Sands United – Men together, forever

By Luke Smith

Sands United FC

Sands United – the bereaved fathers standing strong together

Losing a baby. Something parents never even consider when setting off down the exciting path of pregnancy. But where do men turn for support when they’ve lost a child? A very special football team in Northampton is providing the perfect outlet for men who’ve lost children.

Sands United was formed in 2018, and nobody could have had any idea of how much of an impact it would have. Starting out as a team for a charity match, the club has now grown into a team of over thirty dads, each of whom has either suffered baby loss or had a family member who has suffered baby loss, representing the children that are affectionately known as their angels.

When team captain Rob Allen and his wife Charlotte lost their baby girl, Niamh, in October 2017, his world turned upside down. They were just four days away from the due date for their second child.

“Over the pregnancy we’d had a couple of issues. She was breach, which meant she was legs down, which we had to keep getting checked on and we’d been in a few times for reduced movements. On this particular Sunday, the 8th October, Charlotte came down and said I haven’t really felt a lot today so I’ve rung the hospital and they said we can pop in. There were no real alarm bells at all if I’m honest, but because we were close [to our due date] I though I’d stick the bags in the car anyway just in case. We went down to the hospital, and when we got in there I’d realised I had left her paperwork in the car, so I went back to get it as we were only parked about five minutes away.

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Rob Allen, the Sands United captain, lost his daughter Niamh in October 2017

“By the time I’d got back from getting the papers they had already started. We’d been there before for the same sort of thing so they didn’t really have any cause for concern either. On this particular time when I came back through the door it was pin drop silent. There were two midwives and a doctor, and normally speaking you wouldn’t have a doctor for this kind of thing. I didn’t really know what was going on, but because of the atmosphere I didn’t say anything.

“I remember one of the midwives was perched at the edge of the bed, looking at the monitor with her head in her hands, then looking at me, then looking at Charlotte, then looking back at the monitor. Even though nobody had said anything since I had been there I knew something wasn’t right.”

It was then that the doctor delivered the news to Rob and Charlotte that every parent dreads to hear: “Unfortunately your child isn’t with us any more.”

It was devastating, but looking back, Rob is thankful for the fact that he and Charlotte were able to use the Snowdrop Suite available at Northampton General Hospital, which is a room away from the main labour ward where parents suffering a child bereavement can go to be away from other children and parents.

“The midwife told us to try and get some rest and we’d talk through the options. So the next day we made the decision and she was born just after 11am the next morning through a natural birth. To look at, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. It’s not that you want something to be wrong, but there wasn’t any evidence or anything that something had happened.

“Because of the specialist room they have at the hospital, we got to spend quite a lot of time with her, which is not an opportunity that many parents get. We actually managed to spend two and a half days with her. We took pictures, we had footprints done, the family came to see her, and we made as many memories as possible. At one point I think there was about twelve or thirteen of us there.

“The bereavement midwife we had at the time who explained the new path we were going to be on was excellent. Over the course of the next few months she became part of the family, to the point where when we got married in July we invited her to the wedding. That’s how close they became to us.”

Before Sands United, Rob was a member of the Easter Eagles football team, but after Niamh he felt he didn’t have the right headspace to play football. But when his manager at the time suggested a charity football game to raise money for Sands, the child bereavement charity, the idea was born for Sands United. Since the charity game, played at the local 3000 seater Sixfields stadium, the club has grown to the extent they’re now taking on and supporting new dads going through similar situations all the time.

For some of the dads, like Rob, talking is the best coping mechanism, but there were other dads, such as John, who hadn’t spoken to any media before about his experience, who explained how he told his oldest child that her sister, Beau-Harper, wasn’t coming home.

“We’ve got an eight year-old daughter, and at the time she didn’t really understand what was going on. She couldn’t quite register that her sister was never going to come home. We told her, we sat her down and she didn’t really understand what was going on, but then it was like a lightbulb just clicked on in her head and she just broke down into tears, crying that she wanted her back.

“That was when reality kicked in for me. I couldn’t sleep, I was depressed, I nearly killed myself, I was suicidal. I felt angry and I hated everyone.

“We then buried her on the 21st or the 22nd of June, 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 think I’d have gone down the wrong path”.

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The team wear shirts with their angel’s name stitched below the badge as a sign of representation

For most dads in the team, they had to deal with stillbirths or miscarriages, but for Mark his story was a little different to the rest.

“My son was two years old when he passed away. It was a very unusual passing. He basically had tonsillitis, and that developed into pneumonia. We went to hospital but within 24 hours, he had gone. The night before he passed away, he was eating chicken nuggets, chips and beans, and then the next day he was gone.

“It happened on October 17 2014, and even to this day I cannot remember a thing from the moment he passed up until about Christmas Eve. It’s gone, there’s nothing there.

“My son passed away four years ago and I hadn’t played football since. A colleague at work asked me if I’d like to start up playing football again so I played for my work team. After I had played, bizarrely I started getting text messages on a Saturday saying “we have a game tomorrow for Sands, be there at this time” so it was a little strange as I wasn’t even signed on for Sands and was playing for this other team. It took a little while, but I thought finally that I’m going to change, so I looked Sands United up on Twitter and I texted back, having no idea who it was that was actually texting me. It turned out that one of the guys I had previously known from when my boy had passed away had accidentally added me to the group chat, so he rang me up and said I should come along, so it was a bit unusual but it worked!”

Whilst these dads will never forget their angels, they always step out onto the pitch representing their children, supporting each other, and offering a vital outlet for fathers who have lost children but perhaps don’t feel comfortable talking in counselling or in need of a different outlet to talk about their experiences.

Sands United also run a club shop, selling various merchandise such as replica kits, beanie hats and much more, all raising money for the club, which can be found on the club website and by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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