A fascinating story first featured in The Terrier
- Helen-Claire O’Connor tells us about her son’s experience as Town fan
- Euan, who is visually impaired, is a regular at Town games
- Piece was an exclusive for The Terrier
Last Thursday (3 December 2020), Huddersfield Town was proud to celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities.
Created by the United Nations, International Day of People with Disabilities helps to recognize and value the diversity of our communities, and to cherish the role we all play, regardless of our abilities.
On the back of a very popular blog from Town fan Steven Downes, who is a registered-blind supporter, htafc.com is proud to bring you a piece that first appeared in Town’s official Match Day Programme, The Terrier. Town fan Euan O’Connor is a regular in the stands at the John Smith’s Stadium and the following piece has been written by his mum, Helen-Claire O’Connor.
Euan is now 12 years old and I’ve been taking him to Town matches both home and away for longer than he can remember.
We sit in the Fantastic Media Stand, and it started to become apparent that Euan was losing interest in matches whenever we were shooting at the South Stand end.
It later transpired that Euan was visually impaired, and he could see nothing from the half-way line up other than moving blurs. I did some research and with a lot of help from the staff at Huddersfield Town, he signed up to use the audio packs.
If you’re anything like me, you won’t even know such things exist, but I can’t tell you what a difference they have made to our Match Day experience.
I’ll take you all back to the heady day of Saturday 21 October 2017; for many of us, a date that will remain etched on our minds forever. It was of course the day Manchester United came to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on the mighty Terriers! Ok, ok, you’ve got me, I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic that morning, but a match day is much more than the football for me and Euan. It’s about the entire experience.
We always begin our home days in the same fashion. Head down early to the Stadium and take our regular table at the Rope Walk. We enjoy lunch, and of course Euan has an ice cream. Settle in to watch the midday KO on the TV and await our ‘football family’ arriving. It’s the usual bunch on this Match Day and there’s a little talk of whether it’ll resemble a cricket score by teatime.
We walk down the path around the ground, the music blaring, the queue forming at the turnstiles. We’re not heading for those though; we’re heading for reception. We’re greeted by a lady who always has the widest smile; she’s there every week. She looks up and without speaking she heads off to get Euan’s audio pack. She looks at Euan and every home game she asks him what the score will be. ‘Town will win 2-0 says Euan’ – I admit to rolling my eyes slightly, but hey … you never know right?
We enter the turnstile and there’s a kind of buzz in the air, one you can’t quite put your finger on, but it’s there. We spot the ‘Captain Booth’ mascot; Euan has his photo proudly stood next to him. He sadly doesn’t remember his playing days, but believe you me, I’ve filled him in!
Photographs taken, nodding at fellow fans, more chat about the cold wind and we head up the stone steps to our seats. We’re quite superstitious so we must skip the same steps every flight. Of course, it makes a difference to results. As we get to the top, Euan still full of energy and my legs are telling me I need to take more exercise and I’m breathing heavier, but now you can smell the welcoming aroma of PIES. It’s always busy on the concourse, but today is a little different. That buzz is more evident.
We make our way to our seats, but not before stopping to chat to the steward. I’m sad to say I don’t know his name, but we speak every game. A few more nods and hellos to the Season Card holders of the seats around ours and a few more ‘What do you reckon for today?’ conversations and we’re here. In our seats. These are OUR seats, they may look like the others, but these are special. These are the seats we’ve had for years. Precious to us. The faces around all familiar.
Now it begins, our hearts racing. The guard of honour assembles, the players take to the pitch. We’re about to take on Manchester United at home in a Premier League game. I would have never believed this could have been possible have just a couple of seasons ago.
Euan switches on his audio pack, the headphones hugging his head. That’s it, he’s now absorbed. I don’t know who does the commentary, but he has nothing but praise. Euan loves telling me whose about to come on as sub before I’ve even spotted a player has taken his warm-up jacket off. He now can be fully engaged. Okay, he may not be able to see the other end of the pitch, but thanks to commentary that’s specifically structured for all our visually impaired/blind Terriers, he doesn’t miss a moment. He knows where that ball is at all times.
Well, knock me down with a feather. 28 minutes in and Aaron Mooy opens the scoring for Town. I hadn’t even had time to get my flask out. The crowd erupts. Euan is bouncing up and down resembling Zebedee after consuming a large bowl of sugar. WOW, I have no words.
Well, it’s a good job I didn’t get too comfortable back in my seat because just FIVE minutes later Town double their lead through Laurent Depoitre. If we were cold when we first sat down, we’re not now. More jumping around, cheering and laughing ensues. Hugging those around, those that I know not of their name, but we chat every week like we’re the firmest of friends. I’ve certainly had that exercise my legs reminded me I needed when I got to the top of those stadium steps earlier.
The stadium is alight. If it had a roof it would have been blown off. There’s a sea of flags and scarves waving vigorously. All the firm favourite songs and chants I’m sure can now be heard by our long-lost cousins down the M62. The only face I can’t see with a smile belongs to Jose Mourinho. Maybe he realised the Terriers are the only ‘Special Ones’ today. It was a special day for sure.
I recall Euan’s 2-0 prediction; he wasn’t far off. We let United have a late consolation, we’re polite like that.
Fast forward to November 2020. The world around us has changed beyond recognition.
This week I didn’t run around looking to find Euan’s hat, making sure he had his headphones packed for his audio unit. No, yesterday I made a cup of tea, shouted a bit at the laptop when iFollow wouldn’t load, and Euan and I are snuggled up on the sofa ready for the game.
There were no hugs from our football family, no smile from the steward we speak to every home game, no palpable atmosphere you can almost taste, no laughs to be heard. Yesterday there was just me and Euan. Town went on to beat Middlesbrough 3-2, a good result for sure, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close.
You see football isn’t just about the 90 minutes of the game, it’s so much more than that. It’s family, it’s a way of life. It’s what we look forward to every working/school day of the week.
Euan and I want us all to remain safe in these worrying times, and I hope very soon we are all gathered supporting our Terriers in blue and white. In our rightful home on every Match Day. Let’s hope we can all be back together again soon.
Over the past few years, the Club has taken several steps to ensure we support those with individual needs.
We are proud to have been awarded the Premier League’s Preliminary Level Equality Standard in recognition of a range of initiatives and campaigns during our first season in the division.
We subsequently created the ‘Terriers Together’ brand to showcase our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion across the Club and the Town Foundation charity.