Rangers FC will show a “match-day experience” video from the perspective of a young boy with autism attending football at half-time during their game with Dundee on Saturday.
The club in partnership with Scottish Autism have made the film which stars Gers legend Mark Hateley alongside a young actor playing the part of a boy with the condition.
The initiative was announced ahead of World Autism Day tomorrow, with the Ibrox club providing a safe area known as Broxi’s Den where children aged between five and 12 can watch the match in a quiet space.
The private suite is based in the Broomloan Stand Corner and is made up of different zones, including a sensory suite and viewing gallery. Rangers have also provided autism awareness sessions for staff.
Karen Mathie, senior charity executive, Rangers Charity Foundation, said: “We’ve had a fantastic response from our fans and have discovered just how many of their lives are impacted by autism in some way. We want to make it as easy as possible for supporters with autism to be able to come to the Stadium and enjoy following their team in comfort.
“The Journey video really shows how people with autism can experience their surroundings and we hope it helps improve the public’s understanding of some of the obstacles autistic people face every day.”
Charlene Tait, director of autism practice and research, Scottish Autism, said: “We work closely with a number of public venues and organisations on initiatives aimed at both raising awareness of autism and improving accessibility for autistic people. While it’s encouraging to see progress being made in raising the public profile of the condition, we must recognise that there is a long way to go when it comes to wider public understanding and acceptance.
“Part of the challenge is the fact that autism is an invisible and multi-dimensional condition which affects people in different ways – some require 24/7 care while others are able to live independent lives but might require lower level or occasional support.”
‘We let him know that we’re going to a game well in advance’
Nicola Munro, from Tillicoultry in Clackmannanshire, said her 11-year-old son Alfie, who lives with autism, is a regular at Rangers matches and has applied for the Broxi’s Den facility.
Alfie has benefited from the club’s autism-friendly support and the family look forward to making the trip to home games.
Munro described her match-day routine to prepare her son, who attends the New Struan School in Alloa run by Scottish Autism, for trips to Ibrox. She said: “Basically we’re all Rangers fans in the household and we introduced Alfie to the club early on.
“We started taking him to matches but we have to do a lot of preparation beforehand when he’s going to a game.
“So, we make sure he wears ear defenders and we let him know that we’re going to be going to a match well in advance.
“In our experience with Alfie, he can get anxious from the fact that he’s going out to a public event where there are a lot of people and also the noise of the crowd and things like that can affect him.
“We have to prepare him properly the night before the game – he’s excited but there’s a lot of things that we have to do. We have to make sure he’s got technology with him, like a Nintendo Switch, which acts as a distraction for him just travelling to the game first of all. That can help calm his anxiety about getting there.”
She added: “Then when we arrive we have to be very careful with the stairs at the stadium as they are very steep and a lot of people on the spectrum have problems with their balance and co-ordination, which Alfie has.
Also getting in and out of your seating area can be a problem as he might feel overwhelmed with the noise of the crowd. We always try to make sure we get seated at the end of a row.”
Munro said the other Rangers fans had been “fantastic” with the youngster, offering to swap seats and singing along with him.
She said: “He tries to take part in the match-day experience and he’s good at letting us know if things are getting to be too much for him.
“Alfie absolutely loves going to Ibrox and Scottish Autism have given us tickets to attend the home match against Dundee on 7 April.”