Preston North End Community and Education Trust’s Assistant Head of Community Tom Drake has described the signing of the Armed Forces Covenant on Saturday as a ‘big achievement’ for the club.
The Covenant is a nationwide pledge to support military personnel both past and present, as well as their dependents, by treating them with fairness and respect in their communities for serving with their lives.
The club signed the Covenant before Saturday’s game against Blackburn Rovers with a pitchside presentation which saw Preston North End Chief Executive John Kay and Lieutenant Colonel Justin Tancrel of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment among those present.
There were a range of other special guests in attendance, from the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, the 3rd Medical Regiment, the Lancashire Armed Forces Hub, the Royal British Legion, Preston City Council and the Army Benevolent Fund.
“It’s a big achievement for us,” Tom said. “We deliver the Forces programme, but there’s never really been a formal agreement between the Trust and the club for the Armed Forces, so there now is a way for us to support the Armed Forces community.
“I think it’s more a support network, and so that they know that as a club, we’re here to recognise what they do for the country.
“There might be ticket incentives, we will look to recruit people that are leaving the forces, offer volunteering opportunities, as we do in our PNE Forces programme. There is a whole host of formal support that we are going to offer going forwards.”
There were several other activities of an armed forces theme also taking place on the day, with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment holding two fan engagement stalls outside the stadium prior to the game, with weapon displays and military vehicles on show.
Young PNE fans from the Junior Whites matchday club even took up the opportunity to learn more about the armed forces with a visit to the stalls as part of their own pre-match activities, as did Deepdale Duck and Lancaster Lion, mascots of the club and the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment respectively.
Players warmed up in t-shirts bearing the name of the Army Benevolent Fund, the official soldiers’ charity, while the Covenant was signed at 2.40pm.
Members of the PNE Forces programme, together with representatives from the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment and the 3rd Medical Regiment, formed a guard of honour as the players walked out for kick-off and Sergant Danny Shilton marched the match ball to the centre circle alongside two fellow military personnel.
Special matchday guest Scott Fitzgerald then presented a signed PNE shirt to Lieutenant Colonel Justin Tancrel at half-time.
The PNE Forces programme is open to past and present members of the Armed Forces and their dependents. It has two sessions every Wednesday of both a social and sporting nature with all from a military background welcome.
On a Wednesday morning, there is a social session where veterans and currently serving forces members can get together for something to eat or drink, in the Wings Centre on Fishergate, Preston, from 10am until 12pm and for just £2.50 a head. It also provides the chance to learn about a range of support services which are available to them locally.
Later on, on a Wednesday evening, a one-hour football session is held for forces members, which is free to attend and held from 8pm until 9pm at the club’s Community Training Centre at PlayFootball, Ingol, PR2 3TX.
There are occasionally other activities held for those attending the football hour immediately beforehand as well, among them previously being a health presentation held by the club’s community staff, as well as a talk from Positive Futures North West, a consultancy company that supports mental health and wellbeing.
You can find out more about the PNE Forces programme by clicking here.