Opinion: 'Common Ground' shows how United can change lives

Thursday 28 September 2023 16:00

The most neglected word within our name, Manchester United Football Club, is the last. Club.

But for thousands of match-going Reds, that's what our football team is: a club that we belong to, along with many other like-minded souls.

Some friends of mine even semi-jokingly refer to United as 'the greatest social club in the world'. It usually comes after a sobering defeat – it's their way of acknowledging or celebrating all the other things, beyond the actual football, that make following the Reds great and worthwhile.

If you don't know what I'm on about right now, then just go and watch the latest film in our 'One Love' series of fan documentaries, Common Ground, which focuses exclusively on the Manchester United Disabled Supporters' Association.
One Love: Common Ground Video

One Love: Common Ground

One Love film | Common Ground follows three disabled Reds with inspirational stories, as they attend a match at OT...

However you follow United – whether you've never been to Old Trafford and follow on TV from the other side of the globe, or you've been going home-and-away since the 1950s – you'll recognise the fellowship and camaraderie that football can inspire.

But what the footage here shows is something even more transformational: how utterly life-changing following your team can be when it gives you a safe and inclusive space to meet and build relationships with other people. A sense of community.

Every single MUDSA member featured in this film has experienced difficulties in their life – sometimes, difficulties that are painful to even talk about. But the lives of each one has been made better by being part of MUDSA and being part of United.
The first fan we meet is Sean Jeffrey – at first glance a happy, confident young lad who loves football, loves the Reds and loves being a part of his club.

But almost immediately it's made clear that Sean has been on a long journey. “He's a lot more outgoing than he was,” smiles his dad, before the man himself explains: “I've got more confident of doing things, talking to people more... now I just walk up to them and chat to them.”

Between these snatches of reflection, we see Jeffrey doing exactly that. He goes up and talks to a fellow fan, asking them how they are, clearly keen to give them a boost. It's a small, concise explanation of the way MUDSA – and, by extension, United's broader match-going culture – works. Bonds of friendships might be established while celebrating a Rashford goal at Old Trafford but, before you know it, these interactions and relationships are making lives better.  They can become the kind of support networks that keep people going, whether they need a helping hand or just a bit of a laugh.
Sean Jeffrey is one of the stars of the latest episode in our 'One Love' series.
For Alan Rayment, who had both of his legs amputated more than two decades ago due to debilitating pain, United is “8-12 hours of 'good-quality dad time” with his son.

There's a funny, touching moment where you see the pair performing what can only be described as a synchronised scarf-flicking ritual.

Sital Shah talks about experiencing discrimination, due to her use of a wheelchair, in other areas of society, but never at Old Trafford. She describes the football as “a whole new different world – I feel really included”.

Kevin Peek: A personal tribute


MUDSA founder Phil Downs writes an emotional farewell to the great Red, who passed in June.

We see all of these featured fans buzzing to get to Old Trafford for a match, enjoying conversations with fellow supporters and staff from all walks of life, whether it's stadium announcer Alan Keegan or well-known defender of the United faith Tony O'Neill.

When the legendary Kevin Peek passed away earlier this year, many fellow MUDSA members reflected on the massive progression in the provisions made for disabled match-going supporters.

In his early years, Kev – who suffered from brittle bone disease – had to be “jacked up on a crate”, in the words of MUDSA founder Phil Downs. The original platform provided for those with disabilities was below pitch level, so many couldn't see what was happening when the ball went to the other side of the Old Trafford pitch.

Thankfully, things have much improved, as this film demonstrates.

Which Red is MUDSA's Player of the Year?


Manchester United Disabled Supporters' Association honoured one of our players at Old Trafford this week.

Facilities are good, fans are made to feel welcome, and MUDSA has a bespoke matchday lounge, the Ability Suite, which has been a huge success.

Common Ground is a testament to the effect of the club's positive relationship with MUDSA. But, more than that, it shows just how vital football communities are to the health, wellbeing and happiness of the people that inhabit them.

Let them be listened to, let them be respected, and let them thrive. As Common Ground proves, with every passing frame, the impact of supporter-focused organisations and groups like MUDSA can be completely transformational.


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