A blind faith in West Ham, especially when you can’t see!
PUBLISHED: 21:00 29 March 2017
James Datson has been commentating on West Ham for 16 years for the Hammers’ blind and partially sighted fans, including his own brother Matt
If you have seen the Iron Men DVD, then you will have noticed the prominent role given to one man, despite the fact that he never sees a West Ham game.
That doesn’t stop him for attending every home game though for Matt Datson is blind and every match day is enhanced by commentary from his brother James.
And just to make things more difficult for Matt, he comes to every home game from Weston Super Mare!
“I moved there about seven years ago, that is where my wife Wendy is from so it is her fault basically!” he laughs.
Wendy is also blind and a season ticket holder at Bristol City, but there was never any question of Matt switching allegiance.
“My wife and her family are trying to convert me to City and I have been to Ashton Gate a few times, but you never change your colours and I am claret and blue,” says Matt, who grew up in Chadwell Heath, a long free kick away from the old training ground.
Iron Men followed Matt on his journey from the West Country, on the 8.30am train into Paddington, across London to meet his guide at the Spotted Dog in Barking and then on to the game, one that turned out to be the disastrous 4-1 loss to Swansea City.
For Matt, now 46, his first game was back in the late seventies: “I think it was against Cardiff City and I went with my mum and mate over the road and his mum,” he recalls.
“I went to school for the blind down in Kent so I lost touch a bit, but when I left school in the nineties, I started going with my brother and his mates. We all stood on the north bank and we used to get the train to Forest Gate and walk from there.”
Matt was born partially sighted, but by the age of 20 he was totally blind and that is where brother James came to the fore.
He used to describe the action standing next to his brother, and now James, who is a mentor at Palmer Catholic Academy in Ilford.
And it is from those humble beginnings that has led to him becoming a vital commentator not just for his brother, but for a whole host of blind fans at Upton Park and now at the London Stadium.
“We have about 40 headsets available and we have about 20 season-ticket holders who have come over from Upton Park,” says James, who has been doing commentaries for 16 years now.
“For me, with by brother involved in it, it is great. To allow visually impaired and blind supporters to attend football is very rewarding.
“It inspires me because football should be for all and disability shouldn’t get in the way and I think West Ham are one of the leading clubs who offer the service.”
“People often ask me: ’what’s the difference? Can’t they just listen on the radio?’ but they want to have the feeling of being involved in a match-day experience rather than just saying they support a team.
“The commentary I give is more detailed and it is not just about the game, it is about the build-up and the stadium.”
So what is it like coming to a game when you can’t see it? What sort of experience is it?
Matt ponders: “I pick up a lot from the atmosphere around me,” he says. “That is key, along with James’ commentary. When they are not playing well, I would rather not be here.”
We can all say that, but what about his heroes? Matt’s are not much different to the rest of us.
“My hero has got to be Trevor Brooking,” he affirms. “Moving on from that Cottee and McAvennie, then Di Canio, Julian Dicks and more recently Mark Noble and Winston Reid are my favourites.”
Matt was one of the stars at the recent premiere of Iron Men in Mile End and it was a night he will not forget.
“It was great,” says Matt with a smile. “I got to meet Andy Carroll, Aaron Cresswell, Slaven Bilic and Ray Winstone.”
What a vital service that James provides for Matt and the other partially sighted and blind fans who come to the game.
In the past, it was just the referee who was blind, now James is hoping he can keep expanding.
“We are looking to enhance things and the film will hopefully help with that,” says the affable James. “We want to try and get new equipment because the stadium is so much bigger and hopefully get blind West Ham fans to away games too.”
When you see Matt jumping up and down after West Ham score a goal, you know that all of this is worthwhile.