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      Meet Palace’s new Disability Liaison Officer, Rhianna Odartey


      “Even on matchdays, people are like ‘Rhianna, you’re running around the whole ground’ – and I’m like, ‘yeah, I know, I’m getting my steps in – I’ve done, like, 10,000 today already, after only an hour!’”

      Much like her pedometer on a Selhurst Park matchday, Rhianna Odartey doesn’t stop.

      Despite being just shy of 21, the vivacious, friendly and infectiously enthusiastic Crystal Palace staff member has already worked at Selhurst for over four years.

      Living just a few moments' walk away from Selhurst, Odartey took the recommendation of her sister and joined her local football club in August 2018, initially as a part-time Box Office Assistant, to support her college studies in Business and Media.

      “[Working in football] wasn't something I was always interested in before,” she admits, telling her story as part of the club's celebrations of International Women's Day. “But I went along, gained a few skills, and was able to communicate well with the supporters.”

      While admitting that juggling it with her studies was “hectic”, Odartey enjoyed the experience so much that, upon completing her studies – and following a brief stint out of football – she returned to Palace in early 2022 as a full-time Supporter Services Executive.

      She reflects: “There's always something always going on here, which is great – it’s never a boring day!

      “Every day, I always come into work really happy because my friends are also coming in. Some days or weeks could be really busy in the Box Office, especially during Season Ticket Renewals… but because we had each other, it was like we had a little family.

      “We always said that we wanted to be on that show on Netflix – The Office! We always thought that there should be a camera crew following us around, because there was always something different going on at work, and it was so funny!”

      Odartey in one of Selhurst Park's accessible sensory rooms, which she runs for supporters with autism or sensory impairments
      Odartey in one of Selhurst Park's accessible sensory rooms, which she runs for supporters with autism or sensory impairments

      She admits to not originally being a football fan when she started out – “I’m still learning about the players!” she laughs – but, ever-enthusiastic, was clearly keen to adapt quickly.

      After less than a year back at the club, the 20-year-old was offered the role of Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) in December.

      Ready to embrace the next chapter in her Palace “adventure”, Odartey’s willingness to put herself forward has already helped her gain early grounding in the role.

      “The previous DLO, Pam Groves, used to come down and ask for assistance with certain things, so I’d try to help her out,” she explains.

      “She was someone I looked up to when she was here. She was just so lovely supporting everyone, and everyone here knows her. It was great to have someone everybody was able to relate to.

      “I always found her job role interesting – not that I wanted it straight away! But she always made it seem like it was worthwhile. She really enjoyed talking to customers and supporters, and that’s what I like doing as well.

      “She was always able to help them out, and I like helping people out too, especially when it’s about something they enjoy. So when the opportunity came along, I was like: ‘Yeah, cool, I’ll take it!’ – and it’s been great so far!”

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      Being able to help someone every day is the best thing ever.

      Rhianna Odartey

      As for the role, Odartey would describe it: “… as being a person who supports individuals who would like to attend a game.

      “Not all needs are visible. You can't tell straight away if someone has differences or have special requirements that may alter their everyday lives. You have to be able to communicate with that person to advise them on what the best opportunities are for them to enjoy the matchday, and ensure that it is comfortable for them.

      “I also help them make any arrangements beforehand, such as being able to visit the ground, just in case they do get overwhelmed or are somewhere that's new for them, and so that they know exactly where their seats are going to be.

      “It's a really good job. I enjoy it very much. Some supporters I work with will say: ‘I haven't been to see Palace for a while because of these issues, and I want to start coming back again’ – and I'm able to communicate with them and just help them come back to Selhurst.

      “Then, you sometimes get messages saying: ‘Thank you so much’, ‘I have enjoyed my trip’ or ‘it's been great. I will definitely come back again.’ Some of them send a photo to the Box Office or the DLO email address and you just see the smile on their face…

      "It's so fun. Being able to help someone every day is the best thing ever. It’s a good feeling to have.”

      And in developing her professional skillset at Palace, Odartey believes she has developed on a personal level over the years, as well.

      She smiles: “To be fair, I would say I was very shy at the beginning, and I didn't really know how to get into it well, but because I just talk for ages and ages… when you get me going, I won't stop!

      “Being able to stay in it, work hard and gain different levels of development in my job is what got me to being a DLO, I think.

      “I feel like, as long as you're comfortable and you have people around you who are able to support you and help you out, you'll be completely fine.

      “As long as you have that faith in yourself to say: ‘yep, you can continue to do this job’, and you know who you are as a person and as an individual, then it’s easy to continue doing what you're doing.”

      As well as embracing the variety of life at Palace, Odartey particularly enjoys the variety of characters she works with on a day-to-day basis.

      “I feel like Palace is open and welcoming to everyone,” she explains. “When I first started, there were so many female staff members in my department, especially in the Box Office.

      “There would even even be days where there were no boys in and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, it's just us girls! This is so fun.’ It’s not like we acted any different, but it was just nice to have females working together with you – and to have lifelong friends as well.

      “Having a group filled with different personalities adds character. It makes it worthwhile for everyone."

      Speaking on International Women’s Day, Odartey admits that, while on the whole she has found entering the footballing community a welcoming and inclusive experience, work does remain to tackle pre-conceptions about women working in the industry.

      She explains: “When it comes to certain situations, a few people sometimes seem to think that you don’t have that knowledge on certain things. They just want to speak to an authority, and because they hear a female voice, they're like, ‘Oh, she doesn't know this, or she doesn't know that.’

      “I have experienced a few situations or a few examples where I've had to hand over to a supervisor because it's been a bit overwhelming, and it’s something I don't want anyone else to experience, because it's not something that should be happening, really.”

      But those instances remain few and far between and, as she continues to grow on her journey with Crystal Palace, so does her satisfaction at being part of the self-described “close-knit feel” of the club.

      Picking up a cardboard box she was on her way to deliver before our interview began, Odartey stops for a moment and reflects: “Being able to have this job and this role, and staying in it for so long, it just gives me the thought that I'm worth something to this club, and I'm here for a reason. It just gives me gratitude, in a way.

      “Four years is a long time.... but yeah, I just keep going!”

      Four years, 10,000 steps – and counting.

      Supporters looking to get in touch with Rhianna regarding disability access can contact her via the button below.