Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Bradford City exhibition to celebrate fans with learning disabilities

Bradford City LD exhibitionAn exhibition of photographs taken by Bradford City Football Club fans with a learning disability as part of a Leeds Beckett University research study is set to be unveiled next month.

The series of 25 photographs will be permanently displayed in the main concourse of the JCT600 stand at Bradford City’s stadium, Valley Parade, and will be launched on Saturday, April 9, as part of Bradford City’s Level Playing Field day to celebrate the club’s work with people with a learning disability. The day is also set to include a match between Bradford City and Swindon Town’s disability teams.

The project, entitled ‘Being a Bantam’, is the brainchild of Dr Kris Southby, research officer in the School of Health and Community Studies at Leeds Beckett. As part of his PhD research, Dr Southby worked with football fans of a number of different clubs, all with a learning disability. His project aimed to explore the benefits of football fandom for people with a learning disability, celebrating the diversity of football fandom and de-stigmatising learning disability.

“Many football clubs have a disability team, and so I approached several clubs’ community contacts and asked to be put into contact with players that were also fans of their club who would be interested in speaking about their experiences of going to games,” Dr Southby explained. “I had 15 participants, all with various types of learning disabilities. We spoke about what being a football fan meant to them, and I attended games with them to experience what is was like first-hand. Some people with a learning disability can also struggle to fully explain their thoughts; so I decided to use photography in my research, getting them to take photos and then use these as prompts in conversations.”

The photographs tell the story of some of the key elements of being a football fan that are important to the Being a Bantam participants.

“The idea is that viewing the pictures will convey a message about the positivity of fans with a learning disability, the inclusivity and diversity of the football crowd, and de-stigmatise learning disability,” Dr Southby added.

“My research shows the diversity of football fans with a learning disability. All the people that took part engage in different activities in their lives. I found that there are many benefits of being a football fan to the people I interviewed: there is a strong association with developing a positive social identity and a feeling of belonging for people who might otherwise be quite isolated and detached from social interactions. Football acts as a good opportunity for them to meet new people, especially as it is such a popular sport in England: it extends beyond the game. Being a fan creates opportunities in real life to interact with other people and to become more involved.”

David Dowse, Bradford City’s facilities manager, commented: “We have been delighted to be involved with Leeds Beckett University in this great project. We recognise that professional football is able to provide many fans with a learning disability an opportunity to be involved in the excitement of the game.

“The Being a Bantam project has provided a group of fans with the opportunity to extend their skills and show just what the football experience means to them. We are proud of the links we have with fans with a physical or a learning disability and hope that the photographs will become a long-lasting display of how important football in general, and Bradford City in particular, is to the lives of many true fans of the Club.”

Dr Southby worked on the project alongside staff from Bradford City FC and Bradford City Disability Football Club. The project followed principals of co-production, involving participants in the decision making processes. A team of Leeds Beckett students in the Faculty of Arts, Environment and Technology, also provided technological support to the participants in using cameras and Go Pro video recorders, as well as selecting the final photos for the display.

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