For 20 years Ian Wood has roared his beloved Liverpool on from the stands, but never seen any of the action… until now.
All but blind since the age of five, he had relied on radio and “oohs” and “aahs” from The Kop.
But thanks to a remarkable £600 vision helmet, Ian can finally see his heroes – and even knows when to jeer the ref!
And now Ian is hoping to follow his team all the way to the Madrid Champions League final in June – via a visit to Barcelona for the semi final on the way, next month.
Ian, 41, has just five per cent vision and takes a seat on Anfield’s halfway line to track the action.
He said: “This has changed my life. I’ve been a fan since I was a boy and remember going to a match in the 1990s and they didn’t even have audio-commentary, so this is amazing.
“After years of listening from the sidelines I can actually shout to the ref ‘that was never a penalty’ if I don’t like what I see.
“I can’t read the names on players’ shirts but I can tell who has the ball.
“I get so much more from the game than I did before.”
The equipment was funded by Remap, a charity which designs products to help disabled people live more independently.
It is dubbed RooVision after designer Rupert “Roo” Powell, an electrical engineer who helps the charity.
A high-definition camera is linked to a small computer that enhances the images and plays them on a screen held over Ian’s eyes. The wireless gizmo is held in place on a ski helmet.
It works for three hours – long enough for extra time and penalties, like when the Reds beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul.
Ian was there and recalls: “Every time we had the ball the crowd cheered.
“When we didn’t they booed, so it was easy to follow. But you do miss out.
“Not every eye condition is the same, so for some people the RooVision wouldn’t work. But for me and the amount of vision I have left, it is great.
“I wear it at the pub to watch matches on TV and chat to other supporters. But it’s not just for football – I have used it at Stereophonics and U2 concerts.”
Ian met Rupert after approaching Remap over a tweak to his wheelchair.
They got chatting about football.
Rupert said: “At home, Ian watched football on a 42in screen, with his nose nearly touching the glass.
“I said if you could have that at a live game, would you be able to watch? He said yes, so that was the starting point.”
It was Ian’s idea to use a camera after reading of a visually-impaired Fleetwood Town fan with something similar. Rupert spent a year on it, producing a prototype in January 2018.
It cost just £600 – a fraction of electronic glasses for the blind, which start at around £5,000.
Ian first used it when Liverpool played Merseyside rivals Everton.
He said: “It was really impressive. We beat Everton 2-1 and I witnessed Virgil Van Dijk’s first goal for Liverpool.
“It was an amazing experience and a perfect result for us.”
The gadget has been fine-tuned since then and Ian and Rupert are working on further enhancements. Ian explained: “A second camera could be held by my helper, so I can tune in to both and never miss a moment.”
Rupert, 55, said helping Ian was incredibly rewarding, and he hopes to adapt the gadget for other users. Ian lost all but 10 per cent of his vision after a childhood car crash.
His sight declined further and after years of muscle fatigue – and needing splints on both legs – he was diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy.
The progressive genetic disease can cause blindness and his mum, sister and niece also suffer.
Ian had to give up his job at a railway museum but never gave up on Liverpool.
A season-ticket holder since 2000, he made the four-hour round trip from his York home with a chaperone to attend every match.
Last year he raised £2,000 for Remap by tackling a Super Hero Triathlon.
He competes again this August in Windsor, on a 400m swim, 10km bike ride and a 2.5km wheelchair-push.
Ian will use a hand bike for the ride and Rupert has developed an underwater beeping device to guide him in the right direction.
RooVision won Remap’s Wolff Award – after TV scientist Prof Heinz Wolff – in 2018. And Rupert hopes to develop a headset that can help Ian’s sister go shopping.
Remap’s 900 volunteers developed 3,500 products to help people last year, all free of charge.
David Martin, the organisation’s CEO, said: “Our help is essential.”