England manager Gareth Southgate had the pleasure of making an extra call-up this week, by letting Akbar Khan know he was being named in our Lionhearts squad.
Before naming his own squad to face Iceland and Denmark on Tuesday, the Three Lions boss took the time out to phone Akbar about why he’d been included.
As chairman of the Bradford PHAB Club, part of a national charity for people with physical disabilities and their families, Akbar has been a vital pillar for members of the community both before and throughout the COVID-19 spell.
He's had a voluntary involvement at PHAB for almost 40 years, after his family first became involved through his two brothers, who suffered from muscular dystrophy.
They sadly passed away but Akbar has remained involved ever since before eventually becoming chairman, a role which sees him arranging inclusive activities for club members, such as flying lessons, abseiling, rock climbing, archery and theme park trips to name a few.
And since lockdown, he’s gone even further by setting up daily Zoom meetings and arranged events such as talent nights, bingo, quizzes and competitions to keep all of the members in touch as well as giving them all the opportunity to get to know each other even more than before.
On top of that, he helped to organise twice-weekly food parcel deliveries to members of the club as well as getting support from local restaurants and supermarkets.
The Lionhearts initiative, supported by BT, will pay homage to 23 inspirational individuals who have gone above and beyond during this challenging time for the nation.
And following a number of nominations for Akbar, he was selected by our panel and awarded shirt number 16 in our special squad as well as being left speechless when he picked up the phone to Southgate.
"It's amazing, I'm a bit speechless,” Akbar told Southgate.
"I just did what I had to do to keep our club going and our community connected. I tried to provide activities for everyone and keep them fed and watered during these difficult times.
"I just felt it was my duty to do that, because I've done it for such a long time and they're an extended family to me.
"It's been a pleasure to help them out and keep them happy. We've always wanted to give something back because PHAB Club supported our family during a difficult time for us.
"It's nice to get the recognition, but it's for the members and not for myself and it's great to raise the profile of the club.”
Akbar becomes the sixth member of the Lionhearts squad to be named and the reasons why are clear when you read his nominations.
“Akbar is the chairman the Bradford club and gives his time for free,” wrote one nominator.
“He’s not paid by the charity and juggles a full time job and family to make sure that the members and families linked to Bradford PHAB feel that they can make a valuable contribution and enjoy life to the full.
"A few of the families would have found this whole experience very isolating and have said the Zoom meeting has been a lifeline and something to look forward to each day.”
Further inductees will be made to our Lionheart squad over the coming weeks.
The squad so far...
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