons, challenging negativism around disability, and wearing silly hats! So let’s investigate these claims.
How did you become MK Dons Fans?
Jeff – As I attended the “Blind School” next to Liverpool’s training ground, I grew up as a Liverpool fan but never went to a live match due to concerns that I would not be able to see anything.
Jo – I grew up thinking football was stupid. When I heard in 2007 that the MK Dons were about to move to Bletchley, I decided that we had to attend one live football match in our life and as I wasn’t prepared to drive all the way to Bletchley, NHS it was, Dons v Grimsby. Can’t remember the score but suffice to say as we left, I mumbled “can we go again?” and so we were hooked.
How did your life as Dons fans develop after that first match?
Jeff – A tour of the new Stadium quickly followed and in the ballroom that was still bare breeze blocks, Gayle used her seating plans to help us pick my seat and Jo’s hole at the top of Aisle 13, where we have sat since. I use Soccer Sight, a specialist headset commentary for visually impaired fans provided at Stadium MK by the brilliant Hospital Radio volunteers, so I can best follow what’s happening on the pitch. From 2010 we have also been to almost every away game in the Club’s accessible transport. We have experienced the best (Stadium MK) and the worst of football grounds for disabled fans.
Jo – The worst are those stadiums where away wheelchair fans are sat with home fans at the opposite end of the ground to away fans. It makes you feel like a modern day leper cut off from your own community. I have written loads of reviews about our away adventures on Level Playing Field’s website, which are probably worth a read if you are thinking of going to an away ground you have not been to before but do remember grounds change, they do improve!
Jeff – Whilst we have some best forgotten trips, overwhelmingly our away day adventures have been brilliant giving us lots of special memories. The rest of the travelling fans and our stewards always look out for us, so we never feel alone if things do go array, which is really important. Not able to see hazards, I can be a bit accident prone. I can also have seizures, so the “Dons Family” are important to our travels. If you are nervous as a disabled fan about going to an away game, we would say, do it but do your homework first just as you do to get anywhere.
Favourite Grounds (after Stadium MK)?
Jo – Leyton Orient – the helpful staff and the teapot just make it special! (Free tea for wheelchair users at half time from what I reckon was the team teapot in around 1936 – tastes great!).
Jeff – Colchester – we were the first away fans in their new Ground. We went so often I was on first name terms with the chap there who did the audio commentary for VI fans. After we put 5 past them, he told me to disappear!
Challenging Negativism Around Disability.
Jo – Thanks to the robust attitude of both our mothers, we thankfully grew up with the expectation that society and not us was what needed to change, so battling for inclusive facilities for ourselves and other disabled people has been what we do. Living with disability is very much a journey and for a whole range of reasons not everyone is as confident as us in asking for their needs to be met, particularly so we think if they are new to living with a disability or struggling to keep a hidden disability hidden. It is this willingness to speak out that we can bring to our new role.
Jeff – I always say that Jo should write the complaint letter before she leaves home, she can then tick the relevant boxes and hand it in on her way out!
Jo – Unfair Jeffrey! The art of complaining is to pick your fights. It is just too personally exhausting to complain about everything. When you do complain you want your reader to buy into your sense of outrage, so they want to make the improvement as much as you want it. As we say a good day is when you get there and back without any fuss, not too much to ask.
Jeff – Dave Martin – he always chatted to us when he was warming up at way games.
Jo – George Baldock – my prized football possession is the last shirt a Baldock played in for the Dons. George gave it to me at Walsall on 30.04.17 (not that I knew then he would be leaving).
Best match ever?
Jeff – has to be the 4-0 against Man U, except when Jo managed to hit me in the face as she reacted to the third goal!
Jo – for just sheer farce away at Hartlepool (a bit ago) the sea fog was so thick what I thought was the ball that I was watching turned out to be a seagull, so goodness knows what Jeff was watching. Then on leaving the ground, I tapped off with a drunken Glaswegian. He insisted on hanging around my neck, much to Jeff’s amusement (no it wasn’t Gordon!).
Prediction for this Season?
We are both confident we will do well. Can’t wait to get back to matches but we have been so grateful for IFollow, not least it meant we avoided sitting in the snow at Rochdale, our chips would have frozen.
Simply, why not! They are warm.
If you would like to speak to Jo & Jeff about any disability issues regarding the MK Dons, or simply to ask for advice on attending games home and away they would be delighted to hear from you and answer your questions. Just drop them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org