Charlie Swinbourne: Deaf footballer Daniel Ailey says abuse he experiences is ‘the same as racism’

Posted on February 26, 2013


Daniel Ailey didn’t give up playing football when a badly broken leg left him on the sidelines for a year. He didn’t quit when a trial with Doncaster Rovers as a teenager ended in rejection. But Ailey, who is deaf and plays as a semi-professional for Potters Bar Town, in Hertfordshire, nearly walked away from the game following a home match in October against Grays Athletic, when the sound of the calls he uses to alert team-mates to his position was mocked by the away team’s fans.

As the ground reverberated to the sound of fans imitating his vocal sounds, the game was briefly stopped by the referee, and the police were called. When the incident was picked up by the local paper, it was further inflamed when local resident John Griffin, boss of minicab firm Addison Lee and a Tory party donor, suggested that rather than taking action against the fans of Grays Athletic, the police should have “demanded that he [Ailey] discontinue making noises that could be misinterpreted by members of the crowd”. Griffin later apologised for his comments.

Yet even as Ailey, who uses British Sign Language (BSL) as his primary means of communication, found himself at the centre of a heated debate, he was never himself interviewed. “Nobody asked me how I felt about it,” he says. “The reporters should have spoken to me with an interpreter.”

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