Family of Foxton football fan urge others to live life to the full

PUBLISHED: 08:24 21 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:25 21 June 2018

Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams

Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams

Archant

The family of a young woman from Foxton – who took on the challenge of visiting every Premier League football ground, before she died suddenly – have urged people with disabilities to get out and live life to the full.

Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams

Hannah Ilott had quadriplegic cerebral palsy, but lived life with the help of her family and carer Gail Williams.

She especially enjoyed going down the pub and watching football – and it was this which led to the pair taking on the challenge.

Gail, who was Hannah’s carer for 21 years, has spoken to the Crow about their experience as football fever begins to sweep the nation – on the back of a 2-1 England win in the team’s opening game of the World Cup.

“I worshipped Hannah like she was my own,” said Gail.

Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams

“She was my little sidekick, and we did everything together.

“That bond was there straight away. Hannah was unable to walk and talk, but she was always smiling despite all her disabilities and operations.

“Although Hannah was severely disabled, she didn’t live a disabled person’s life. She loved football, so that’s how we came up with the challenge of visiting every ground and see how accessible they were.

“I thought the top end of the Premier League would be the most disabled-friendly – but we couldn’t get tickets for Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea or Arsenal, as they go to season ticket holders.

Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams Gail Williams with Hannah Ilott. Picture: Gail Williams

“The vast majority of the smaller and the middle range clubs were much better. West Bromwich Albion could not do enough for you, and they were the best.

“We went to Leicester where the ticket was quite cheap, but Hannah couldn’t see anything.

“Football is universal and it should be accessible to all. Sadly it wasn’t for Hannah, but she loved every experience.

“She loved being posh one minute and a ‘thug’ the next – and she loved having a beer and a pie.

“When she couldn’t see anything at a ground she missed seeing the lads’ legs 100 per cent, but it was the atmosphere she loved the most.”

As well as visiting football grounds, Hannah was also keen on watching games in the pub.

“When Hannah was in her late teens, I thought I’m taking her to the pub,” said Gail.

“We went in The White Horse in Foxton and I just remember going thinking this is going one way or another, but we went in and she sat in front of the TV to watch the football and we had the best afternoon ever. She became a regular there.”

Hannah went to around 12 grounds before she died suddenly aged 25 in September last year.

She lived with retired headteacher dad Paul and mum Caroline – a Foxton parish councillor – and has a younger sister, Ruth, 22.

Paul said: “We knew what a fantastic relationship Gail had with Hannah, and we knew how much Hannah would love this challenge so we were all for it.

“We built our house in Foxton with Hannah in mind, and Gail was originally a live-in carer but moved to Bassingbourn when she got married. She would stay overnight four nights a week with Hannah, and in the later years Hannah would stay at Gail’s too.”

Gail added: “It’s still hard to accept that she’s gone, but Hannah’s story is such a great one.

“She was so positive and loved by everyone in the village, and we just want to tell people with disabilities that you can do whatever you want to do. As much as life knocks you down, you’ve got to keep going and live life to the full.”

A spokesman for the Premier League said: “Premier League football is for everyone and clubs have a long tradition of welcoming disabled fans to their stadiums. In the last three years clubs have made huge improvements to disabled access for their fans.

“The scale and scope of the work undertaken – from enhanced car parking and ticket purchasing options to increasing the wheelchair bay provision – is unprecedented in any other sport or entertainment sector.

“The Premier League and the clubs will continue to engage constructively with disabled supporters and are committed to making future improvements to keep pace with rising standards.”

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