Visiting your first live football match in person is an incredible experience. Being in the presence of 30,000 other people while watching a game is exciting and thrilling, but it can also present challenges, particularly if you’re a football fan with autism.
For Alex Manners, football has always been a huge part of life. The 22-year-old from Solihull was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 10 years old. The first football match he attended was in 2007, Birmingham City v Hereford City in Round 2 of the 2007-2008 League Cup season.
Attending this match started a 12-year journey for Manners, travelling across the country to visit all 92 football league clubs. It included not only the Premier League, but the English Football League teams from the Championship, League 1 and League 2. The last club Alex visited to complete the 92 was Scunthorpe United v Burton Albion on the 13 April 2019.
“We added them up and it was about 30 grounds and my uncle said we should do all 92 and I said I would love to do that. From that moment, I definitely wanted to do the 92 and my uncle said he wanted to do it as well so we did it together.
“One of the reasons for doing it was it’s a brilliant way of visiting new parts of the country, helping with my autism and it’s something I really enjoy.”
Asperger’s Syndrome is on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, and makes processing everyday sensory information and social situations difficult, which can trigger meltdowns and sensory overloads.
This has not stopped Manners from attending matches and travelling the country however, and he has gone so far as to set up his own “Autism and Football” campaign. The campaign aims to enhance the live football experience for autistic fans. Manners has worked with clubs such as Arsenal, Swansea City and Solihull Moors to make the stadiums, match days and tours more autism-friendly.
“Being someone that has obviously experienced some of the struggles that fans with autism have had at matches, I set up my own Autism and Football campaign to try and enhance the experience for autistic people at matches, I think a lot of clubs have this idea that they don’t have the facilities or money to provide things like a sensory room, but there are so many things that clubs can do that won’t cost any money or effort.
“I’m trying to promote the small things, as well as the big things that every club can be doing to make the experience for autistic people that bit better,” Manners told People News Chronicle.
After completing the 92, Manners has mentioned the possibility of visiting all the Scottish Football League or Vanarama National League grounds. However, going to all UEFA Euro 2020 and 2022 FIFA World Cup grounds is not on the agenda for him, although he is interested in watching a match abroad.
“One of the things I would love to do is visit all the Scottish Football League grounds. I have visited around two-thirds or half of the grounds and I have been to six matches. I’d love to visit all the stadiums in the Vanarama National League.
“I have never been to a match abroad. There are two clubs I would really want to visit abroad and they are Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and another team called SD Eibar in Spain.”
You can find more information about Alex’s autism and football campaign on his official website. Also, if you are keen to support people with an autism spectrum condition, Autism West Midlands supports 60,000 people in the region who have the invisible and often misunderstood disability to live independent lives, as well as providing support for employment, residential support and community supported living.