4 Jan 2015

Oyston comments highlight society’s attitude to disability prejudice

As a Newcastle United supporter I can fully appreciate the tension, anger and all-round poison that envelopes a football club when things are not going well on the pitch – or off it.
Indeed as a Toon fan I have to work hard these days to recall a time when things were not pretty toxic on and off the pitch at my beloved-yet-benighted club.

Therefore, Blackpool FC supporters – I feel your pain. It is miserable on the pitch in terms of results. Off it, life for Blackpool supporters is arguably even more painful.

blackpool fan

Somehow, the club Chairman Karl Oyston got embroiled in a texting-spat with a supporter. In the course of that he gave back in spades the grief he was getting but went a little further using a number of phrases like ‘special needs’ as a way of trying to insult said fan.

It should be said Mr Oyston certainly suffered a degree of provocation and he has apologised for any upset caused. It is all before the FA now for an investigation.

But the whole sorry episode raises the wider question as to how we treat disability discrimination and prejudice, as against racial or homophobic prejudice.


My guess is that, had this involved that latter two areas we would have seen the story on the front pages of the papers and TV news as another example of football still being in the dark ages etc – you can imagine the furore.

So far Blackpool fans , who have mounted a petition of more than 6,000 signatures calling for action against their chairman, have simply received an acceptance letter from the FA that the investigation is underway and they are taking it seriously.

Blackpool Supporters Trust wrote to the FA over the Christmas period and their online petition was set up on Christmas Eve.

I wonder how thorough and how seriously it will be taken. My reason being that I suspect that prejudice against those with special needs is still far more acceptable and accepted than racial or homophobic slurs would be.

FA action?

My own experience (and here I declare an interest as the father of an autistic son) is that, for example, many people use the word ‘autistic’ or phrases like ‘on the spectrum’ and ‘ADHD’ as vague slurs or insults without even knowing they are doing it.

In my recent experience I have heard professional and highly educated people doing this on a regular basis.  I have heard ‘autistic’ used like this in the Channel 4 newsroom where nobody would even dream of uttering anything racist or homophobic. God forbid!

And that is why fans at Blackpool are right to raise this issue and should be applauded all the way for doing so. Because my hunch is that, in losing his rag in a text-row with a fan, Mr Karl Oyston has inadvertently done us all a favour in highlighting a form of prejudice which is abhorrent, wrong – but really rather common and, plainly, widely tolerated.

We will watch the FA with interest.

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