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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9 reader comments

  1. Emma Friedmann says:

    We need a Learning disability minister as the needs of the physically disabled are vastly different to behavioural and learning disabilities.
    My son has Valproate syndrome (FACS), is autistic, low IQ, and has complex needs and some physical abnormalities.
    He is stared at every time we go out. I’m just relieved he’s not aware due to his autism. If I got stared at like that I wouldn’t go out, I would then become isolated and develop mental health problems.
    How should society educate it’s population to show support and compassion to those with learning disabilities?
    Media could help by having people with LD in their stories, fictional or news, (Derek was good, Undateables not sure)
    Celebs could get behind LD campaigners and charities.
    Special schools could allow press in to film and interview.
    Discussion could be had about the causes of disability as my son’s syndrome is avoidable.

    We could all have more patience and share a little more love.

    There won’t be any progress while the assault from government continues to victimise those with disabilities, their carers and the local services they need to live a dignified life.

    I think the FA will always be more interested in money than fairness and respect in the beautiful game.

  2. Simon Green says:

    an excellent and very true article! I have been a wheelchair user for the past 11 years, I was very active before 20th May 2003, the day I became disabled and wanted to continue being so. So after getting my confidence back I tried to “get back out there”.

    But when out and about, whether in a busy bar, on a bus, shopping or at the Rugby I found myself being abused, called derogatory names like spaz, cripple and have either been physicaly assaulted.

    But it was the so called “lower level” incidents that effected me most, and when I complained about people deliberately knocking against my chair more mimicking me and making cruel jokes people shrugged their shoulders as if I should just put up with it, some even said to me “what do I expect going out in a wheelchair”. I even had more than one seemingly sensible people telling me “I bring hostility and abuse on myself because I was out with a pretty women and it wasnt natural to see a disabled guy with a hot girl”.

    Would people these days say to a black man he brings racial abuse on himself because he is dating a white girl ? If they did it would be seriously frowned upon.

    The lower level stuff people thought I should just ignore, the more serious things people often didnt believe and thought I was exaggerating!

    It seemed at times it was ok to call someone a Spaz while not so ok to call someone the N word or to use homophobic language. Having been brought up by two women for many years and my dad remarrying a Nigerian lady Ive heard other forms of hate speech and I find them all equally as offensive.

    As a Rugby supporter I watch games every weekend, cant count how many times I have heard fans call the ref a spastic or a player a cripple or retard with no one (bar me) complaining, but when Nigel Owens suffered homophobic abuse as Twickenham fans rightly complained and matter was dealt with. I wonder if the press would have made such a fuss as same fan called Nigel “a Mong” . I doubt it!!!

    I have done a lot of work over the last few years to raise awareness about Disability Hate Crime and been interviewed on Channel Four News on the subject in the past. I speak at schools often and pupils admit while they would never call each other racist names they often use disablist words, especially on sports fields.

    Not enough is being done to raise awareness about this so thanks Channel Four for again taking this on as people must realise just how offensive such words are.

    I have been asked many times “what if you meet someone who id disabled and they are a right dick can you tell them”. Well yes of course you can, just because someone is disabled does not been they are cute and lovely and I admit to being an arse myself on occasions, so if I or any other disabled person annoys you, tell us but DO NOT insult our disabilities, if you do straight away you lose the argument.

    Thanks, SIMON GREEN
    Disability Hate Crime Network

  3. Mark Blaker says:

    Abuse of people with LD is not limited to football manager’s who’ve lost their temper or back office banter, it’s given tacit consent in completely unexpected, open and public places. I remember some years ago an episode of QI (B series, somewhere around episode 8) Stephen Fry and Alan Davis were joking about the scandal of the Spanish basketball team entering non-disabled “ringers” and laughingly referring to people with learning difficulties variously as as “mad”, “mentally ill” and “handicapped” in a light hearted chat about an incident that resulted in a whole generation of people being excluded from two Olympic Games and many, many other sporting events. It even involved impersonations with funny voices. No-one respects Stephen Fry more than I do but this really sticks with me as a demonstration of the enormous journey people like my son have yet to travel in order to find a fair and just place in the world. If Stephen. the BBC and the intelligent, switched on viewers who watch QI will swallow this stuff without batting an eyelid, we’ve got one hell of a fight on our hands.

  4. Mexboroseasider says:

    Alex thanks for highlighting this issue and the BST petition. That said, Karl Oyston’s comments were far worse than you have suggested and totally unacceptable in this day and age. Quite rightly the “n” word is no longer acceptable; the expressions he used should be seen in the same light.

    In case you weren’t aware Oyston is also on the board of directors of the Football League. Despite repeated requests the FL have yet to make any comment on whether they consider he is an appropriate person to represent them. Their continued silence seems to suggest they are perfectly content with his comments and self serving apology.

  5. @seasidersteve says:

    As a Blackpool fan with an autistic son, this latest episode has been the final straw following several incidents where our treatment haa been less than satisfactory. The club is rotten to the core, and is despotically mismanaged by Karl Oyston

  6. Eddie Thomas says:
  7. Nigel Wilson says:

    We need to confront the issue that bullying is as British as fish and chips. It is an accepted technique used by the arrogant to put others in their `place’. It permeates the workplace in particular, social space in general and almost anywhere else. It is usually directed at people who are seen as different. This is normally people who are not members of `the Boys Club’ or `the Girls’. It is the sign of an inward looking introverted culture that fears difference.

  8. Alan Moore says:

    Karl Oyston is very keen to be seen as a dictator and his word is final. The mere fact that he used such language to a fan is shining a light onto his overall character. Blackpool FC, as with any other football club, have many disabled or disadvantaged supporters who quite patently did not figure in Oyston’s thoughts as he let rip in his nasty text war.
    I, like the rest of Blackpool’s fanbase, want to see the club well managed at all levels, prosper on the field and set an example of common decency on the field and in the community which everyone associated with it should subscribe to. The only way I feel we will get that is by removing the Oystons from the football club. And in the light of KO’s rather pat and insincere apology I should like to tell disabled supporters everywhere the rest of us do not view you in the same light as he apparently does….

  9. H Statton says:

    When I was a child in the 1970s “dyslexia” which I suppose in this day and age most have heard off, even if the experts haven’t really got much of hold of what exactly it involves and how our brains deal with it. People understand that it had something to do with language difficulties (amongst other things is a minefield).

    But prior to the advent of dyslexia, descriptions such as “the slow kids”, were used by both staff and students in class. People got canned if they thought that were not trying enough. I regularly was on the receiving end of a short sharp shock, irrespective of whether or not all my Algebra questions were ultimately correct.

    My personal favourites were being told to go and stand in the “Dunce’s Corner”, or simply paraded in front of the class and openly humiliated (the standing on the chair was the ultimate humiliation!) I took it like a stoic.

    It seems that the only way you achieve in those days was by being neat. Solving problems in your head, understanding more complicated abstracts counted for very little, providing that your hand writing was nice. Mine was a mess.

    I think the next section of people with extra needs were referred to as “Remedial Class”, or more popularly known in the playground as the “REMS”.

    I was tested as a child and at university, and after failing all the verbal/short-term memory tests was deemed to be in the 1% percentile. Basically, the bottom of the lot; this time I was referred to as “special needs”?! The non-verbal tests came out at 99%. Some discrepancy!

    I need some extra help, but don’t bloody patronise me. The take home message is about awareness not pity.

    Yes, I have had the misfortune to have been called names (never bullied), had stones thrown at the back of my head whilst walking down a busy street in broad light (just four years ago). I have had kids come careering at the bikes at me trying to kick my stick away in their attempt to knock me over. Most of the time my broad shoulders shrug it off, but I would lying if I said it wasn’t a concern.

    Truth is, ordinary people need some extra help – I do so myself. But don’t put me on some pedestal and treat me like a freak. I function too, and I would be lying if I didn’t feel the occasional flutter of paranoia. Who wants to make an arse of themselves?

    The good thing was in those days all the kids played together regardless, it was the teaching staff that caused the problems.

    In some ways prejuduce was introduced to us as we grew older – which I find truly absurd.

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