Hassan Akkad was surprised to answer a call from former England defender Joleon Lescott this week, as he became the latest member of The FA’s Lionhearts squad.
The documentary and film maker had originally been nominated by Lescott for the squad, after volunteering to work as a cleaner at his local hospital, Whipps Cross in east London, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And it was when Hassan sent out a video via social media on hearing that hospital porters and cleaners wouldn’t be included in the NHS bereavement scheme should they die of COVID-19, that the reaction and spread of the message led to a Government u-turn on the policy.
That was one moment which Lescott remembered and put forward Hassan, who has been a refugee in the UK for five years now since arriving from Syria, as a potential squad member.
Hassan said: "I can't tell you how surreal it is to get an email from the England team to say 'hey, you're joining the squad!'. I was like 'what?'
“It's great and if you'd have told ten-year-old me when I was back home in Damascus watching England playing, I'd be like 'shut up'.”
The Lionhearts initiative, supported by BT, aims to pay homage to 23 inspirational individuals who have gone above and beyond during this challenging time for the nation.
In the absence of international football this summer due to the postponement of UEFA EURO 2020, England’s focus will instead be on building a squad of true heroes that have stepped up during our time of need.
And Hassan, who won a BAFTA for his work on a documentary charting his own journey from Syria to the UK in 2017, reveals how he just had to lend a helping hand once the country was in lockdown.
“When the pandemic hit, I just wanted to do something and I saw the call out for cleaners at the hospital and I was like 'I just have to join'. There was no way I would be at home and not doing anything,” he explained.
"It's the local hospital, I need to help look after my friends and my neighbours. The pandemic proved that jobs like porters and cleaners as are important as doctors and nurses.
"It's been difficult, but I think we're slowly coming out of it and I did see some positivity in the community and society coming together.
"I'm so proud of people like Marcus Rashford and Captain Sir Tom Moore for what they’ve done. They didn't have to do it but have stepped up to help.”
Former Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton and Manchester City ace Lescott, who won 26 caps for England, said: "I've seen all the good work and I thought he deserves the nomination, the credit and extra praise. The likes of Hassan were able to create change so quickly and that was one of the positives because without these acts, where would we be?”
Hassan takes shirt number 15 in the Lionhearts squad, the same number which Lescott wore for the Three Lions during the UEFA EURO 2012 Finals in Poland and Ukraine.