Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool striker's success improving engagement with Muslim fans?

Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring

Mesut Ozil, Mousa Dembele, Riyad Mahrez, Paul Pogba and Mohamed Salah are among the Muslim players now starring in the Premier League.

Their faith can be seen in their mannerisms on the pitch – cupping hands in silent pre-kick-off prayer or prostration after hitting the back of the net.

For Salah, who has 23 Premier League goals for Liverpool this season, his religion has become the unlikely inspiration for some Liverpool fans to rewrite the lyrics to 1996 hit Good Enough by Dodgy.

The words of the chorus are adjusted to celebrate the feats of the Egyptian striker: “If he’s good enough for you he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too. If he’s good enough for you he’s good enough for me, he’s sitting in the mosque that’s where I wanna be.”

A video posted on Twitter with a group of Reds fans performing the song went viral, and tens of thousands of hits later even non-Liverpool fans have put allegiances aside in praise of the video and its lyrics.

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In his hometown of Besayoun near Cairo, Salah would have been four years old at the time of the song’s original release so it is unlikely that he would have heard it then. The 25-year-old has certainly heard it now.

The video has received mainstream media coverage and Liverpool fan and club member Asif Bodi believes it is an exercise in inclusivity.

He likes the song’s message and is adamant that Salah and the video have had a unifying effect in Liverpool, which was the home of solicitor William Quilliam, the first English Muslim convert to Islam in 1887, and where he opened the UK’s first mosque and Islamic centre.

Abubakar Bulla (left) and Asif Bodi (right) are big Liverpool supporters

“The Mo Salah song shows how tolerant and welcoming the people of Liverpool really are. Historically Liverpool has a reputation of welcoming visitors and also is the site of one of the first mosques in the British Isles,” said Bodi.

“It’s great to see all the positive outpouring of affection towards Mohamed. I would get behind any Liverpool player but I can’t hide my pride that Mo is not only a great Liverpool player but he is also a fellow devout Muslim too.”

A regular at Anfield, Bodi is part of a large number of Muslims who support Liverpool, and he says Salah’s performances and goals have seen that number grow.

“The success of Salah has also led to an increase in the Liverpool fan base in the UK and around the Muslim world. I was pleased to hear of a 10-year-old Manchester United fan who became a Liverpool fan because of the song. That can only be good,” he adds.

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Like Salah, German World Cup winner Ozil is proud of his religion and happy to show it on the pitch.

“I’m a Muslim, I believe in that. You can see before games that I pray and that I’m pleased to be able to go on this path. It gives me a lot of strength,” he said.

“I’m someone who’s always been thankful, someone who doesn’t just wish the best for me but for the people. It’s a very important part of my life. What’s important is to come together and show respect.”

Like an increasing number of grounds in the Premier League, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium incorporates a multi-faith fans’ prayer room.

When a prayer time arrives during a match, fans have a place to congregate safely to focus on their faith for the few minutes it takes before returning to their seats.

Arsenal’s Muslim fans and matchday staff cram into their tiny concourse room to offer their prayers.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil (right) prays prior to kick-off during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley

In September 2016, the new main stand at Anfield was completed and a multi-faith fans’ prayer room was included in the redevelopment. This was not only in response to the diverse needs of the Liverpool fan base, but also in response to a previous experience for Bodi and fellow solicitor and Reds’ Muslim fan Abubakar Bulla in 2015.

Images of both Bodi and Bhula praying at Anfield caused a storm on Twitter with one Liverpool fan tweeting “Muslims praying at half-time at the match yesterday. #Disgrace.”

Liverpool were swift to distance themselves from that comment and condemned the tweet, as did other Liverpool fans on social media.

Looking back, Bodi and Bulla wonder if those fans who had a negative view on their praying are now the same fans cheering loudly as Muslim striker Salah smashes in another goal and breaks another goal-scoring record, all celebrated with an on-field prostration to his faith.

“I now think that the negative Twitter reaction to our praying was the reaction of a very small minority, and the Mo Salah song displays the true feelings of Liverpudlians,” reflected Bodi, who praised Liverpool’s fans’ prayer room.

“This facility has undoubtedly led to a greater number of Muslims attending games. Its success can be judged by the fact that it has been outgrown with many more people wishing to use it than it can accommodate at any specific time.”

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In east London in October 2013, during a game between West Ham and Manchester City, a small group of home Muslim fans – with no prayer room available – tried to offer their Maghrib (sunset) prayer on a concourse under the main stand at the club’s former home Upton Park.

Videos later emerged on social media of the group suffering horrific racist and Islamophobic abuse. Spurred into action, and to avoid any future misunderstandings, the club ensured that their new home, London Stadium, would have a multi-faith prayer room.

Over in the West Midlands, the borough of Sandwell has been described as one of the most deprived areas in Britain. Hard-working white and ethnic minority communities live and work here in a catchment area for West Bromwich Albion.

A stone’s throw from The Hawthorns is Oldbury, home to Baggies fan Ashley Rawlins. A season ticket holder, Rawlins embraced Islam in 2012. He likes the Salah video, and is well positioned to empathise with fans’ understanding on all sides while saluting the performances of Albion’s own Muslim players.

Ahmed Hegazi was joined by fellow Egyptian Ali Gabr in January.

“I’ve been on both sides in regards to the Muslim community and seeing the Mo Salah tribute song from Liverpool fans has been such a positive thing,” he said.

“It shows that football is bringing people together as you wouldn’t have seen something like this a few years ago, especially people singing ‘sitting in a mosque is where I wanna be’.

“At my club, we have a similar story with regards to Ahmed Hegazi. He is so well received, his bravery in the games has been inspiring and as a result the fans love him. I have his name on the back of my shirt and he is definitely a conversation starter.”

Ahmed Hegazi

In quick time Rawlins, a manager at the Ministry of Justice who also plays semi-professional football, has achieved a greater knowledge and understanding of Islam than many born into the faith.

In his office, the 29-year-old is happy to share his knowledge on Islam when he gets asked questions by his fellow workers.

“At work, I have regular conversations with my team and there is interest in Islam. They ask many questions which I’m happy to answer. If I don’t know the answer, I find out and get back to them,” he said.

Away from the top-flight teams, community based clubs need their local fans to turn up and support their team, and if that club is located in a predominantly Muslim community, Rawlins urges them to also attend matches.

But he warns that if the clubs want them to return they will need to address the additional needs, especially when it comes to matchday catering.

“Muslim fans should definitely go to matches to show the general public that there are so many similarities between us, regardless of faith,” he says.

“I do, however, feel football clubs with a mixed demographic fan base could do more to address the lack of prayer facilities as this is a fundamental part of our faith and many others.”

There are 69 members of this Liverpool supporters group in Preston

Mo Salah showed his delight at a video of the tribute song on Twitter

Neville discipline can help England women – Bronze

Lucy Bronze celebrates with England

SheBelieves Cup, England women v France women
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium, Ohio Date: Thursday, 1 March Kick-off: 21:00 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on the BBC Sport website and red button

England women head coach Phil Neville’s “discipline” can help them compete for trophies, says defender Lucy Bronze.

The Lionesses are in the United States for the SheBelieves Cup, Neville’s first tournament since taking charge.

“He wants us to dress the same, do everything together and be on time. There’s discipline and respect,” Bronze, 26, told BBC Sport.

“I think it’s great. It’s the little things like that which are going to help you win World Cups.”

Bronze will skipper England at the tournament with regular captain Steph Houghton injured, but insists her place in the side is not assured.

“He’s openly said it to the media and all the players that you’re playing for your shirt. It doesn’t matter who you are. You’re proving yourself in every single training session and every single game counts,” she said.

“That’s the way it should be. It’s going to make us better, it’s going to push us all, as individuals and as a team. Hopefully it does make us a better team and a team that can win things.”

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The Lionesses start their campaign against France in Ohio on Thursday as they look to improve on their third-placed finish from last year.

Centre-back Millie Bright is a doubt for that game after missing training through illness.

That is likely to mean a senior England debut for either Gabby George or Abbie McManus next to Anita Asante.

England are short on defenders with Houghton, Gemma Bonner and Gilly Flaherty injured, Casey Stoney – now an England coach – retired and Laura Bassett left out.

After the France game, England face Germany on Sunday, 4 March and the hosts of the four-team tournament on Thursday, 8 March.

England lost to an 89th-minute winner when they last played France in October, and have only beaten them once in their past 10 meetings, but Bronze is optimistic about their chances.

“They’ve got a new coach and haven’t had the best results recently against some of the teams that people maybe expect them to beat,” she said.

“We’re really confident at the minute. We’re really excited, we’ve got a fresh slate and some new faces – both staff and players – so it’s an exciting time to be part of England and an exciting game to be part of as well.”

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Dressing room to boardroom – the secrets of Neville's business success

There is an element of poacher turned gamekeeper about former Manchester United football star Gary Neville, who now has a high-profile career as a trenchant football analyst.

For the player – who was dubbed ‘Red Nev’ in his playing days for his perceived role as a dressing room shop steward – also has a burgeoning and wide-reaching business empire that includes restaurants and hotels, property development, and a proposed university, among others.

The 43-year-old says he first started thinking about a life after football back in his early-20s, after a bad injury disrupted the career of his Manchester United friend and colleague Ben Thornley, who was released from Old Trafford after just nine league games.

“I realised then I had to be dual skilled,” says Neville, who in contrast to his former team-mate went on to win eight Premier League titles, and Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals.

‘Motivated teams’

After first dipping his toe in the business world at the age of 23, when he invested in a friend’s design company, he now holds directorships in more than 30 companies that employ more than 500 people in total.

“After my [Manchester United] training with the team in the morning I would go into the office in the afternoon and work with a different team,” he recalls of that initial foray from the dressing room into the boardroom.

Council pitches plan backed by Neville is opposed

Neville and Giggs’ £200m Manchester plan opposed again

Ex-Manchester United stars’ university plan revised

The former Old Trafford captain says that he soon discovered similarities between the world of sport and business.

“In both you have to have motivated people, and they have to enjoy what they do,” he says. “Also, in football and business you have to work the hardest you can every single day, and make sure you never give in.”

However, he says that in business – unlike in football – it can sometimes be difficult to achieve the “peer group analysis” he encountered in the high-pressure Old Trafford dressing room, where players would instantly acknowledge responsibility for mistakes.

“It can be difficult in an office for people to admit they didn’t do very well, or have fallen below standards,” observes Neville, who was in London for an SME business event organised by Intuit QuickBooks.

‘Needed stimulation’

While his friend’s design firm is still going strong, in his mid-20s Neville moved into the world of property development, being careful to keep this other life a secret from fearsome Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

“He would have seen it as a distraction,” Neville says, recalling sneaking into the showers to make and take business calls away from the Scot’s prying eyes.

“Physically I accepted I had to have a rest [after training], but mentally I needed to be stimulated.”

Major Gary Neville business interests:

  • Several hospitality businesses in Manchester in conjunction with partners Peter Lim, and former Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and his brother, Phil.
  • Launched GG Hospitality management company in 2013
  • Opened Hotel Football, a football-themed hotel opposite Old Trafford in 2015. It includes a supporters’ club bar, which he promised to build for fans after his playing days ended
  • With Ryan Giggs owns a stake in four Cafe Football restaurants; two in Manchester, one in London, and one in Singapore
  • Is developing the Grade II listed Manchester Stock Exchange building into a 35-room hotel
  • Is seeking planning permission for St. Michael’s, a major property development project in Manchester city centre that is proving controversial
  • Co-owns non-league Salford City Football Club
  • Is a shareholder in E3 Creative, a digital agency that includes website design and app development
  • With former Man Utd team-mates plans to open a university in conjunction with Lancaster University

‘Falling off a cliff’

The former England international says from the age of 32, until his retirement at 36, he started to really focus on three areas that might provide a post-playing career – seeking out media training, obtaining coaching badges, and expanding his business interests.

“It can be like falling off a cliff ending your football career, going from playing in front of 75,000 people and then not being able to do that any more,” he says.

“I thought logically – ‘how am I going to fill this large void that is going to come?’.”

He says his parents had a strong work ethic, as did his Old Trafford coaches, which meant he was able to hit the ground running when he moved into his new careers.

The former England international says that 90% of his current business interests are making a profit, some are breaking even, and a few – like Salford City Football Club – are losing money.

“That is the reality though for a football club as it tries to make its way through the leagues,” he says.

Focused approach

There are a couple of flies in the ointment with regard to two of his other business ventures. There is some local opposition to his plans to develop an area of flooded land in Stretford, Greater Manchester, into new training pitches to be used by Salford City and his proposed university academy.

Neville is also promising to upgrade and extend an existing group of community buildings nearby, but there are some objections, including from residents of nearby retirement accommodation.

“They are nervous about noise and light pollution. I am going to sit down and have some cake with them, and discuss things in two weeks’ time,” he says, adding that he believes the project will a major boost for football infrastructure in the area.

Meanwhile, his proposed St Michael’s property development in central Manchester, near to the city hall, has failed for a second time to win support from heritage body Historic England, despite being scaled down last year from the original plans.

The city council’s planning department is currently considering the latest application for the site.

Neville has also pledged to “stop spreading myself so thinly across so many businesses this year”, and part of his focused approach for 2018 also includes a pledge not to return to football management or coaching.

Brexit optimist

Meanwhile, looking at the wider economy and state of the nation, the opinionated pundit from Sky TV is as forthright as he is about the performance of Premier League teams.

With regards to Brexit, which has struck apparent fear into so many business sectors and organisations, he is bullish.

“I am not even planning for it; we have no idea about what is going to happen, if you are not careful you can sit there worrying that the world is going to end,” he says.

“As employers we have to be agile, and move with changing conditions. You can’t just park your bike and say we are not going on.

“It is not the biggest event in the world, we have been through a lot as a country over the past 150 years, and we will still be here in 150 years time when there will still be businesses employing people.”

'Comical' & 'embarrassing' – VAR dominates as Spurs thump Rochdale

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It was described as “comical” by former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas, while Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said he felt “sorry for the referee”.

It’s fair to say the video assistant referee (VAR) made quite an impact on Wednesday.

Controversy dominated the first half of Tottenham’s 6-1 win over Rochdale in their FA Cup fifth-round replay, with a goal disallowed and a converted penalty overturned.

Son Heung-min was shown a yellow card for ‘feinting’ during his spot-kick, while Spurs team-mate Fernando Llorente was adjudged to have fouled a defender in the build-up to Erik Lamela’s disallowed goal.

All this took place before the interval, six minutes were added on in stoppage time for video review delays, and fans booed as the half-time whistle was blown.

“The first half was a little bit embarrassing for everyone,” Pochettino said. “I am not sure that system is going to help.

“I think football is about emotion. If we are going to kill emotion, it’s not so happy what we have seen. My opinion is we have the best referees in Europe. The referee is the boss on the pitch and has the last word always.”

How it happened – the main VAR reviews

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Seven minutes: Fernando Llorente protects the ball for Erik Lamela, who is able to tap into the net. Referee Paul Tierney consults VAR for about a minute before the decision is made that Llorente fouled Rochdale’s Harrison McGahey in the build-up.

22: Spurs winger Lucas Moura breaks into the box, dribbles past a couple of defenders and goes down under apparent contact from McGahey. It goes to review for a minute before it is decided there was minimal contact and no penalty is awarded.

23: Son’s right-footed strike gives Tottenham the lead but there is yet another delay while VAR checks there is no reason to disallow the goal. The original decision stands.

25: Kieran Trippier is fouled by Rochdale’s Matt Done and a free-kick is awarded. There is a delay before VAR decides the offence continued into the penalty area.

29: Son scores the penalty for Spurs but Tierney blows his whistle immediately and addresses VAR. Son is shown a yellow card and is deemed to have ‘feinted’ in the run-up to his spot-kick. The goal is overturned and a free-kick is awarded to Rochdale.

31: Rochdale’s Stephen Humphrys equalises after he is played in by Andrew Cannon but there is another short delay while VAR checks there is no reason to disallow the goal.

45+5: A tackle by Erik Lamela on Callum Camps earns the Tottenham midfielder a yellow card but Tierney consults VAR to confirm whether a red card should be shown. The decision to award a yellow card stands.

47: Llorente scores and VAR is checked to ensure there is no reason to overturn the decision. The goal is awarded.

53: VAR is consulted yet again as Llorente scores Tottenham’s third goal.

65: There is another brief delay as Tottenham’s fifth goal – Son’s second – is checked by VAR. The goal stands.

‘Everyone was confused’ – what the managers said

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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino: “If my opinion is important, I think there’s a lot of work to do because we need to talk to explain. I see today everyone was confused. I am for new technology but be careful how it is going to change the game.

“It’s difficult for the referee – I feel so sorry for the referee and more I feel sorry for the fans because it’s so difficult to understand the situation.”

Rochdale manager Keith Hill: “It was an education with VAR. I enjoyed it. I thought the confusion was as exciting as the way we tried to play. I understand VAR more now. I feel the referee needs protecting, it needs to be explained to the supporters.

“I knew what was going on but I do agree people in the stadium need to know what is going on. We haven’t come up with an idea of people inside the stadium knowing what’s going on.

“The supporters do need to be involved in the process. It would make the game better. Why are we hiding the decision? You have got to embrace it. I do think it will improve but we have to protect the referee.”

Pundits’ reaction

VAR sign at Wembley

Former England and Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas on BT Sport: “VAR could be so good for the game. It’s comical at times, how long it’s taking and nobody knows what’s going on.”

Mark Schwarzer on BBC Radio 5 live: “Human error will still occur with VAR, other sports have shown that, but it dramatically reduces the number of errors.

“If we can limit the errors and get the game flowing as much as we can… I think to lose some fluency is worth it to get more of the decisions right. When it’s straightforward, as it was in the second half, the referee could go through the goals quickly and there was barely a pause.

“VAR is good for the decisions the referee didn’t quite get right or maybe didn’t even see. People will still celebrate, players will still continue, but I think once we get more clarity I think it will flow better.

“My question is this, why complicate it? Why can’t we copy the rugby and the cricket? It would cut out so much confusion.”

Former Premier League referee Chris Foy on BT Sport: “What’s been misconstrued is that VAR looks at match-changing instances. Every time a goal is scored it is automatically checked. The referee feels there is a foul by Llorente in the disallowed Lamela goal. Without VAR I think that goal would have stood.”

What you had to say about VAR

Gary Lineker tweet

We asked your opinions on VAR and you weren’t shy about getting in touch.

Tony, London (about 15 minutes after the goal): Is there a maximum time after a goal has been scored that VAR can disallow it? Can I celebrate Llorente’s first goal?

Matt, London: Football has died a little for me today. Don’t underestimate the damage this does to the game. You can’t compare to rugby or cricket, as football’s unique selling point is that it’s free flowing sport with high pace and limited stoppages. If this delay ridden mess is how the future looks then you’ll have less kids putting jumpers down for goalposts in the future.

Cenzo, Fareham: They should mark fixtures that use VAR so we can avoid them. This is not football as we know it.

Former Tottenham World Cup winner

Paul: I’d sooner VAR (or the use of it) resulted in a few incorrect decisions rather than suffer an injustice of the magnitude of Lampard’s non-goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup. Defy any England fan to disagree.

Duncan, Isleworth: Despite all the criticism VAR has got every decision right. Could this match go down in history as the most perfectly officiated game of football in history?!

Chris Robins: The VAR process is farcical even when they get it right! Why don’t they learn from rugby union who have the system spot on and everybody knows what is happening!

TimDYo: Can we get a VAR decision on the VAR?

Tottenham twitter account

Charles Davie: Exactly the same luddite views about VAR were heard in cricket, tennis and rugby. It takes one season and then it’s an asset to the game. Be patient.

Martyn Pritchard: At Wembley and not one fan knows what’s going on. This is the main problem with VAR. What’s the point of paying to be at the game when you have no clue what’s going on?

Steven Shaw: From what I can see, it’s not the VAR that’s the problem, it’s the way it’s being used and the lack of communication. It’s all very well saying that mistakes are part of the game but will that still apply if those mistakes start costing your team points? I think not.