75-year-old Albert Halliwell is a disabled season ticket holder in the Alan Kelly Town End and has been a fan of the club for 67 years.
Albert has followed the club far and wide in support of the Lilywhites until recently when it emerged that he could only attend games with a carer. Unfortunately, Albert didn’t have any friends or family to come with him to Deepdale, so the club and its supporters made it their mission to find somebody to attend games with him.
The club posted Albert’s story on its media outlets in the hope of finding somebody to attend games with him. It required somebody who had previous experience in health and social care and an enhanced DBS check.
North Enders far and wide shared the story on social media in a bid to help Albert, and the club managed to find the perfect fit for Albert in the form of fellow PNE fan Melanie Norris.
Melanie, pictured with Albert at the last home game against QPR jumped at the chance when she discovered the opportunity to give something back after finding out about Albert and his story.
“I saw the advert on Facebook, screenshotted it to my mates and asked them whether they thought I should go for it and they agreed that it was perfect for me,” said Mel who assisted Albert for the first time at the Birmingham City game last month.
“It was such a heart warming story and it was quite nice of the club to post something out to help Albert. I’m a District Nurse in Blackpool so that’s probably why I wanted to help Albert so much, his quality of life was at stake so something needed to be done."
Mel, who is also a season ticket holder has seen her matchday traditions slightly change since taking up the mantle as Albert’s matchday carer but insists she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She added: “I use to sit in the Invincibles Stand with my dad and have a pint on a matchday so it’s changed slightly, but it makes me feel good about myself as I’m helping Albert and making sure he can come to the games. If somebody told me that I couldn’t come to the games anymore I’d be distraught!
“It’s a great view from here, I even saw myself on the television the other day for the Birmingham game when we scored.”
This weekend’s home game against Reading has been designated as Preston North End’s Level Playing Fields Weeks Of Action; here, the club will be aiming to celebrate access and inclusion for disabled sports fans across England and Wales.
This year’s theme is #GameChangers and those who make a big difference to the matchday experience of North End’s disabled fans, and Albert was quick to point out the difference Mel has made to his experience at Deepdale.
He said: “I suffered a stroke 20-years-ago so coming to games has always been a struggle but it’s nice to be able to still go to the games and that’s all thanks to Mel - she’s been very good to me!”
PNE's Supporter and Disability Liaison Officer Hannah Woodburn said: “Mel’s willingness to go the extra mile for a fellow PNE fan typifies our supporters and what they are all about.
“We were over-whelmed by how prepared our fans were in helping us find a suitable carer for Albert when we shared his story, and we’ve certainly found that in Mel."
Should you have any more queries regarding disabled facilities and access at Preston North End, Supporter and Disability Liaison Officer, Hannah will be happy to answer any questions you may have. You can contact her 01772 693324 or email Hannah@pne.com.