A Vision For The Blind At NFFC

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a blind or visually impaired football fan? Most fully sighted people that I’ve asked that question to produce the very same answer:  “I guess they have to stay at home and listen on the radio.”

Well, thanks to Alan March Sport the days of visually impaired supporters being ostracised are a thing of the past. AMS provide a wonderful, free service at the City Ground called Audio Description Commentary which enables such supporters to not only return to the stadium but experience the exact level of intensity and action as a fully sighted fan.

So, how does that work? Any interested parties can find out from the Twitter page @NFFCAD, or the company website alanmarchsport.com when and where the game will take place and how to access the service. For the purposes of hygiene, all listeners must bring their own headphones to the stadium. Whilst inside the City Ground the prospective listener or their chaperone can ask the nearest steward for a receiver. The receivers are handheld devices which the headphones plug directly into, a bit like a pocket radio/wireless. The team of commentators, myself, Elliott Stockdale, and Luke Savage (two of the three) will provide Audio Description commentary for the entirety of the game from our seats in the press box at the back of the Peter Taylor/Main Stand.

The next question you’ll be asking is: “why not just bring a pocket radio into the stadium?” Here’s where AD commentary comes into its own, it’s a totally different concept to conventional radio and with good reason too. Audio Description commentary is ball specific, meaning that with every breath of the commentators voice you will be able to locate the position of the ball on the pitch. The most important facet of all is the orientation, in referencing our commentary position in relation to the various stands around the ground the listener now has an image in their mind, as if that were their seat for the match.

To explain in detail just why the blind and visually impaired fans choose to be in the stadium as opposed to at home we need to counter in the following: the pre match drink with their friends, the hustle and bustle of the walk to the stadium, the smell of the burger vans, the feel of the plastic seat being gripped in anticipation, and the roar of the crowd as the goal is scored. The only thing missing is the placement of the ball and that’s where we step in. By offering our Audio Description commentary we are providing the missing piece of the jigsaw and allowing our listeners to immerse themselves in the full match day experience.

Whilst I’m waxing lyrical about the City Ground service, specifically for the Nottingham Forest supporters, the exact same experience is being replicated across the country and in Wales too. Alan March Sport currently has nine football clubs under its umbrella as well as the Welsh national side to boot. Then there’s the major tournaments like the Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League, not to mention the European Championships and the pinnacle of all footballing hierarchy, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar!

Remarkably, the evolution of Alan March Sport began with the man himself (pictured above) winning a commentary competition back in 2006, this whilst working full time in a bakery. The comp, in conjunction with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) offered a tantalising prize of commentating on that season’s FA Cup final via the BBC red button option. Alan’s performance on the mic that day, for one of the greatest final’s ever contested, between Liverpool and West Ham, was the springboard for his new career and the development of a wonderful business. Equally important, it was also the beginning of a much-improved service at the City Ground.

Wembley would soon approach Alan to provide his service inside the newly renovated stadium in 2007 and from here there was no looking back. He then went on to train AD commentators for the RNIB before being headhunted for the Olympic Games and a plethora of other high-profile events on the global scene. At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that his commitment to the AD commentary would lessen but quite the opposite in fact. Alan was concerned about the lack of cover for the Blind and Visually Impaired listeners, given the fact there were just a couple of individuals sharing clubs like Doncaster Rovers, Huddersfield Town, and Forest at the time. This concern was the catalyst for the efficient set up now employed at Forest, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton, Crawley Town, Mansfield Town, Lincoln City, Cardiff City, and Wrexham.

Speaking from experience, the service we provide at Nottingham Forest is as close to professional as you can get whilst under the banner of volunteers. The bar has been raised and the standard is exceptionally high which is music to the ears of the blind! The demographic of our service users ranges from the fully blind to those with slight impairments or gradual deterioration through the years. We accommodate fans who’ve had the same seat in the stadium for over four decades and wish to prolong their matchday ritual despite their condition, if AMS are behind the microphone such loyal supporters will continue their legacy whilst not missing a single bit of the action. Also worthy of note, our commentary is widely used by the away fans who’ve commented upon our impartiality during broadcasts. The FA Cup tie versus Arsenal in January was a prime example given the feedback we received from the Gunners supporters on the day.

If you’re in any doubt of how precise Audio Description commentary is, digest the following analogy: Four Forest fans meet in the pub the evening after a game, one who watched on the TV at home, one who listened on the radio, another (fully sighted) who watched from their seat in the ground and a blind fan who listened to Audio Description commentary whilst also in their seat. Given the accuracy of AD, all four fans will be able to regale upon the very same talking points and action during the 90 minutes.

Alan March Sport has continued to excel at Nottingham Forest thanks to the continued support of Alan Bexon, who over the last decade has supported and assisted the Audio Description commentary programme during his employment at the City Ground.

Steve Corry

*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @alanmarchsport the City Ground commentary position in the Peter Taylor Stand.

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