The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024
15/06/2024

Pride in the shirts of noisy neighbours

The sight of deaf Newcastle fans enjoying the experience of feeling the noise in the stadium for the first time caused one Sunderland fan to put rivalries aside for the day as he tells Dan Sheridan
Dan Burn used BSL to sign ‘love the fans’ during Newcastle United’s goalscoring celebration earlier this month

As a Sunderland season ticket holder, Jack Ramsey wouldn’t normally tune in to watch Newcastle United. But there was something far more important than regional rivalry at work during the Magpies’ Premier League clash with Tottenham earlier this month.

In a footballing first, a group of deaf and hard of hearing Newcastle fans were kitted out with shirts driven by haptic technology that reacted to volume levels emanating from the crowd, allowing those wearing them to feel the noise inside the stadium.

And it wasn’t long before those deaf and hard of hearing fans became stars in their own right; their joyous smiling faces being beamed across the world

Lifelong Sunderland fan Jack has been deaf since birth, and grew up using British Sign Language (BSL). 

On any other weekend he wouldn’t dream of celebrating a goal scored by his team’s arch rivals, but when Newcastle defender Dan Burn celebrated his team’s opener at St James’ Park by signing ‘love the fans’ using BSL, all allegiances went out of the window. 

“I watched the game on the TV and felt incredibly proud that a football club in our region was connecting with their deaf supporters,” says the 24-year-old, who works in the health and wellbeing department at Sunderland’s Foundation of Light.

“It was an amazing experience to see those kids’ faces light up when Newcastle scored. They’ve never had that feeling before. Suddenly they could feel the fans around them and feel the environment that they were in.

“Newcastle are the first club to trial this technology and we should all feel a sense of regional pride because of that. Hopefully more clubs can get involved — including my own.”

Lifelong Sunderland fan Jack Ramsey has been deaf since birth

A Stadium of Light regular since he was eight-years-old, Jack, who has popped up on more than one occasion on Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die, is now keen to see the initiative become widespread across English football — and especially at his hometown club.  

“I’d love to try out the technology,” he says. “To experience a match through a haptic feedback shirt would be a gamechanger. I really hope Sunderland can be part of that. I’d be very interested in making it happen somehow, and I’d definitely push for it here.

“Those kids won’t have experienced anything like that before. Some deaf people can’t hear anything at all, so to be able to feel the atmosphere and get involved with the crowd around you is an amazing way to embrace their deafness. 



“It made me feel incredibly proud to see the impact that those shirts had. Despite the rivalry, this felt much more important than that. It’s much bigger than a game of football. You have to look at the bigger picture for everyone in the community, and not just at red and white or black and white.”  

One person that may be able to get the ball rolling on the scheme at the Stadium of Light is Elizabeth Barton-Jones.

As head of health and wellbeing, and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lead at the Foundation of Light, the 49-year-old also provides support to the football club on similar matters.

The Foundation of Light’s Elizabeth Barton-Jones is interested to find out more about Newcastle United’s use of haptic technology

Her enthusiasm for the scheme is similarly aligned with Jack’s. “I think there’s a conversation to be had,” she says. “I’d love to be able to influence [the club] at the highest level and make it happen at the Stadium of Light. We can certainly raise it with the chief executive and the powers that be at the EDI subgroup that the club has.

“There are opportunities to have that conversation. We’d be really interested to find out about the journey Newcastle United have been on to get to this point with the technology, and how it becomes normalised.”

Elizabeth, who is on a temporary secondment as head of insight and impacts, has spent over a decade with the Foundation, and says the use of football as a mechanism to engage with the region’s deaf communities is vital, no matter where their loyalties lie.  

“To see Dan Burn using BSL to celebrate a goal and acknowledging the needs of different people was really powerful,” she says.

“Newcastle United made history with this technology. The rivalry between the two clubs will always be there, but there are opportunities that supersede that, and it would be great to see what we could do for our community on the back of what Newcastle have started.

“It’s a reasonable adjustment to support people with a hearing impairment, and I would absolutely advocate from the red and white side of the region that we do that as well. If I can instigate a conversation with the club and see where we can get to, then I will. I’ll take it as an action.”

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