As a big fan of football, I look forward to sharing my passion for this sport with my son as he grows older. Despite not yet having reached his third birthday, he has already been to two football matches. Admittedly he slept through most of the first and didn’t seem too bothered about the second one.
Given my love of the sport often referred to as ‘the beautiful game’, I was recently quite moved to hear about a family here in the UK who have faced quite a few challenges when taking their children to football matches. About ten days ago, I heard about the story of Peter and Kate Shippey. All three of their children are affected by autism.
Reading about the Shippey family’s experience of taking their eldest son to see their local team Sunderland play really opened my eyes to a series of issues that I hadn’t thought about much before. As they explain on their blog, their oldest son was really excited about going to see his team play at their stadium but found the experience hard to cope with and had to leave the game only a few minutes after it started.
The very thought of seeing a child so keen to go to see their team play but end up having to leave the stadium almost brought a tear to my eye. To love a sport but be unable to enjoy it in the same way as many other people seemed such a shame.
However, as this video shows, the story has had a happy end. As has been reported in the press, Sunderland have become the first football team in the UK (and possibly the world) to install a ‘sensory room’ that is designed to make it easier for fans affected by autism to enjoy attending a football match. The facility makes it possible for fans to enjoy matches in a room that shelters them from the noise levels that some find hard to endure.
The fact that such a facility now exists owes much to the efforts of the Shippey family to persuade Sunderland FC to create a facility that makes their stadium more accessible and inclusive. The sensory room is apparently in great demand, and has also been made available to fans of visiting teams.
However, the story doesn’t stop here. Peter and Kate Shippey have set up The Shippey Campaign in order to encourage other sports teams in the UK to follow Sunderland’s example. They are encouraging sports clubs and supporters interested in learning more about to get in touch via e-mail (theshippeycampaign@ ), and urging supporters to call on their teams to make their stadium more suitable for fans affected by autism. I’d like to wish them the best of luck in their efforts, which I hope will bring benefits for many other families.