Inspirational Molineux event celebrates South Asian Heritage Month

Wolverhampton’s South Asian community were celebrated at an inspirational event at Molineux this week as the club marked South Asian Heritage Month, which runs from 18th July to 17th August.

Inaugurally launched in the UK in 2020, South Asian Heritage Month honours and celebrates South Asian history, culture and people, in appreciation of the eight different countries across the southern region of the continent and encourages people to learn more about the region’s heritage, identity and customs.

The theme for this year’s South Asian Heritage Month is ‘Stories to Tell’ – stories are what make individuals unique, they connect people together in profound ways, and have the power to establish common ground and a sense of unity and belonging within communities.

To celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, Wolves and official supporters group Punjabi Wolves arranged a special event on Wednesday evening as part of the club’s One Pack initiative, which featured a Q&A with a panel of inspirational local ground breakers.

The evening highlighted just some of the achievements of Wolverhampton’s South Asian communty, while providing an opportunity for guests to hear from a range of generations, people from different professions and sports, including those closer to home who continue to make an impact on and off the field.

The panel included lawyer and referee Imran Ahmed, professional super-bantamweight boxer Gully Powar and Kurran Kullar, a graduate of the Wolves Foundation football coaching and development degree who now works full-time as a schools education officer with the club’s official charity, alongside being a coach for Wolves Women’s under-21s.

One of the UK’s most influential disabled people and BBC’s 100 Women Laureate of 2020 Shani Dhanda – the founder of Diversability, the Asian Woman Festival and the Asian Disability Network – also spoke at the event. As a South Asian woman who experiences disability, Shani’s intersectional activism has led her to helping businesses and brands become more inclusive and accessible for their disabled employees and customers.

She was joined by her 92-year-old Bibi Ji (Punjabi word for grandmother) who lived through the 1947 partition, arrived in the UK with as little as £3, learnt English on the fly and has fearlessly defended her corner shop against robbers. She described her superpower as her unwavering commitment to family – having raised six children and nurtured and cared for 18 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

The panel concluded with contributions from Sushma Rani Mannu, mother of 16-year-old Riya Mannu – currently playing for Birmingham City and previously part of Wolves Academy – and Wolves under-21 defender Kam Kandola, his father Karma Kandola and the Professional Footballers Association’s player inclusion executive, Riz Rehman.

Kandola highlighted some of the achievements he has made throughout his time in the academy, as well as being part of the PFA AIMS programme, where he is a mentor for the next generation of South Asian talent highlighting the importance of support networks for players and parents.

Gurpri Bains, Wolves’ equality, diversity and inclusion manager, said: “Our first ever event to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month was an overwhelming success and it was great to see so many people attend what was an inspirational evening.

"South Asia makes up 25 per cent of the world, and it was beautiful to see our event reflective of the large South Asian population across Wolverhampton

“I would like to thank all members of the panel who gave up their time to talk about their personal stories, and we all appreciated the different ages, diversity and generational contributions in the stories that were shared by the guests.

“Being One Pack is not just a phrase at Wolves, and events like this prove that the club and the Wolverhampton community is one of the most diverse in the country. It was also great to see the academy, Foundation, chair of trustees and the football club all come together to make the event a great success.”

The free event, which was open to staff, supporters and friends, was attended by more than 100 guests including former Mayor of Wolverhampton Greg Brackenridge and chair of trustee at Wolves Foundation Kevin Rogers. The event titled ‘stories to tell’ had something for everyone to enjoy, from South Asian food and drink, entertainment from Jodi Dancers who are a husband-and-wife bhangra duo, and a performance from 13-year-old traditional Nepalese dancer Eva Sapkota.

Organised in conjunction with the club by Punjabi Wolves, who were the first ever organised ethnic supporters group in the world and founding members of the fans parliament, their presence has been embraced by people within the club, and by their fellow followers of the old gold and black since 1954, and since 2003 when they were recognised as an official supporters group.

Andy Sahota and Pete Bassi, of Punjabi Wolves, said: “The aim of the event was to connect with the local diverse communities and celebrate cultures here at Molineux.

“Witnessing a significant turnout of Asian women at the event, and those who have never visited Molineux previously was truly remarkable and moving, while the speed at which the club orchestrated the event, and the subsequent attendance exceeded all expectations.

“We aspire to continue to work closely with the club to continue to foster a sense of connection and showcase our diverse city.”

The evening also featured a special exhibition on South Asian female players which made its debut in the Midlands, having previously been on display at Stamford Bridge and Wembley Stadium. The exhibition is also free to attend and will be based in the Wolves Museum reception at Molineux for the coming week for all to experience.

The innovative exhibition was curated by football story-teller Dev Trehan of Sky Sports in partnership with Sporting Equals, and has captured the history and timeline of South Asian heritage female players who have broken through in the modern-day women’s game.

Trehan, who attended the Stories to Tell event, added: “It was an honour and a privilege to be part of a truly wonderful and inspiring event at Molineux, bringing together so many people from across the local and wider community for South Asian Heritage Month.

“The club has a rich history when it comes to South Asians in football, and it’s important to celebrate that and build on that as part of our shared desire to make football a game for everyone.

“It was especially pleasing to see our first-of-its-kind timeline and exhibition, documenting the journey of South Asian heritage female players go on display at such a historic football club.

“It really captured the imagination, and we look forward to supporting and working more closely with our friends and partners at Wolves in the future.”