Make football see the light over epilepsy

I’m not ashamed to say I’m addicted to football. I am the proud owner of a Crystal Palace home and away season ticket – I have missed one competitive match in five years.

I will never forget the feeling of walking up the stairs at Selhurst Park and seeing the pitch and the stadium in front of me. It’s hard to explain, but I felt like I belonged there. When I am supporting the boys from SE25 it doesn’t matter what sex I am, what dress size I am, how much money I earn, or that I have epilepsy – all that matters is that I support Crystal Palace Football Club.

However, in recent weeks my love of the club has been severely tested. Not by what has been going on with the management team and the poor performances on the pitch, but the club’s attitude to us, the fans.

The club, in line with Premier League requirements, has invested in new LED floodlights. The rules require all clubs in the league to have 360-degrees lighting to meet demand from broadcasters for super slow motion images.

The new floodlights were introduced at our evening match against Manchester United on 15 December. There had been no warning, we just turned up and they were there, blinding us all. The club briefly put a message up on the big screen warning of a light show before kick off (which can only be seen by half the ground) and a similar announcement was made over the sound system (which doesn’t work in certain areas of the stadium).

None of us really knew what light show meant, but those who are affected by flashing lights were advised to leave pitch side. So basically if you have photosensitive epilepsy you have to miss the pre-match build up, the teams and managers coming out onto the pitch, the handshakes, and if the timings are off – the kick off.

The light show involved the new swanky lights being switched on and off in time to the music, as someone said on one of our fans forums, it looked like a five-year-old being able to reach the light switch for the first time.

To say I was livid is an understatement. The club might has well have put up a sign saying ‘epileptics not welcome’. It was such a slap in the face after all the miles I’ve travelled and money I’ve spent supporting the club, and the work I’ve done with the supporters’ trust. I felt worthless.

I later found out that the light show caused one Palace fan and a member of staff to have seizures. I hope nobody watching the game on television at home or in the pub was affected. Yet despite this, and the protests from non-epileptic fans, the club decided to hold another light show against Swansea on 3 January.

I have to make it clear that it is not just my beloved Crystal Palace that has done this – several others in the Premier League have – and as other clubs change to LED lighting I fear this will be seen at more and more grounds. What isn’t clear at the moment is where the idea has come from – is it the clubs, the Football Association, the league or television companies?

Football fans – including those with epilepsy – pay a lot of money to follow their teams, so why should they have to miss a second just because someone in a suit has decided that flashing some swanky lights on and off makes it more exciting? Will it take someone dying from a seizure to make them reconsider this ridiculous practice?

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