Scotland

Disabled fan wins football seat victory

Peter was made to sit away from his fellow St Johnstone fans
Image caption Peter was made to sit away from his fellow St Johnstone fans

A disabled football fan who found himself separated from his fellow supporters at an away game has won an apology and a change in policy.

Peter Holden, 29, has cerebral palsy but has followed St Johnstone on away trips for years with his dad Andrew.

On a visit to Kilmarnock last year he was forced to watch the game from a special section for disabled fans.

Following a complaint, Kilmarnock agreed there was no physical reason for not allowing him to join other fans.

Image caption Peter Holden and his dad Andrew are St Johnstone fans

Peter loves watching St Johnstone and said his highlight was seeing his team win in the final of the 2014 Scottish Cup against Dundee United, and Danny Swanson's strike against Celtic in 2015 is his favourite goal.

But what happened when they travelled to Kilmarnock in August 2017 was one of his most disappointing results.

Image copyright Vagelis Georgariou
Image caption Danny Swanson scored Peter's favourite goal for St Johnstone

He went to Rugby Park with a "disabled ticket" and was told he could not sit with the rest of the away support, for health and safety reasons.

Peter said he was left sitting surrounded by rows of empty seating, away from the "crack" of being with his fellow St Johnstone fans.

He said he was surprised and upset because it had not happened at any other ground.

His father Andrew Holden said: "Peter was quite distraught that day.

"I didn't like to see him as upset as he was.

"He was separated, isolated, labelled. It just was not pleasant at all."

After writing to Kilmarnock Football Club and getting no response, Andrew and Peter decided to get in touch with the Glasgow-based Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Image copyright Jeff Holmes
Image caption Kilmarnock said it had changed its policy on disabled fans

They took up the case, won an apology, complimentary tickets for a match, and action to change the club's policy.

For Peter, nothing could rival 2015 at Celtic Park, but this victory came close.

He said: "It is quite pleasing that I won the case. I got an email explaining what had happened. I was relieved and happy."

Best answer

Lynn Welsh, head of legal for the EHRC, said that despite being a Scottish Premier League club Kilmarnock were slow to understand the issue.

She said: "There was a presumption that disability meant wheelchair-using or not being able to walk, which wasn't the case with Peter at all.

Image caption Lynn Welsh said isolation wasn't the best answer

"I think at first they could not see what the problem was but once we had explained that isolation wasn't the best answer for a disabled person they were very open in discussing with us what might be the better answer.

"We sat down round a table with Peter and with the club and came to a really good outcome."

Image caption Cathy Jamieson says the problem should not have arisen

Since May this year, former Labour MSP and MP Cathy Jamieson has been on Kilmarnock FC's board of directors.

Ms Jamieson, who has a background in the care of young people, said it was a problem which should not have arisen and needed to be put right.

She said: "There have been some misunderstandings along the way on both sides.

"All I wanted to do was ensure people could come and watch the match and get access in their own area, with their own supporters where that's appropriate."

The law says that it should be just as possible for a disabled person to go to a museum, a shop, a restaurant, or a cinema or concert venue as a football ground.

For Andrew and Peter it was important to win the argument, but more importantly, to raise awareness so that things in the future are better for all disabled supporters.

Peter said: "I was not just doing it for myself, I was doing it for supporters of other teams."

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