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The football team that heals bereaved dads

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

We spoke with Robert Allen, founder of Sands United FC, a football team with a difference.

In October of 2017, Robert Allen and his wife experienced an unthinkable tragedy. After carrying their child full term, they were told by doctors that their baby had no heartbeat.  

Unimaginable loss

Feeling alone and lost in their grief they turned to Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity offered support groups for couples. It was a unique charity in that it also offered a support group just for dads.

Allen, an avid football player, had stopped playing with his local league over this period. But after attending several support meetings, Allen came up with the idea to gather a group of dads that had experienced baby loss for a charity football match to play against his old team.

After a little over a month, Allen had assembled a football team and everything was in place for a charity match supporting those afflicted by miscarriages, neonatal death, and baby loss. The newly-named Sands United FC was ready to play against his old team. The charity match was more than successful, as they raised just under £6,000 – the highest Northampton had ever seen.  

The group of men who played stayed connected via Whatsapp and after a while members encouraged Allen to create a football league for dads and family members who had suffered the loss of a baby.  

Playing to heal

Now playing in regular matches, Sands United FC has grown to 35 members and has no intentions of slowing down. The league is open not only to fathers who have lost children, but family members, and friends. “I’d never say no to anyone signing up because if they need that help, that support, if they need that then anybody’s welcome,” says Allen. “If we need to make two teams then we’ll make two teams and we’ll go from there.”

The team offers more than just a field for fathers to pour their emotions out. The team offers support, a place to go and talk through how they’re feeling on good days and bad. “Even with your close friends and family members you can’t have that conversation that you really want to have because they don’t really understand fully how you feel,” says Allen.

This team offers men an outlet to express themselves and surround themselves with people who know just how they’re feeling. Even allowing team members to celebrate anniversary days by being team captain on the date of their child’s passing.

One of Allen’s goals in creating this league was to normalise having conversations about miscarriages and neonatal death, which can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation for people to talk about, often even undiscussed. It’s hard for people to know what or how to offer condolences or be a support for a loved one going through such heartache. Which leaves parents to suffer alone. But Allen and his team are changing that stigma.

“One of the hardest parts about losing a child is that not many people want to talk about it or know how to talk about it,” says Allen. “Apart of all this was to make it a bit more normal… So people don’t have that kind of anxiety about opening up about this subject.”

Each Sunday you can find this gang playing their hearts out. With the child name’s they are honoring stitched in their uniforms under their hearts. For more information and schedules check out their official homepage here.