Manchester United Foundation has always been proud to work closely with the Manchester United Disabled Supporters' Association (MUDSA) in order to support disabled participants and offer opportunities such as football tournaments and a pathway for young players to become members.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the two organisations have taken their partnership to the next level by offering a weekly exercise class, hosted by coaches from the Foundation’s disability and inclusion team for MUDSA members, every Wednesday morning, since the first UK lockdown period in March 2020.
Richard Haselgrove, a huge United fan and MUDSA member for over 25 years, has only missed one session during this time, and credits the classes and coaches for boosting his physical and mental health through this difficult period.
“My main hobby is football. My father took me to Old Trafford for the first time in 1968 when I was nine. I remember we played Newcastle and we won 6-0 – George Best got a hat-trick and I’ve never forgotten it,” said Richard (pictured).
“I was born with muscular dystrophy but by the late eighties it was getting quite difficult for me to go to matches, so I joined MUDSA and they’ve been an absolute lifeline for me – the opportunities to attend matches over the years has been fantastic.
“In terms of my disability, I could do a lot more when I was younger, but the symptoms have deteriorated with age. I try not to let it beat me, but I’ve found that harder as time has gone on, and I do suffer from a bit of anxiety and depression now.
“I probably haven’t used exercise as much as I should but when I heard about the Foundation exercise classes I was keen to get involved and I joined from the first session. I really enjoy them; I’ve only missed one session and that was for a doctor’s appointment – I’ve even taken part whilst on holiday in Cornwall; I took the laptop and joined in from there!
“I think I have improved in fitness but it’s more about the mental health aspect as it’s something I look forward to and enjoy doing – any fitness is a bonus but it’s more about the mental health benefits, that’s the main reason I do it. The coaches, Matt, Alex and Michael, are really good as well and it’s good to see the rest of the group each week.”
Throughout the year the group has welcomed some special guests to the sessions, including former Manchester United players Russell Beardsmore and Wes Brown (see video) – much to Richard’s (dis)pleasure!
“We never used weights until Wes Brown joined the class – he was the one who started using soup cans and weights so I went right off him,” joked Richard. “Luckily we had some weights that my wife uses for yoga so I just steal them on a Wednesday morning!”
The online sessions are offered for Foundation participants and MUDSA members of all abilities, and despite never having met face-to-face, Richard says the coaches and members have formed a tight bond.
“My favourite things are the enjoyment of the sessions, the way the guys run them, and the camaraderie. The coaches are fantastic; they push us as they need to but they’re very aware of what we can and can’t do and they’re very encouraging, so I enjoy that. All the exercises can be done from a wheelchair, which is a huge advantage, and nobody is ever put out of their comfort zone, but if you want to push yourself more you have that option. I also enjoy seeing the other people – we’ve got a nice little tight group now.”
As well as running the weekly exercise sessions, thanks to funding from MUDSA, the Foundation team has been able to maintain its high level of service to its disabled participants throughout Covid-19. Staff have made regular welfare calls to young people and families, and set up weekly sessions to include family challenges, online quiz nights and virtual exercise classes to keep both bodies and minds active.
Chas Banks, secretary of MUDSA, said: “The lockdown has been a tough time for everyone, but for many MUDSA members it has had the effect of cutting them off from their main source of social interaction – matchdays with friends and fellow fans.
“The regular exercise sessions have given members something to look forward to and helped to fill at least part of the hole in their lives that not being able to attend matches has caused. MUDSA looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Foundation in the future."
Richard concluded: “I think it’s fantastic that the Foundation has offered these sessions and support to MUDSA members; they’ve kept doing them week after week for nearly a year now and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of us when I say how grateful we are. It’s a lovely relationship between MUDSA and the Foundation.”
Find out more about the Foundation’s disability and inclusion provision here.