Woody Welcomes Southampton
You wait a long time for one south coast team to come to the G-tech stadium and like the open topped buses that show the sights of the coastal town for our last home opponents, Bournemouth, two come along at once.
The arrival of Southampton FC tomorrow is bitter sweet as Woody and I were really disappointed not be able to travel to St Mary’s stadium for the away fixture last year. However, due to the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II the match was rightfully postponed out of respect.
So we are really excited to show our hospitality to the Carabao Cup semi finalists Southampton tomorrow. Known as Saints, the club is just four years Brentford’s senior, being established in 1885. They are known as Saints because they were originally called Southampton St Marys, and since moving from The Dell ground the original name has been honoured with their stadium being called St Marys. We wonder if the team will display a saintly performance or will they provide a more devilish display in the wake of their exit from the Carabao Cup earlier this week...
And let me tell you, the work that Saints do within their community to nurture inclusion and promote diversity, is incredibly impressive.
Lets start with the charitable organisation the ‘Saints Foundation’. Established 20 years ago, the Foundation aims to develop strong community connections, lift up the voices of those within their area, improve health and well being as well as supporting access and inclusion to exercise. There are lots of activities as part of the Foundation including ‘Saints Kicks’ which engages with young people to provide a space to play football and spend time with their friends, and there is also, ‘Community Champions’ who engage with secondary schools to support pupils who find the traditional school environment challenging.
These are just two of the many iniativies the Saints Foundation have, but Woody and I wanted to really highlight two schemes which we felt really stood out.
As part of the Foundation, Woody and I thought the disability football sessions were really amazing. The sessions are part of ‘Saints Ability’ and we particularly enjoyed hearing from Amelia about the impact the coaching has on her. Amelia has Down syndrome and has really come out of her shell socially through attending the football sessions. On World Down Syndrome Day, the foundation interviewed Amelia and it was clear that she takes a lot away from interacting and exercising with her friends.
The other resource that is available to those within the community is ‘Senior Saints’, which empowers more senior members in the area to maintain their independence, improve physical health and enjoy exercise. We thought the impact Senior Saints had on member Margaret Arthur was brilliant. Margaret used to attend the sessions with her husband, but fell out of the routine of going. Sadly Margaret’s husband passed away but someone from the Foundation kept in touch with her. This was really special for Margaret and she felt like these calls had a positive impact on her wellbeing. After a while Margaret joined in some video calls and now she is an integral attendee at the meet ups that are organised, in particular the ‘Senior Saints Walk’ which takes place in a local park and provide the chance to stay fit and socialise.
The club itself offers much to both home and away fans to make the matchday experience a positive one. There is an audio description service, which provides headphones and is hosted by a specially trained commentator who can make sure those with a visual impairment are kept right up to date with the activity on the pitch to the second. Saints also welcome assistance dogs and work in conjunction with Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions to enable those who require assistance access the ground comfortably. Furthermore, the club works closely with the Saints Disabled Supporters Association (SDSA) to maintain open communication and ensure appropriate advocacy for fans who have a disability.
Saints have a great track record for raising awareness of the disabled community and they let their shirts do the talking. Back in 2018, during their Premier League match against Leicester, Saints exchanged their usual shirt sponsor for that of charity Scope. Scope campaign for equality for people with disabilities within society. So a high profile game between Saints and Leicester was the perfect opportunity for Southampton to demonstrate their own commitment to ensuring their fans have the opportunity to enjoy football regardless of their abilities.
Finally, Woody and I loved hearing about our friend Izzy and her family who were really boosted by a visit from the Saints players, during a long hospital stay in 2019. Izzy’s Dad is a huge Saints fan and goes to every home match with his Dad and Brother. The players came in to the cardiac ward were Izzy was recovering from open heart surgery, they spoke to the children and parents on the ward and left gifts and signed photographs. Izzy can be seen with her gifts in this picture and the family said that having such a visit during a really challenging time was just the tonic they needed and put a smile on their faces.
Woody and I are really looking forward to tomorrow’s match and meeting super Saints fan Mark Harper.
We know the Saints will coming marching in but we hope to use our sting to put a stop to their stride...