Family lobbying brings hope for autistic football fans


London (AFP) – Peter and Kate Shippey’s successful lobbying of Sunderland to install a room dedicated to largely autistic football fans could see more Premier League clubs follow suit.

Alex White, Premier League Charitable Fund Executive, said the Shippeys had served as an example and funding has been made available to other clubs to set up similar rooms for home and away fans.

“Their success has been inspirational,” White said at the Beyond Sport Summit, the leading movement for sport for social change.

“With BT (the telecom company who provide the specialist equipment) we want to extend it into other clubs in the Premier League, ” he said. “We have made funding available to them for both home and away teams.”

The Shippeys decided to take action after two abortive trips to Sunderland home matches with Nathan, one of their three boys — all of whom are autistic.

“Two years ago I took Nathan to a home game even though we knew it would be a problem with all the noise,” said Peter Shippey.

“We gave him ear defences to try and see if they worked. However, it was a big game which we won and so ensured we stayed up. Thus the noise was louder than ever and he couldn’t cope.”

The Shippeys thought that the experiment was over, but Nathan’s passion for football grew after he watched the World Cup through the summer of 2014.

“So I bought season tickets for the 2014/15 campaign which aren’t cheap,” said Peter.

“However, the first game with the music and other noise we had to leave early.

“Then it struck us why couldn’t the club put in a sensory room like he had at his school where children go when they’re having a meltdown and it helps to calm them down.”

Thus the campaign started, including talks with Sunderland and also garnering support from the community, including a petition signed by 3,000 backers including schools dealing with similar problems.

“That told the club that we weren’t just acting for ourselves…,” he said.

He told the club the flood of cash flowing into the league would allow them to set aside a corporate box costing about £30,000. Instead the club opted for a purpose-built room in one of the lounges for the 2015-16 season.

“I think its the first one ever built,” he said

Sunderland’s example — the room can fit three people with sensory illnesses along with a parent and a carer and for which there was a waiting list at the end of last season — has been followed Shippey says by fourth tier Notts County.

“It has transformed his (Nathan) life, although it got interesting when there was a Newcastle fan in the room for the derby last season!” said Shippey.

Kate Shippey says the room has revolutionised life for other parents.

“It’s had a massive and positive impact,” she said.

“One father brought his 24-year-old son to a game for the first time because before it had not been worth the risk.

“There was not a dry eye in the room, the boy was awe-struck.”

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