Daniel Sukula, the latest member of the public to be inducted into our squad of Lionhearts, has something in common with England manager Gareth Southgate.
The Three Lions boss has spoken openly about his aim to turn his team into the world’s number-one international side, even as far back as when they were ranked 16th by FIFA at the start of 2018.
And that message is one shared by 30-year-old Daniel, who set up the Be The Best community company to help youngsters in Bolton fulfil their potential, in spite of any barriers they might face within their lives.
Emile Heskey became aware of Daniel’s work while playing for Bolton Wanderers from 2014 to 2016, and it was the former England striker who nominated Daniel for the Lionhearts campaign.
And with Daniel going on to win the approval of the Lionhearts’ judging panel – which included Southgate himself – to make the final 23 ahead of almost a thousand other worthy contenders, Heskey paid a visit to the Be The Best centre to break the news of his selection.
The recently-redeveloped facility – which includes a sports hall, education room, music and dance studios – was due to open in spring, but the launch was scuppered by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Although the pandemic has prevented the youngsters of Bolton from being able to gather at the centre in the way Daniel hopes they will be able to soon, he has run online sessions to keep them motivated and connected from a distance.
Father-of-two Daniel knows from experience how important the support of others can be. He arrived in England with his family from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo at the age of 11, but they faced the prospect of deportation in 2005 – only to be saved thanks to a campaign led by the people of Bolton.
“We got people from all over the UK to fight for my family to stay here, so that was one of my inspirations to want to give back to the community,” Daniel told Heskey when the pair met last week. “Without them, none of this would be possible.”
Daniel started Be The Best in 2015, shortly after a close friend was stabbed to death. “That was a wake-up call. To see so many talents going to waste, I was like ‘I need to do something’ – and that’s when I put everything together.”
Striving to make a difference and inspire Bolton’s next generation 👏— England (@England) August 23, 2020
Our fifth #Lionhearts member is the brilliant @daniel_sukula – and @EmileHeskeyUK was on hand to welcome him to the squad! pic.twitter.com/7sECTI1LuC
The campaign, which is supported by lead England partner BT, aims to celebrate people who have done the country proud during a difficult year.
Daniel said of his inclusion: “I am very honoured. I wasn’t expecting it at all – when I got the email it took a while for me to actually believe it, even when I woke up the next day.
“There’s so many inspirational people in the UK and so many doing even better things than what I’m doing, so to be chosen out of a thousand people… I am proud. Very proud.”
After handing Daniel a framed England shirt bearing his name and Lionhearts squad number 22, Heskey told him: “To show what is capable of being done if you put your mind to it, you’re a credit to not just this community but the whole of the UK.
“To see what you’ve accomplished in the time that you have, along with the lockdown and everything, has been amazing.”
Meet the Lionhearts group as it stands:
- 1. Captain Sir Tom Moore – Record-breaking centenarian who raised more than £32million for NHS Charities Together
- 5. Betty-Leigh Allinson – Football shirt enthusiast aged five who has raised over £27,000 for a Hertfordshire hospice through a cycling feat
- 9. Tobias Weller – Nine-year-old inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore to raise almost £150,000 for Sheffield-based charities
- 15. Hassan Akkad – Award-winning film maker who answered a call to be a cleaner in his local hospital before raising awareness of NHS bereavement fund
- 22. Daniel Sukula – Community leader from Bolton who, after being saved from deportation back to DR Congo, founded a centre for disadvantaged youths