Colour blind awareness: my 16-year-old son used to be a football fan

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As teams churn out more and more third kits, the issue of colour blind clashes is becoming increasingly common. Here Kathryn Albany-Ward from Colour Blind Awareness tells us more about the problem...

When my son was younger, he collected Match Attax cards so obsessively even his big sister could name all the teams in the Premier League. At eight years old he searched for weeks for the ‘Peter Ketch’ (Petr Cech) card and he was desperate to watch ‘Man U’ play at home.

He talked only about football and he practised ALL the time. Our neighbours must have been sick of hearing his football smash against the garden fence!

In his early teens he threw himself into playing FIFA with his mates. He watched Wycombe Wanderers home games with his dad but gradually he stopped talking about football and moved over to hockey.

Tuesday 16th September 2014 was a turning point for us. That night Liverpool played Ludogorets in the Champions League and he, along with hundreds of thousands of other fans, switched off. Whilst many tried to put the match behind them, hoping change might come, our son’s faith in football ebbed away.

Why? That evening he came down from his room and turned on the TV just in time for the start of the game. He’d timed it perfectly so that he didn’t have to watch the warm up or the anthems. Within seconds he was livid. He marched across to the TV, turned it off and stomped back upstairs muttering ‘What IS the point watching THAT?’

The problem was, all he could see were heads and feet floating around the pitch.

Like one in 12 men and one in 200 women my son is colour blind. Liverpool were playing in all-red and Ludogorets in all-green which meant to him both teams, and the pitch, were all the same colour. The only things standing out were pale faces and brightly coloured boots.

Some newspapers caught on, with a particularly catchy headline from The Sun - ‘Who Are Ya?’ - but didn’t publish simulated images so people with normal colour vision had no idea what the fuss was about and it was quickly forgotten.

I didn’t forget. I’d finally realised the impact for commercial football. I decided to do something to help all the millions of colour blind fans around the world struggling to follow games, just like my son.

I’d set up Colour Blind Awareness a few years previously to highlight the problems colour blind children face in school. Funnily enough that all came about because of a kit clash.

We had no idea our son was colour blind when he changed schools aged seven. We moved him to a new school where they played sport every afternoon and where most of his football ‘nippers’ team were already pupils, so we knew he’d have no problems settling in.

Within a week he announced he didn’t like his new school. After detailed questioning it all came down to him never knowing who was in his team for football because he couldn’t tell the difference between both colours of his reversible shirt.

Having to guess who was picked for his team each day was too stressful and he wanted out. The school kit wasn’t red and green. We didn’t know at that stage just how many colour combinations can cause problem for colour blind people.

After that Champions League game, I contacted Level Playing Field. Before I knew it, I was speaking to UEFA, the FA, the Premier League and even FIFA at the CAFE Conference in Paris!

I was amazed at the positive reaction, but I didn’t appreciate then how long it would take for real changes to happen.

The FA and UEFA in particular have realised the implications, stepping in to prevent many matches which might otherwise have been ‘colour blind’ kit clashes and publishing Guidance Notes for Football.

Unfortunately, there are still far too many ‘kit clash’ games taking place, including some in the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League this season. Most disappointing of all was the opening game of the World Cup when Russia took on Saudi Arabia because, despite being aware of colour blindness, FIFA allowed this to be a red-green kit clash.

Although I was hopping mad at the time it was another turning point, creating Twitter ‘Moments’ all around the world as the number of fans unable to follow the action switched off once again and turned to social media to vent their frustration. This time though the BBC wrote a feature and TV stations asked for interviews.

But for real change to happen quickly we need more colour blind fans to help us and to stand up for change. If you, your child, mates or family members have been affected please let us, the clubs and the competition organisers know. This isn’t a difficult issue to fix but it’s becoming more frustrating due to the growing numbers of third kits.

We need fans’ help so that clubs, kit manufacturers and broadcasters pay attention. For example, consider asking for your ticket money back when you can’t follow kit clash games.

The FSF is sponsoring a focus group for fans so please join in the conversations on Twitter via @colourblindorg (and a new account @cbfootballfans) and let us know if you’d like to take part.

And what about my son? He remains to be convinced that kit regulations will be changed or applied but, in the meantime, at least our neighbours will be happy!

Fans for Diversity is a joint campaign run with Kick It Out, football's anti-discrimination group. Find out more about the campaign here. 

Thanks to PA Images for the image used in this blog.