A young football fan has played a key part in raising awareness of autism at Premier League side AFC Bournemouth.
8 year old Cherries fan Jack Bailey, who has autism, took part in a training session for over 100 of the club’s stewards, community and front office staff alongside Dad, Gary and Karen Wilmshurst, our Advocacy Services Manager. The training kicked off our Autism Friendly Football campaign, which aims to support football clubs to become more autism friendly.
Diagnosed with autism at the age of 4 years old, Jack struggled with communication and interaction, leaving Dad Gary feeling helplessly distant and disconnected. A lifelong football fan himself, Gary decided to introduce Jack to the game in the hope they would find a common interest to bring them closer together. 4 years on, Jack is a fanatical Cherries fan and his relationship with his Dad has transformed.
Jack’s Dad, Gary Bailey, said; “Discovering a shared passion for football has made the world of difference to Jack and to our relationship. From our very first match together watching AFC Bournemouth play Wigan Athletic FC at home, football has given us something to bond over and we’ve made so many special memories. It’s helped Jack to build his confidence, experience different social situations and give a focus to his fascination with stats.”
Gary continued; “Don’t get me wrong though, it’s certainly not been plain sailing and over the years I’ve taken my own steps to help Jack cope with the crowds and noise. There are many ways that clubs can make it easier for fans like Jack and I, which is why we are supporting the Autism Friendly Football campaign. As huge Cherries fans we are so thrilled that AFC Bournemouth is getting involved. Watching Jack help to raise awareness at the club he loves so much makes me so very proud!”
Alice Jeans, Disability Liaison Officer at AFC Bournemouth, said: “We are delighted to have welcomed Jack, Gary and the team at Autism Wessex to the club. It was so helpful to hear first-hand about their personal experiences and increase awareness and understanding of autism amongst our frontline staff. We as a club are committed to making sure football is accessible for all and want to ensure that all our supporters have an enjoyable match day experience.”
We have teamed up with our Ambassador and Former Football Manager Harry Redknapp to run the Autism Friendly Football campaign. The campaign aims to support football clubs of all sizes to make small changes that will make a big difference to anyone affected by autism.
Karen Wilmshurst, Advocacy Services Manager at Autism Wessex, said; “We’d like to say a huge thank you to Jack and Gary for their help in delivering the training session and to AFC Bournemouth for their fantastic support. For someone with autism and their family, going to watch their favourite football team play can be overwhelming and stressful but there are easy ways that clubs can help, like giving staff awareness training. We would love to work with football clubs of all sizes across the region so whether you are a fan, player or staff member please encourage your club to get in touch and support the campaign.”
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