Audio for All: The specialist football commentators bringing games to life for blind fans

  • ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward went along to Cambridge United's League One clash against Exeter City to see the club's 'Audio for All' service in action

As a visually impaired or blind football fan, following your favourite team at live matches can be tricky.

However, thanks to the selfless work of a small band of dedicated volunteers at one League One club, every supporter is being given an equal chance to experience and enjoy the beautiful game.

Cambridge United's Audio for All service is now in its 11th season, and is free to use for both home and away fans.

When it was set up, the U's were one of only a handful of non-league clubs to offer specially-tailored commentary to supporters with a visual impairment or sensory needs, and it's thought that 40% of professional clubs, including some in the Premier League, still don't provide such a service.

Cambridge's audio descriptive service is run by a dedicated team who give up their weekends and evenings, often travelling large distances, to bring U's games to life.

Visually impaired Cambridge United fan, Zoe Harvey. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Commentators are trained to not only describe the action, as their radio counterparts do, but also to go into extra detail to paint a picture of what's happening - including talking about things such as what colour boots the players are wearing or the facial expressions of the managers and coaches.

All those added touches are vital for supporters like Zoe Harvey who only has 12.5% vision after she started losing her sight at the age of 21.

"If I didn't have the audio description I'd be backwards and forwards not knowing what was going on, if it was a goal or a corner," she said.

"So, having that audio description on means I can get really submerged into the game.

"They (the volunteers) come from miles to come to give someone like me the opportunity to enjoy football again. What more could you ask for?"

Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium. Credit: PA

Visually impaired fans who sign up to the service are given a personal audio receiver and can sit or stand anywhere they want in the stadium.

They can then listen to the dulcet tones of contributors such as Neil Cornwell who has regularly been making the long trip to Cambridge from his home in Norfolk since the service's inception 11 years ago.

Mr Cornwell has also played a key role in training up new recruits as well, with the only requirements a clear speaking voice, a love of the game and a basic knowledge of the laws.

The team are always looking for more people to join their ranks to help keep the service running for the next generation of supporters.

"It is enormous fun and if we can be a small part of allowing people to come to the football who might otherwise be sat at home, then that's a great thing," Mr Cornwell said.

"Your team may have played like rubbish, but you can drive home happy and satisfied that you've made a difference and there's not many people that are lucky enough to get that. So, I think we're very lucky to get the opportunity."

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