Sands United gives dads the opportunity to grieve through football

By Conor de Smith

A football team is giving devastated dads who have lost their children during or after pregnancy the opportunity to grieve through sport.

Named after stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, the Northamptonshire club provides men with the chance to play for their late children with the name of each player’s “angel” embroidered on their shirts.

The Brixworth-based side train every Wednesday night and play in Northampton’s Nene Football League on Sunday mornings.

Sands United has raised more than £6,000 for charity since its inception to support anyone affected by the death of a baby.

Every day in the UK about 15 babies die before, during or soon after birth. That means roughly every 90 minutes a family is faced with the devastation of the death of their baby.

Those in the ever-growing squad have developed their own support network with one another and meet regularly outside football.

Captain and founder of Sands United, Robert Allen, 32, lost his daughter Niamh in 2017 and says the team helps its members on multiple fronts.

Captain and founder of Sands United, Robert Allen.

“There are two issues we deal with; baby-loss and mental health,” he said. “It’s getting men together, getting them out playing football and giving them instant access to help or support. There will be down moments but a lot of the time we can bring each other through that.

“We know we are doing the right thing, we know it’s needed and people want it so we will continue to keep doing as much as we can to get the message as far as possible. The ultimate goal is to get people talking.”

Assistant occupational therapist Leon Gavin, 25, lost son Nolan at 36 weeks and has been a part of the team from the beginning.

“It’s what football should stand for. It’s brought a group of lads together and that’s what grassroots football is all about really. It’s the feeling you get, not just knowing that they are helping you but you are helping someone else. It’s amazing.”

Football offers an alternative to the free weekly meetings provided by the Sands charity which does not appeal to some members of the squad who find it hard speaking to strangers about their tragic experiences.

John Britten, 32, lost his daughter Beau-Harper in 2016 and believes Sands United has steered him in the right direction.

“My life turned upside down. I was tired, I was depressed, I nearly killed myself, I hated everyone. We buried her in June [2016] and saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s tough even now. If it wasn’t for the team, I would have gone down the wrong path.

Statistics show that stillbirth is happening at an alarming rate in the UK.

“It’s knowing that I’m not alone and that everyone in this team has gone through a lot. I can just pick up my phone at the end of a rubbish day and send a message. I did feel alone but now I’ve got my family and my football family as well.”

Due to the success of the ‘Sandsmen’, fathers who have lost children have been in contact to show support or set up similar sides in another parts of the country.

Luke Barker, 33, who is playing for his daughter Jasmine and son Freddie, said: “We might have to split into two teams so everyone gets fair game-time. There are talks about a five-a-side team and a side in Norfolk too. It will just continue to snowball.

“That’s the beauty of the team; it’s football for all, how football should be. I’ve been in dark places and it’s about being able to provide the support.”

You can donate directly to Sands on its official website to help a family in their darkest hour – https://www.sands.org.uk/get-involved/donate-sands

The Sands United club shop also donates all of its proceeds to charity – http://www.johnhenrysports.co.uk/categories/Clubs/Sands-FC

Leicester City Women captain Holly Morgan believes women’s football coverage has to improve

By Conor de Smith

Leicester City Women captain Holly Morgan believes coverage of women’s football has to improve.

The defender has captained the Foxes from the fourth tier up to the FA Women’s Championship but doubts the club has gained the recognition it deserves from the mainstream media.

Morgan, speaking after City’s 4-0 home defeat to Charlton Women on Sunday, understands the benefits of what media coverage can bring to teams at this level.

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Leicester City Women captain Holly Morgan.

“I think it’s a great way to engage with the public. I think it’s a great way to show young girls or anyone what’s going on within our club, what we’re like, what we do and build that relationship even if it’s not face-to-face at the beginning. By the time they start coming to games and get the opportunity to meet us then that relationship starts to build,” she said.

“The media coverage is really important to start that relationship between us as a club and the public, which can only happen through media attention. People need to know about it first and then you build the relationship.

“If people are reading about it more and seeing more of it then they might come and watch on a Sunday. If it is not being covered then people won’t know of it naturally. They need to be told where we play, when we play, when the games are on. I don’t think they would naturally know what is going on.”

Leicester City Women received minimal coverage in their Midlands Division One title-winning season in 2016 despite winning 22 out of 22 league matches and the club still struggle to have stories published in local media. City instead rely on dedicated outlets such as SheKicks to tell their story.

How is women’s sport covered in the UK?

“If you can’t get that coverage in your local newspaper or local magazine then you are relying on SheKicks or similar publications to publish your story, your articles, your progression. Those publications are really important, I just hope that we have more.”

According to a Women in Sport’s 2014 report, women’s sport makes up seven per cent of all sports media coverage in the UK and just two per cent of national newspaper sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport.