A History of the Brentford FC Blind Scheme
During the closing stages of the 1950/51 season The Football League in its infinite wisdom, misguidedly recommended that there should be a ban on live broadcasts on Radio and TV to encourage more people to venture out to watch football. The Brentford Supporters Club vehemently objected to this in the belief that whilst the regular supporter is always there, it is the lukewarm supporter who needs to be encouraged by "stimulating their interest not throttling it". The Supporters Club also felt that others who cannot see a game, such as the blind, the sick, the aged and the infirm would also suffer.
But rather than launch a protest through the National Federation of Supporters Clubs, it took the practical step of inviting twelve blind supporters to Griffin Park, with the full blessing of the Club, for the first home game of the season, providing them with headphones and a seat in the stands, and giving them a live commentary.
On Saturday 25th August 1951, a crowd of 24,881 were present to see Brentford entertain Rotherham United. This number included 12 blind fans who listened intently to the match commentary provided by volunteers Peter Pond Jones and Eric White, who were amazingly assisted in their commentary by Manager Jackie Gibbons throughout the game. It obviously didn't have any adverse effect on his relationship with the players that afternoon as The Bees ran out victors by two goals to nil.
61 years on and this innovative step by The Supporters Club continues unabated for every home game with match commentaries given by a team of volunteer commentators to a gathering of visually impaired fans in a designated area within the Braemar Road Paddock.
It continues to be organised by members of the "old" Brentford Supporters Association (who also still operate the Away Travel for the Football Club). With the generous sponsorship of The Brentford Lifeline Society, the Blind Scheme comes of age. Blind and sight impaired fans hear the full match commentary through a UHF Radio system. Simply it means that those who require the "Blind Scheme" commentary can either wear a lightweight headset or an earpiece while the commentators wear a lightweight body pack and lapel microphone. The system itself can operate anywhere within the stadium and up to a range of 200 metres, whilst the sound quality is crystal clear.
The sponsorship means that up to twenty supporters can tune in to the system and they can effectively sit anywhere inside the stadium and receive the commentary.
Brentford fan Andy Godfrey said: "Brentford has always had a reputation for a warm and friendly atmosphere ever since I first started attending regularly in 1974. As a totally blind supporter, I've been made to feel welcome at all times and I know that I and the other blind people who come to matches would so love to share the joy of going to Brentford with other visually-impaired people who perhaps have not as yet considered visiting a football ground. If you come along, you'll be sure of a tremendous reception".
Andy continued speaking of the system, which was installed towards the end of the 2007/08 season, "The system is excellent. It's so marvellous not to have to plug wires into a console and one of the great things is that, if you wish to go to the loo at half-time, you don't trip over loads of wires as you vacate your seat!
"The other thing, of course, is that, although for the majority of the games we'll probably be sitting where we always have done, the new system does give you flexibility to sit with other friends in any part of the stadium, should the occasion arise.
"I've done my fair share of urging Brentford to take action…appealing for help with improving the reception on what was a really antediluvian system…now we can take a breather and we can all take pleasure in the football again."
Joyce Cook, the chair of the National Association of Disabled Supporters (NADS), said: "we are delighted that Brentford FC are working with their Visually Impaired supporters to improve their matchday experience and we wish everyone concerned success in its implementation". Eleanor Ellison, Senior Development Officer of the RNIB said: "I am pleased that you have managed to move so quickly to get the system up and running at Brentford for it really shows how these things can be achieved when everyone works together".
Alan Rogers, formerly Secretary of the Supporters Association, who oversees the operation on match days, invites partially sighted and blind supporters who would like to utilise the scheme to contact him during the forthcoming close season. They should email him via firstname.lastname@example.org, write to him c/o Brentford Football Club, Griffin Park, Braemar Road, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0NT, or call him on 07814 297808.