Now in its 17th season, the annual campaign, which this year takes place between 27 February and Sunday 14 March, aims to inspire change and shine a spotlight on those who make a difference to the enjoyment and experience of disabled sports fans.
At City, the audio descriptive commentary team of Andrew Nelson and Paul Raffo certainly fit that bill.
The duo are part of a team of six who have been offering the service to visually impaired fans for more than 20 years and this season, with games being played behind closed doors, it has become more important than ever.
Football supporters across the country have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be desperate to get back on the terraces on a Saturday afternoon.
Watching your beloved team on the telly provides a crumb of comfort but, for those with a visual impairment, the din of the tannoy, the smell of a pre-match pie and the collective buzz of anticipation perhaps resonates much further.
Since the end of last season, City have bridged the gap left by matchdays by making audio descriptive commentary, live from the Etihad Stadium, available for supporters to listen to from home.
In recent weeks, this service has also been offered to visually impaired supporters of visiting teams and, moving forward, will be available for all women’s first team home games.
Lifelong fans Andrew and Paul take to the airwaves a quarter of an hour prior to kick-off, sharing out commentary duties across the game, before a half-time Q & A session and post-match debrief.
Both agree that in the current climate, the service has taken on heightened importance.
“There’s a lot of work that’s gone on behind the scenes to make this happen, but we are privileged to sit in a stadium,” Andrew explains.
“It’s like our voices are their eyes effectively, so we try to describe the action and atmosphere as accurately as possible.”
Paul agrees with his colleague, describing the responsibility they both feel towards listeners, who they class as genuine friends.
“Prior to lockdown we’d get around the stadium and make contact with all our supporters,” he recalls.
“We know them personally and that makes it even more special when we’re sat there feeding the game back to our fans.”
And for the supporters themselves, this gratitude is reciprocated.
Stuart Beckett arrived in Manchester in the late 1970s to take up a lecturing job in Wythenshawe, but immediately fell in love with City after going to his first match at Maine Road in 1977.
Juggling a hectic working life, he still endeavoured to get to every game he could, but soon opted to watch from his own home instead after his sight deteriorated rapidly over the following decades.
However, discovering the audio descriptive commentary was a major turning point for him.
“It made a massive difference because, had that not been there, I don’t think I would’ve come back,” says Stuart.
“The commentary has made the difference… (I’m now) in the Colin Bell stand and listen to them at every game .”
Fred Yeomans is another who benefits from the service, having supported City for almost 70 years.
For him, it is as close as is possible to replicating the excitement of a matchday at the Etihad, helped in no small part by Andrew and Paul’s obvious affiliation with the Club.
“They aren’t just doing the audio, they’re talking as fans as well,” he adds.
“If someone’s having a good or bad game they’ll say it, more or less what we’d talk about. It’s great. It keeps you involved and you feel part of the match process because you miss that, you miss the atmosphere.”
Since games have been moved behind closed doors, a question and answer feature has been added to the audio descriptive commentary service.
Supporters can chat about the team and share their predictions before kick-off as well as their thoughts on the game as the action unfolds, with Andrew and Paul reading out their comments across the broadcast.
“It is a great thing to be able to chip in,” Stuart says of the Q&A feature.
“There’s a lot of people relying upon this service and it’s great that the club itself see it as important.”
Fred believes this feature is what sets the audio descriptive commentary apart from the radio, providing a welcome escape from the difficult world we are currently living in.
“Everything that’s going on at the moment, it’s frightening, but just having this moment and a bit of time to just come together and listen to a football match, listen to your own team, have a conversation and a bit of banter.
“That’s the main thing about it, we can have this conversation as it goes on, you can’t do that with the radio. It’s just great fun and it does really make your day.”
For further information on audio descriptive commentary or if you have any other access requirements please contact our Access Team on 0161 444 1894 (Option1,2,2) or email [email protected]