‘We Suffer Things That Just Wouldn’t Happen To Non-disabled Fans’: Barriers To Inclusion In Football Fandom For Disabled People

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Over the last thirty years, football fandom has undergone a process of ‘diversification’. Consequently, recent scholarship has explored the paradoxical and complex nature of inclusion and exclusion for traditionally marginalised fan groups within the context of English football. This has led some researchers to argue that English football fandom is now an “overwhelmingly inclusive environment” for particular fan groups (Magrath, 2021, p.2), while others insist “it can never be the case that football is either entirely inclusive or exclusive” (Lawrence and Davis, 2019, p.1). Academic research concerned with issues of inclusion and exclusion in football fandom has primarily focused on broad issues of discrimination, for example racism, homophobia, sexism, and gender inequality. To date, however, a paucity of academic interest has been given to other social issues, such as ableism and disablism, which affect the daily lives of disabled people both within and beyond sport settings.

Literature review
In broader scholarly research concerned with disability and sport, it has been widely acknowledged that disabled people encounter a range of barriers to participation and inclusion. This remains the case as sport is inextricably connected to the structures and processes of society which disable people with impairments by imposing restrictions, barriers, and attitudes that exclude full participation and inclusion (Thomas, 2012). Indeed, the disabling culture of contemporary capitalist society continues to systematically exclude disabled people from areas of mainstream society through the processes of ableism and disablism. These concepts, as Ives et al. (2019, p.3) remind us, are useful because they enable us to critically explore “disabled people’s experiences from a position of exclusion, or from a standpoint in a world that does not value and is not designed for disabled people”. From this perspective, it becomes clear that disabled people do not experience the freedoms and opportunities in life to which they have a right, or in the same way as their non-disabled counterparts, including in sport settings such as football fandom.

Indeed, little empirical research has explored the issues facing disabled people within the context of football fandom, particularly with regards to issues of social exclusion. While few authors have exposed some of the barriers facing disabled football fans specifically (e.g., García et al., 2017), there remains significant gaps in our knowledge pertaining to how these barriers manifest, and how disabled people negotiate them within the context of English football fandom.

Furthermore, in concluding their synthesis of existing literature on disabled spectators access to sports stadia, Kitchin et al. (2022) encouraged future research to take account of the lived experiences of disabled people, not only at the stadia, but also before and after attending the football spectacle. In turn, this presentation seeks to address the following research question: ‘What barriers do disabled football supporters encounter leading up to, during and after their matchday experience?’

This presentation draws from a rich qualitative dataset from a broader doctoral project about the experiences of disabled football fans in England. Indeed, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with a total of 33 disabled football supporters who attended matches across clubs in the English Football League Championship, League One, League Two and National League. The participants in this research experienced a range of physical impairments, from people living with multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, to others with amputations, limb and spinal cord injuries. The sample consisted of a mix of individuals who were born with their impairment(s), as well as those who acquired impairment(s) in later life. The sample comprised of five fans who made use of ambulant disabled seating areas, and 27 who use wheelchair seating sections. All but two participants were white (the exceptions being black British and British Asian) and aged between 20-71. 8 participants identified as female, while the remaining 25 identified as male. All 33 semi-structured interviews were recorded electronically and were transcribed verbatim, and were exposed to the process of thematic analysis. The abductive approach to thematic analysis undertaken for this study resulted in two central themes which are explored throughout this presentation, these are: (1) The challenges of matchday participation for disabled people in English football fandom, and (2) Barriers to inclusion at English football stadiums for disabled people.

This presentation begins to unpack the structural, social, and psychological barriers disabled people encounter when intending to spectate football in England. Moreover, this research expands the application of the concepts of ableism, as well as Thomas’ (2012) social-relational model of disability to the study of football supporters and, exposes how English football is shaped by processes of ableism and disablism. By thinking about how these discriminatory processes nurture one another, this work seeks to bring a hitherto absent level of theoretical ripeness to the study of disability and football fandom.
Original languageEnglish
Subtitle of host publication31st European Association for Sport Management Conference
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Oct 2023
EventEuropean Association for Sport Management Conference: Forward Thinking in Sport Management:
Inclusivity, Accessibility, and Sustainability - Europa Hotel, Belfast
Duration: 12 Sept 202315 Oct 2023
Conference number: 31


ConferenceEuropean Association for Sport Management Conference
Abbreviated titleEASM23
Internet address


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