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The Best and Worst Football Premier League Stadiums for Accessibility
The Premier League has come under scrutiny from Level Playing Field, a charity advocating for the rights of disabled sports fans, for falling short of its commitment to ensuring an accessible match experience for wheelchair-using fans.
In 2015 a pledge was made by the Premier League to Accessible Stadia Guide stating that all participating clubs would achieve compliance by August 2017. Despite these promises, suitable wheelchair-user spaces have actually fallen in the last five years.
As a result of failure to meet this pledge, disabled supporters have voiced their hesitance to attend future matches. In addition to limited seating and other accommodations, disabled fans have even experienced abuse from other fans.
It’s not just home stadiums that are an issue for disabled supporters. A survey conducted by Level Playing Field revealed that 28% of respondents reported they have had a disappointing experience due to a lack of accessibility accommodations.
Every sports fan deserves to have a great experience at events. To better understand the best and worst clubs in the Premier League when it comes to accessibility, we’ve created an Accessibility Table to show which teams are on track to meet their pledge and who’s falling short.
The Premier League Accessibility Table
Utilising data from Level Playing Field, the Accessible Stadia Guide and Awaygames.co.uk, Oak Tree Mobility has created a table that calculates the accessibility rankings for each Premier League team.
All twenty Premier League clubs were assessed on the number of wheelchair-accessible seats in the stadium, the percentage of wheelchair-accessible seats in relation to the stadium's overall capacity, the number of accessible toilets in the stadium, and whether or not the club offers audio description services, on-site blue badge parking, and sensory rooms for fans who require those facilities. Additionally, fan-submitted ratings of 'Away Days' - the experience of being an away fan at a clubs' stadium, were also assessed.
Here are the very best stadiums and teams for accessibility - and the worst.
The Most Accessible Premier League Stadium
While they may have finished in 5th place last season - they’re bringing home the gold on the accessibility league table. It’s Liverpool’s Anfield ground that comes out on top of the accessibility league table. They score 97 out of a possible 110 points, encompassing excellent scores across the board of each category.
The runners up
Manchester City had a neck-and-neck match for gold against Liverpool, however, Manchester City lost by just two points (95). Right behind them were Tottenham Hotspur (87), and Arsenal (86) taking the 3rd and 4th spots on the league table respectively.
Despite historically being the most successful club of the Premier League era with 13 league titles, Manchester United are the only 'Big Six' team to not land a top six position in the accessibility league table. Not even making the top ten, they place 11th with 68 points in total - that’s 27 points behind their Manchester City rivals.
The least accessible stadium is...
Sadly for Luton fans, the newly promoted Luton Town finishes at the accessibility ranking. Luton has the fewest seats for wheelchair users and the fewest accessible toilets on the ground. Whilst mega-team Manchester United has the biggest stadium in the league holding 74,310 fans - Luton Town has the smallest grounds with a capacity of just 10,356 fans. Things are looking up though, this summer they’ll be levelling up their stadium in line with their promotion. They’ll be spending roughly £10m in 2023 to bring their grounds up to Premier League standards so we’re hopeful they’ll be promoted up the accessibility league by next year too.
Designated wheelchair spaces
The guidance set out by Accessible Stadia Guide is that for 40,000+ capacity grounds, it is recommended there are 210 wheelchair-accessible spaces and adding two for every additional 1,000 seats. This means that the ASG recommends the provision of 0.53% of accessible spaces within overall capacity.
Bournemouth comes out at 9 in the accessibility league table - but they are the front runners when it comes to their percentage of designated seats for wheelchair users. Their home ground, the Vitality Stadium, has a total seat capacity of 11,307, of which 287 seats are designated for wheelchair users. That’s 2.54% of the total stadium capacity.
Whilst this may seem like a lot - it is significantly more than the next best club on this metric. Brentford place second for the highest percentage of wheelchair spaces, and have just 0.8%.
However, on the other end of the spectrum is Ashton Villa’s Villa Park grounds with a capacity of 42,657 and just 90 spaces for wheelchair users. Fans with disabilities may be left disappointed with Villa Park’s mere 0.21% offering of accessible spaces.
Away days provide the opportunity for football fans to travel to rival clubs’ cities to show support for their team whilst also having the opportunity to see local sites and pubs. Away days give supporters the chance to socialise and bond with fellow supporters and demonstrate their passion for their team at the opposition’s stadium.
In a case study from the National Association of Disabled Supporters, Martin, a die-hard football fan shares why he no longer feels he can attend away games. Due to insufficient seating for disabled fans at stadiums, they are often placed in the home section. This can make away fans feel excluded from fellow away supporters and ‘othered’ by home fans. Sadly, in Martin’s experience - it has even led to animosity from rival supporters. Martin shares, “It’s just not worth it, you know. You can’t wear your team stuff, because it could start trouble. Once I didn’t know I’d be with the home fans until I got there, and I was wearing my football shirt... This kid said, “What’s he doing here? Why doesn’t he go up the other end?” And I wanted to say, “I don’t want me in here either, you know!”
According to the ratings on awaygames.co.uk, Chelsea comes out on top in providing the best experiences for travelling fans. Meanwhile, Bournemouth, who provide a great offering of wheelchair-accessible spaces on their own grounds, have the worst score for their fans at away games.
The underdogs and the up-and-comers
For recently promoted teams it can be a challenge to keep up with the top-scoring clubs to keep their stadiums up to date with accessibility guidelines. All three of the teams that were promoted from the Championship to play in the Premier League in the 23/34 season; Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town - are in the bottom league of the accessibility table.
Nottingham Forest and Fulham, who were promoted in the previous season also feature in the bottom six.
Regular new club low accessibility performance suggests that these teams struggle to keep pace with the accessibility criteria the Premier League committed to in 2015. This indicates that more needs to be done to action and champion accessibility in football grounds for teams in the Champions League and other leagues below the Premier League.
The energy of a match is at its best when everyone can get involved. We hope that the Premier League gets back on track to meet its pledge and create an accessible and great experience for all whether it’s win or lose on match days.