“Every problem has a solution, every barrier can be overturned and perceptions can be changed. We need to make sure that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is not just a ‘tick-box’ exercise.” - Mo Patel, Preston North End Community Engagement Officer
Preston North End fan, Mo Patel, has been a practicing Muslim supporter all his life, but for some time didn’t feel comfortable attending live matches due to his religious beliefs and practices.
He attended his first match at Deepdale as a five-year-old, but admits that he “didn’t ever feel fully comfortable” going to games.
His experience has since led to his subsequent dedicated and passionate support for the club, as he worked to help make Preston North End more inclusive for supporters from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds.
Having volunteered with Preston North End Community Trust on their Ramadan Project, Mo was keen to influence fans from all religions in making them feel welcome at the club and his continued enthusiasm and support has seen him secure a role as Community Engagement Officer at PNE Community Trust.
“Growing up and going to football matches, I felt there were barriers in my way to prevent me from attending live games,” Mo said, speaking at the annual EFL Trust Conference.
“I loved football but it wasn’t really a nice place to be because I didn’t feel fully comfortable.”
With 90% of the population surrounding Deepdale Stadium being from the South Asian community, Mo saw an opportunity for change.
“For us at Preston North End, it’s about serving our local community in the way in which it needs,” he continued.
“Before I started in my role I could name on one hand the amount of people from the South Asian community that came to North End and accessed our provisions in place at Deepdale.
“If you’re a Muslim football fan in the winter months attending a 3pm kick-off, you have to make the decision between going to the game or completing your religious practices. I was always torn between fulfilling my religious responsibilities or watching my football team and that’s the case for so many people.”
Mo recalled his own personal experiences of being unable to fulfil his religious prayers at half-time due to Deepdale not having the facilities.
“I asked a steward if there was somewhere for me to pray at half-time and I was told I’d have to leave the stadium if I wanted somewhere to pray. I remember that day and I know people who didn’t come back until last year because of that.”
October saw Preston North End open its first-ever multi-faith prayer room to allow supporters of all faiths and backgrounds to attend games at Deepdale and pray on home matchdays.
The EFL and its Clubs are #TogetherAgainstDiscrimination.— EFL (@EFL) March 13, 2023
That means making football accessible to everyone.
@pnefc's multi-faith prayer rooms at Deepdale mean the stadium is a welcoming place for fans of all religions on a matchday.
#EFLTogether | #EFL pic.twitter.com/GwA9tc4Wt5
The prayer room opens 90 minutes before kick-off and remains open to supporters until after full-time. Due to growing demand, the club opened two more and now have a total of three prayer rooms in use on a home matchday at Deepdale Stadium.
Mo added: “We only had about four to five people access it at first, but as the season went on and as more people found out about our provisions, the room quickly filled and we opened a second and a third one shortly afterwards.
“I walk around the stadium on a matchday now and in all four corners of the ground I see people from the South Asian community. For me personally, it’s so pleasing and it makes me really proud to see that we’re a club that can accommodate people from all ethnicities.
“Every problem has a solution, every barrier can be overturned and perceptions can be changed. It just depends on how motivated and passionate you are. We need to make sure that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is not just a ‘tick-box’ exercise.”