The disabled supporter as an activist for social inclusion in English football

  • Connor Penfold

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


It has been three decades since the initial guidance was issued to English football clubs with regard to the presence of disabled spectators at their stadiums. Against the backdrop of the recommendations outlined in the Taylor report and the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, football clubs across the English Football League were required by legislation to ensure disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people when spectating at football matches. However, in 2015, a report from the British government revealed widespread systematic failings in the provision and treatment of disabled supporters by clubs throughout the English football pyramid. Despite this report and its findings, limited scholarly attention has been paid towards the experiences of disabled football supporters. While some academic analyses have provided insight into the barriers disabled people encounter to their inclusion and participation in English football fandom (i.e. Southby, 2011; 2013; Dodd, 2018; García et al., 2017), there remains significant gaps in our knowledge about how disabled supporters interpret, understand, experience, and negotiate their fandom within the context of English football. This thesis redresses this lacuna by examining how disabled football spectators negotiate levels of access and seek to enhance their inclusion in English Football League fandom (EFL Championship, League One, League Two, and National League).

The thesis is underpinned by a theoretical framework which traverses writing on disability, inclusion, access, and activism, and draws from rich qualitative data collected through ethno/netnographic methods including online observation and semi-structured interviews. The thesis offers an in-depth examination of the social, structural, and psychological barriers disabled spectators encounter before, during and after the matchday. In doing so, it demonstrates how English football, and its associated practices of fandom, can socially exclude, marginalise, and discriminate against disabled people through the interconnected processes of ableism and disablism. By investigating how disabled football supporters challenge, contest, and resist these oppressive discourses and structures through the diverse forms of individual and collective activism they engage in, the thesis illustrates how disabled football supporters are not merely ‘passive’ consumers of football but are active challengers to the discrimination they encounter. In this sense, the thesis exposes how despite facing a number of challenges to their activism, disabled football supporters at both individual and collective levels deploy a range of tactics to provoke social change in and through football. In turn, the thesis presents the most comprehensive exploration of the lived experiences of disabled football supporters to date and provides an original contribution to knowledge in several areas of research including sociology of sport and football, sport management, and disability activism.
Date of AwardFeb 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul Darby (Supervisor) & Paul Kitchin (Supervisor)


  • Disability
  • Football fandom
  • Activism
  • Inclusion
  • Exclusion
  • Disablism
  • Ableism
  • Sport

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