‘Inclusion is a family’: Arsenal’s sign language change spreads the love | Arsenal
The majority of football games are mediocre to boring, and before the start of each season, the majority of fans know that their team will spend it in mediocrity. So why do we keep coming back?
Max Parsons has been at Arsenal his whole life, since Highbury days – “I used to go with my dad but he quit, he’s an old man,” he says. “Arsenal are like family to me. And that’s part of my love. I have a partner, a son, and I also feel like I love Arsenal. It’s my life.” Because he’s deaf, he’s never felt truly welcomed – until now, thanks to the incorporation of British Sign Language into everything on the big screens. Emirates screens.
This is a first for Premier League clubs. Jon Dyster, the club’s Disability Access Manager, said: “We have a pitchside British Sign Language interpreter for all our content, pre-game and at half-time. So for every interview that takes place, we have someone explaining exactly what is going on for deaf fans in the stadium and on the big screens.
It’s such a brilliantly simple initiative, you wonder why it’s taken so long and why not all the other clubs immediately follow suit – all the more so listening to Christopher Clelland explain what it means to him.
“I am completely deaf, my first language is British Sign Language,” he says with joy that is moving in its intensity. “I’ve been coming to the Arsenal stadium since it opened and I’ve enjoyed it – it’s my number one, I love Arsenal. But a few deaf fans felt left out and I was always missing information…but now I I have full access, I can see it on screen or on the pitch. So it makes me feel included, and it’s so positive and so happy. I feel like I’m part of the team and family.
Parsons first saw the signing in the Newcastle game in January. “I was like, ‘Is this real?'” he recalled. “I was shocked, I was speechless – this really had a huge impact on me, I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Finally we’re included.’ The interpreter translates English to BSL using facial expressions and heuristics and it makes us feel more connected to the game because we know what’s going on. It makes us very happy.
The vibes weren’t limited to deaf Arsenal fans. Clelland and Parsons were approached by people around them in the ground, eager to find out what’s going on and share the happiness. “People are like, wow, that’s fantastic,” Clelland says. “I saw people practicing and getting involved in signing. It’s really nice to see.
There’s also a strong role model on the pitch: during lockdown, Jorginho taught himself BSL and presents a club pre-match video explaining why it’s important that BSL is now a recognized language in England, Scotland and Wales. “It’s amazing,” enthuses Clelland. “It’s really nice to see an Arsenal badge on him and he’s signing. It’s not stiff. It’s not nervous. It’s very natural and it’s just wow!
Arsenal are one of the few clubs to send staff to support disabled fans at every away game, but there is still work to be done elsewhere. “I would love for others to follow us,” Clelland says, “so all deaf fans can have the experience that we’re getting. Inclusion is a family.
“One guy can change everything,” said Pablo Sandóval in the Oscar-winning film The secret in their eyes. “His face, his house, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change, Benjamin. He can’t change… his passion.
Sandóval was of course talking about football. We are stuck with our clubs, a reality that those who run them understand all too well and often to our detriment. But when there is a will to make things work, you have uplifting innovations like those at Arsenal.
When you consider the depths to which modern gaming has sunk, it’s very easy to get very annoyed – and with good reason. But while the majority of games remain lackluster to lackluster – if not currently at Arsenal, as Christopher Clelland and Max Parsons are eager to point out – disparate people celebrating life through football remain the best that planet Earth has to offer. offer, and the inclusion of that ilk is one of the countless little things that maintain that status. Now who’s next?