Fans and players of a Kent football club are about to show their emotional support for an 11-year-old Ukrainian refugee who is their new supporter.
Daniel Lysak and his mother Yana fled their home near Lviv in western Ukraine and arrived in England on Friday April 8 at their British godfather’s house in Folkestone.
British host and Gillingham Football Club fan Malcolm Bell had originally hoped Daniel would be hailed in the League One clash with Fleetwood Town on Monday, but has now arranged Daniel’s introduction to the squad, with a visit to Priestfield stadium. and flank the team captain on the field.
The supporters even announced that they would sing “There is only one Daniel Lysak”.
“He’s overwhelmed, mega excited,” Mr Bell, 51, told the PA news agency.
“He understands that everything is going to happen, but he can’t understand how it’s going to happen because he’s never experienced anything like it.
“It’s just a new world he’s living in and it’s great to be a part of it for it to be fair.”
Mr Bell said one of Daniel’s wishes when he arrived was to see a live football match.
He contacted a local Gillingham supporters group on Facebook in the hope that the club’s matchday announcer would see him, but did not expect his appeal to escalate as it has.
“It was just to try and get that scream so Daniel could hear his name during the game and actually be quite surprised,” Bell explained.
“And that’s when everyone understood it and wanted to support it – there are people who bought Ukrainian flags and (said) ‘We’re going to fly them to the ground.’
“The fanbase has been fantastic, (they’ve) bought shirts, training tops for Daniel – so many offers that I could actually build a football team out of them.
“We got Amazon vouchers, people sent money… A guy wanted to pay for a day and it was voted to be a West End musical.”
Two members of the club staff quickly contacted Mr. Bell to arrange a special experience for Daniel.
“They knew it was his very first football game, a live football game,” Bell said.
“So they just wanted to make her day special.”
Mr Bell said many wanted to do something for Daniel as ‘he went through something that we haven’t all gone through’.
“His brother is in the military and he’s on the front line, so he’s very scared of that,” he said.
“He said it was beautiful to listen to the sound of seagulls and not to listen to the sound of air raid sirens – that really touched me”
“His dad is in the Territorial Army…Daniel went through every day with air raid sirens, they’re haunting.
“One of the things he said the second night he was here he was talking about the sound of the seagulls because they are quite loud in Folkestone and he said it was lovely to listen to the sound of the seagulls and not to listen to the sound of air raid sirens – that really touched me.
Mr Bell said Daniel was partly ‘settled’ thanks to a new friend and fellow Gillingham fan – Mr Bell’s 10-year-old son Freddie.
Both players will step out onto the pitch at Priestfield Stadium together as the team look to survive relegation to League Two.
Mr Bell said the way the club reacted to Daniel’s welcome has ‘restored my faith in human nature’.
“The fan base has been so supportive of me that it’s made me a proud Gillingham supporter,” he said.
“And how the UK reacted to the Ukrainians – I’m even more proud of that because so few have offered anything other than overwhelming support.
“What’s great is you can see that Yana and Daniel feel they’ve been accepted everywhere we go.
“A lot of guys say on this (page): ‘We’re gonna sing, There’s only one Daniel Lysak’, so if they do that, it’ll be me gone – I’ll be a wreck around here.”