Are You a Member of AFC Unity?

membershipAs a grassroots, independent women’s football club and a legally incorporated non-profit organisation, AFC Unity rely on many forms of support through which we can increase our socially-driven activities.

One way you can help is by becoming a member.

Players are automatically made members when they are registered – with benefits beyond just being eligible to play in a customised kit with their own squad number and name on the back, or even matches and 11-a-side training covered too. They also get a 20% discount on services from our official sponsors, CFM Limited. In addition, they are invited to attend and vote at our end-of-season Awards Night, and get chance to take part in our Ambassador Programme and even on occasion access support in becoming qualified coaches.

But supporters can also become members – and enjoy a range of benefits from receiving a free AFC Unity wristband upon joining, getting 25% off AFC Unity merchandise, manager’s updates, player video messages, and invitation to 14889768_1247114865349220_6631454899400448265_oattend and vote at Awards Night, to 20% off CFM services as well! (And who knows when you might need those!) There will be other goodies too. But the really good news is, supporter membership has been reduced from £25 to £20 for the end of the season!

All membership fees are reduced if you’re a member of a trade union as part of AFC Unity’s commitment to unity, community, and the protection of people in the workplace! (Players even get 50p off Solidarity Soccer if they flash their trade union membership card!)

So please do consider supporting us further by becoming a member – all proceeds go directly back into the organisation to help us sustain the good work we do! Contact us to join!

Up the Left Wing

UpTheLeftWingby Jay Baker

As AFC Unity approaches its third birthday – incredible, considering the achievements already – I can honestly say I’ve never seen such quality football going on throughout the club; football that reflects the ethos of the club itself with its spirit of collectivism and empowerment and positivity in the way it is played.

However, this ethos doesn’t mean the style of play is the easiest to grasp, as I’ve mentioned in this column before: it takes dedication and belief, as well as intelligence and a willingness to embrace and learn different football, for players to pick it up, so major credit to them. We want the first team to hold on, move on, and progress, and it’s required patience and passion to stick to principles especially at a time when so many injuries make your team even more vulnerable. But I’m so proud of the nexus of the team for doing this, to the point where I recently had to pause training right in the middle to tell the players I was witnessing the best football I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching. The key is to carry that over into games. The better the first team do, the bigger lift it brings the club and the more breathing space for the second team, the AFC Unity Jets.

AFC Unity Jets Head Coach Emily Salvin – herself a former first team player – has done a marvelous job of getting her team nominated for a league Respect award and giving players opportunities to shine, and develop, with a great deal of calm, composure, intelligence and understanding. She also this past week started playing football again after months of recovery from surgery after her injury last May! She’s been an inspiration to all: she never once quit, never once complained, and has become an excellent role model for absolutely everyone in the club.

Speaking of injuries, it seems like our first team injury crisis is finally coming to an end, which is great news for everybody. Not only is it good for players returning, but it’s also good for everyone else as this increases competition for spots in the squad on Sundays, and brings out the best in everyone. It makes players try harder, conduct themselves even better, and earn a place. Players know the playing style we’re trying to nurture and those that believe in that, themselves, each other, and the training, will succeed the most.

However, you can also always judge people on how they conduct themselves in positions of power – while we were dealt several blows with numerous injuries, so many non-injured players never took advantage of that, never took their position for granted, and conducted themselves so well even when they knew they were needed in the team since we were so thin on the ground. I will never forget that.

A bigger squad for the first team also helps out the AFC Unity Jets, which was set up to help develop and give more game time to players who hadn’t otherwise had the opportunities they deserved or needed in order to get better and better. This is because players can potentially be transferred from one team to the other and as is usually the case in football clubs, generally more players develop, advance, and progress from second teams into first teams, although in some cases first team players prefer time to hone their skills in the second team for a while, and AFC Unity is no different.

Some current AFC Unity Jets players played with the first team in the Second Division last season and either needed more game time to keep developing or couldn’t dedicate the commitment expected and it was almost always a mutual decision for them to become part of the AFC Unity Jets – several of these are fantastic players, but at this moment in time are better positioned in that team, as it works best for them as well as the club. But make no mistake, there are some absolute diamonds in there! So many newcomers have been brilliant too, even having started playing later than most, proving age is just a number!

Naturally, there will be – on albeit rare occasions in AFC Unity – players who are less than positive, and become disgruntled with selection systems and even express interest in our spirit of collectivism extending towards players themselves deciding on the selection process or the manager behind it. Of course, there are reasons this almost never happens in football; even the most fan-led community clubs still have coaches and managers assigned by the board to pick the teams because anything else tends to be an absolutely disastrous breeding ground for power plays, cliques and bullies that we go to great pains to nip in the bud. At Ajax Amsterdam, players had too much power in the team and were so jealous of Johan Cruyff that they forced him out. And my own experiences tell me that outside influence in player selection is catastrophic and corrupt; at Doncaster Rovers, we once had a chairman meddling in picking the team, and he went on to be prosecuted and imprisoned for his hidden agendas and skulduggery. But hey, it’s no coincidence that in football the players who lobby and always complain about the manager’s autonomous selection criteria are those not getting their own way (which is, ironically, actually an anti-democratic attitude in itself!) Hardly the spirit of collectivism.

I’m proud to get votes of confidence and have such good feedback from such good people right throughout the club and to see so many women enjoy their football – many for the first team in a long time, sometimes ever. The role of the manager, particularly at AFC Unity, is as a more objective voice off the pitch to focus on nurturing a collective spirit, and keeping individualistic player agendas away from decision-making, so that all those decisions are carried out in the best interests of the club as per the direction set by the directors and founders who put in so much time, effort and energy to keep this a successful, fast-expanding, award-winning organisation. I’ve always said, no one should have rights without responsibilities, and no one should have responsibilities without rights. The system we have gets results, with our social aims, for the greater good.

Those who support the good work we do can become members to help us do even more of it (and there are some great membership package announcements coming up soon too!) We are a non-profit organisation (which means all proceeds go back into the club) but also a registered company – rather than an unincorporated association like most grassroots clubs – so we are subject to all kinds of regulations and legal and financial scrutiny that means members and players have peace of mind with us. Too often we hear stories of women’s football funding being spent on the men’s team, sponsors’ money being pocketed by some coach, or committees fiddling with packets of cash. Coming from a community business background, those running AFC Unity have given a different, more professional perspective on running a football club, which I think has been key to making us so successful.

Beyond that, AFC Unity isn’t just an independent women’s football club with no connection to or reliance upon a men’s team, but actually driven by an entirely all-female Board of Directors, which is just fantastic. How many women’s teams have at the very top of their structures 100% women?

A lot of players in our league and others like it would do well to spend more time pointing the finger at the plethora of women’s teams either co-opted by a men’s club, or mostly run by men. Here at AFC Unity, we’re very different, and I’m proud to have been one of those pushing for this to be the case.

So, for a change, let’s hear it for the women: those playing, coaching, volunteering, or on the board. It’s very refreshing, and definitely inspiring.

Solidarity Off and On the Pitch: The AFC Unity ‘Injury Curse’

dsc_0414

Written by Jane Watkinson, Co-Founder and Co-Captain of AFC Unity

It’s become a long-running joke (not that funny, I know) that this is the season where the ‘injury curse’ hit our first team. It seems nearly every week we have suffered a new injury blow. Beth broke her collar bone, Rachel pulled her hamstring, Becky injured her thigh, Steph injured her knee, Lisa twisted her ankle. I myself have just been diagnosed with a chronic ruptured ACL knee ligament.

As a club, since the start we have been very keen to involve injured players in different ways whilst they’re recovering. When injured your instinct is to isolate yourself so you don’t have to see other people doing something you want to do so much but can’t – this is especially the case with long-term injuries. But it’s really important that when you’re injured you try and not do that, as being involved in a different way still means you are part of that collective spirit, you can still learn by listening and watching at training, you can still cheer your team mates on and help with positive encouragement and you still get to develop a bond with your team mates ready for when you return. Yes, it can be painful, but strength and character can develop through pain too.

Playing football is a big part of my identity now and when you get injured it’s difficult not to feel slightly lost. I am fortunate in that co-founding the club and in having the off-the-pitch role – Secretary and a Director – I do in the club I have no choice but to keep very much involved and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was difficult at the start but the more I have embraced this it has helped me deal with and process the injury. Jay Baker, the Manager of the first team, has got me involved with helping out in a coaching capacity with the first team, whilst I still coach at the Solidarity Soccer sessions.

We have found this has happened with other injured players too. In the first season, Olivia Murray injured her ACL for the second time whilst playing for us in a friendly against Sheffield Wednesday Development after just coming back from ACL injury. Olivia became involved as a first team coach and as the Chair of AFC Unity’s Board of Directors being absolutely fundamental to the development and growth of the organisation. Olivia has spoken about how important this was for her getting through a very understandably difficult time.

The same goes for Emily Salvin who sustained serious knee damage in Sarah Richard’s testimonial match. Emily is now recovering from her recent surgery but during her time out has been the AFC Unity Jets head coach and has been absolutely fundamental to helping create a positive vibe and ensuring a well organised set-up. Emily has also spoken about how the experience has helped the injury recovery go faster with her able to focus her passion for football in a different way. I personally have been so impressed and inspired by how Emily has coped with and responded to the process.

We also have provided Ambassador roles for 11-a-side players via the Solidarity Soccer coaching that gives players an opportunity to get involved by passing on their experience and skills. For instance, Steph Sargent has provided invaluable goalkeeper coaching at Solidarity Soccer. Becky Rayner has run coaching exercises at Solidarity Soccer whilst recovering from injury also.

We have provided injured players opportunities to get involved in non-coaching roles too, such as Eliah Ward becoming our Community Outreach volunteer whilst recovering from back surgery, which included helping with the Football for Food campaign expansion and talking at Diversity Festival.

It’s really important that players who sustain injuries are kept involved if they are wanting to. Obviously some players deal with it differently and don’t want to be in a footballing environment whilst injured, but we make sure everyone knows there is something for them whilst injured.

Us injured players even talked about setting up a 5-a-side team it was getting that silly – there has sometimes been a bench of us at games and training but taking a positive from this that also has helped knowing that others are there to pick you up when you’re having a low day and that you can help provide support to your team mates who are also injured whilst cheering those on the pitch. Myself and goalkeeper Steph have had a “knee pact” where we keep each other in check and make sure we don’t do anything we shouldn’t be doing to harm recovery! That has helped me a lot and I am really thankful to Steph for that.

It has been a very difficult season for injuries – we have lost the best goalkeeper I have ever seen in women’s football, we’ve lost players that boss the spine of the pitch and it’s definitely made things a lot harder. I honestly have never known anything like this in terms of luck whilst playing football but these things happen.

Players are returning though as the season goes on and we are aware that there is a long-term plan for the club and also the club is a lot more than what happens on a Sunday. The spirit of Unity, solidarity and empowerment happens off and on the pitch and whether you are playing or injured.

Here’s to a healthier 2017!

Up the Left Wing

UpTheLeftWingby Jay Baker

I’m writing this at a time of New Year’s Resolutions and renewed energy and enthusiasm within AFC Unity as we go forward with our “women’s football revolution” – which is reflected by our commitment to the community as well as our Football Philosophy which, within that, has meant developing a style of play that is finally giving us a footballing identity and a sense of ourselves as a football club: the way we play, why we do it, and how we do it.

There’s nothing more rewarding for a coach or manager than to see these things starting to emerge, and to see these points starting to click on the training ground, where if you get into good habits there, they become good habits in matches, too.

Once we were hit by over half a dozen first team injuries at the start of the season – essentially dashing any hopes of finishing high in the Second Division – it would have been easy – in such a time of footballing “crisis” – to compromise this style of play to protect ourselves from heavier defeats, but to do that would have meant having to learn the playing style all over anyway after that challenging period was over, which would have presented its own problems too, of course: if you can commit yourself to a style of play when times are hard, conceding a few goals more in defeats that would have likely happened anyway, then you can play in that style like it’s second nature by the time the crisis is over, and really hit your stride, which is what I feel we’re about to do, even with (or thanks to) additions in the first team from the second team; additions that were somewhat inevitable but expedited given the gaps in the team due to injuries.

Obviously, the main talking point has been the creation of a second team this season and how that meant players were part of a smaller team. Naturally, that presented an immediate trial for us: previously unable to meet demand following only our second-ever season in football, we simply had to face the challenge of a first – and second – team of potentially slightly smaller numbers, and while although at one point we had about 21 registered players for the second team and 19 for the first, because turnout is smaller than with one team there is less competition for spots which can breed complacency, something we haven’t expected to be an issue in our positive environment, but is, to an extent, natural.

But it had to be done: while the first team are on the long hard road to footballing success in terms of their quality and increasing standards, the newly-formed AFC Unity Jets finally gave opportunities to players who hadn’t had much chance to get stuck in to 11-a-side action in a relaxed environment, and right away, right at the get-go, expressed excitement at this regardless of the turnout; a spirit so rare it won them a nomination for another Respect award. We’ll see if the demand we tried to meet sustains and remains evident, and assuming it is, we see the AFC Unity Jets as a key intermediate step for players to get 11-a-side games and, eventually, use the opportunity to grasp our style of play and formations which we want to be utilised at all levels, throughout the club, from beginner sessions and up through both teams.

Because we’re that rarity of being an independent women’s football club, many are used to women’s teams being an add-on to a men’s club and even used as a “cash cow” to open up access to funds that end up being spent on the men. But for us, the creation of the AFC Unity Jets was never about money. Our prices as a club are amongst the most competitive in the country, so often we break even, and as a non-profit organisation any proceeds we do make go right back into the club. In many cases, a second team can generate more money but also cost more money, so it makes little difference on finances. But because as a social enterprise it’s always about more than money, you have to consider the cost to resources and energies as well. Beyond financial rewards, return on investment means returns in terms of activity and contentment are really important, so it really matters that everyone involved – from players, to coaches, to co-founders – are getting a lot out of it. That’s our primary motivating factor.

So as with any expansion – including our Solidarity Soccer initiative – you have to avoid doing an infamous Starbucks error and see demand so chase it to the point of over-stretching yourself and risking “corporate cannibalization” – a business phenomenon where you offer so many options that each subtract from one another and put a drain on resources. You have to be careful to keep strong what you have and not dilute anything. Such dilution can come in the form of financial dilution, or the dilution of the activity so it risks going off-mission. With Solidarity Soccer, we’ve spotted the warning signs and made sure to emphasise quality over quantity, which might mean fewer sessions or a renewed dedication to an inclusive environment for beginners, where 11-a-side players instead heighten their role as ambassadors (some of the very best 11-a-side players came through our Solidarity Soccer initiative, so still love it!)

The Solidarity Soccer initiative, like the AFC Unity Jets, is also important because we want our football philosophy to become a trend not a fad, and ultimately the only way we can do that is by nurturing our own players from the ground up, which naturally will mean looking towards a junior set-up. Some grassroots coaches, like Martin Bidzinski, are trying to emphasise a different way of coaching football with players from an early age in this country, where instead of talking about “the second ball” all the time, we look at “the first ball,” and quality touches, and retention of possession. You have to set a foundational style of play for a team, or club, and then you can tinker with it or tweak it down the line, but first and foremost the fundamentals of it must be understood.

But ultimately, our own football philosophy, coaching approach, and playing style are all part of the same ethos as what we do away from the field, in the community: you’ll notice we use words like “collectivism,” “empowerment,” and “positivity” in any scenario, on or off the pitch. Despite our incredible retention rates, there have been one or two players who couldn’t understand our club, feeling like it just wasn’t for them, and saying things like, ‘the food bank stuff is nice, but I don’t buy into positivity,’ as though they’re separate things. They are one and the same! It’s all part of the same AFC Unity approach, and you can’t appreciate or embrace one and not the other. I never make a single coaching decision without asking myself, ‘Is this football a reflection of what we’re about as a club?’sheffield_womens_football_fairtrade

But in these post-Thatcherite neoliberal times of “Survival of the Fittest” (a principle far too many teams are based on), our ethos is sadly not for everyone. Other clubs and even governing bodies may be baffled by our approach where we run a tight ship and stamp out bullying behaviour or cliques – for so long a given in football – but we’ll keep doing it, because we have to be more than a welcome refuge for players that didn’t fit in elsewhere, but have to try and contribute to positive change in the sport itself. We’ve even been ridiculed by opposing teams for using fair trade footballs – which makes me assume they much prefer, say, a little child exploitation, sweatshop labour, or worker exploitation with their Sunday league football. How peculiar! These are, as John Lennon sang, strange days indeed.

Yes, Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. Yes, Labour MPs are being assassinated on British streets by right-wing extremists. Yes, there’s a Brexit. Yes, it can seem like we live in cynical times. And yes, to use an example from AFC Unity, there are those who love seeing us lose, post jibes on social media, leave abusive comments below, and cheer on bigger, more established clubs that keep the order in place.

But some of the best people I’ve encountered have been through my very lucky position as AFC Unity’s manager and the majority of people – the really good, decent, positive people – are rooting for us. We really appreciate that. We know we’re doing something right. And we will keep going, with the spirit of positivity and integrity at the heart of every decision we make. It’s brought us this far, but it will take us even further, so we can do more good things both on and off the pitch. The year ahead may bring many changes and challenges, as always, but I have no doubt is going to continue to be absolutely amazing.

Why I fell out of and in love with football…

Extract from Carrie Dunn’s Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England book

Written by Jane Watkinson, Co-Founder and Co-Captain of AFC Unity

When I was 16 years old, I walked off in the middle of a game when I was playing for Sheffield United Community Girls football team. It wasn’t the best way of dealing with how I felt, but I was fed up of feeling taken for granted, I was fed up of the negativity and lack of enjoyment I felt every Saturday morning with a manager that would tell us all how badly we played, and struggle to ever find anything positive to say. I walked off and didn’t play football again until I was 22 years old.

This was really strange, because football defined my life when growing up. I lived and breathed football. In career interviews at school I would be asked what I wanted to be and I would say a footballer, obviously to laughter and a follow-up question of “yes, but seriously” – but my dream was to get a scholarship to play football in the United States as a living, as you can see in my interview with the BBC when I was 16 as my school team, Meadowhead, became the best girls team (14-16 year olds) in the UK.

I didn’t fit in at the Centre of Excellence though. Being subbed off as soon as you made a mistake and being surrounded by a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality does nothing for confidence – well not mine, anyway. I never played how I knew I could play when I was there, I was a shell of a football player and there was no wonder they kicked me out. I had dreaded Centre of Excellence like that feeling I got every Sunday evening before school restarted on the Monday.

There is something really wrong about this. Football, which was my biggest passion when I was younger, caused me some really stressful and upsetting times. Reflecting on this though, it wasn’t football, it was the environment and as a product of this I did some stupid things like walk off in the middle of a game and I didn’t play the football I knew I could. I was so scared of making mistakes. Mistakes were there to be feared. I don’t remember any positive encouragement or feedback, I just remember a very cliquey and negative environment. I myself became negative and adapted to be part of this environment.

Playing for Meadowhead School was different, the coach was absolutely fantastic and would always talk positively about us all as a team and individuals. It’s not a surprise that we became the best girls football team in the UK, playing and winning the final at West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthorns stadium. The coach trusted me with the captain armband as well, even though I didn’t believe in myself – he believed in me. Before the final, he wrote personalised letters to all players telling us why we are so key to the team and what strengths we bring. It was so positive, hopeful and he never shouted and always spoke about how “it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with it.” He never put any pressure or sense of expectation on us as a team and that was a big reason for why we won that competition – in fact, that year we won the treble, picking up the South Yorkshire Cup and the League trophy as well.

It’s when I look back at these experiences – which aren’t unique, they are typical of so many women’s experiences of football, so many women that gave up and quit the sport, often at 16 years old – that I am so proud of what we are achieving and doing at AFC Unity. We provide a safe, positive, welcoming and inclusive space for women to enjoy and love the sport like so many of us did when we were growing up, kicking a ball in the back garden or with our friends in the park, in the streets or in the school field. When we were younger, how many of us really cared about the score? We just loved the experience, we built friendships, we felt a sense of pride and achievement and we encouraged as many of our friends to take part as we could. It’s only when we grew older, and we start to be socialised into a more negative, survival of the fittest competition ethos and culture does things go south for many of us.

That passion and love I have for the game when I was a kid, in my back garden spending hours and hours making up stories with the ball has been reignited by AFC Unity and by the management and coaching ethos at the club led by Jay Baker and carried out throughout the club by Head Coach of the AFC Unity Jets Emily Salvin and player-coach of the Jets Corinne Heritage with both teams having key leadership figures helping ensure this alternative ethos is encouraged and maintained. The encouragement of creativity, freedom, enjoyment, learning, positivity, belief and making mistakes as part of growth and development has set me free as a footballer, and has also had an impact on me as a person. Many women we have involved in the club have told us about the impact the club has on them on the pitch but also off the pitch. Many have told us they wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for the club. Because that’s the thing, football is a lot more than about turning up on a Sunday afternoon and the sole focus being about winning 3 points. It can be a way of life.

This alternative coaching and management style is therefore so important for us to harness and develop as a club going forward. We have some big plans and I can’t wait to help us achieve these whilst also enjoying playing the game I love.

Yes, there are women that want to play at clubs where the emphasis is on winning at all costs, some women do thrive in a ‘survival of the fittest’ environment, and some women are okay with being shouted at from the sidelines and by their own players and can cope with negative, high-pressured environments. That’s up to all of us women to all individually decide what we want and prefer. We have had players within this club that get frustrated with and critical of the positivity and alternative ethos, often because they aren’t used to that environment and because we pull up behaviour or negativity that other clubs would accept as a normal part of the game – it was part and parcel of the sport when I grew up and then I couldn’t imagine anything else. What we offer is so different to traditional football environments, it has to be protected for the benefit of the whole rather than an individual and also for people that want an option different to what traditional football environments provide.

I know there are a lot of women out there who grew up loving the sport and might have felt a bit disenchanted with the sport along the way whilst growing up, and maybe left the sport like me when they were young and are wondering if there is anything out there for them that can reconnect them with that fun and love they had for the game. My message to you is give AFC Unity a try, it really is a club that has an alternative, counter-cultural positive environment that offers something so different to any other club.

Reviewing the Football for Food Campaign Expansion

We received funding from Awards for All, Big Lottery Fund and Freshgate Trust to expand our Football for Food campaign, raising awareness of the extent and causes of food poverty – tackling misrepresentations and myths – which includes static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare whilst collecting more food to distribute via Sheffield Food Collective to local food banks.

13729201_1152496314793160_7585051093680473974_n

The events part of this extended campaign included:

*Kick-Ups in Town: 19th of June 2016, Devonshire Green, 10am-6pm – at this event we ran a pop-up stall at Devonshire Green where we had donation buckets/containers to encourage donations of food for food banks we are working with via Sheffield Food Collective, with a stall with information about the campaign (via leaflets), whilst players from our 11-a-side teams handed out fliers to members of the public and also attracted people by kicking the ball about and doing tricks and skills where possible. Players were sponsored to take part in the event by food. Through this event, we collected 133 items of food, working out at around 49 kilograms of food. The event was also covered on Sheffield Live.

*Pop-Up Quiz: 8th of July 2016, Union Street, 18-20 Union St, Sheffield S1 2JR, 6-9pm – at this event we organised a Football for Food general knowledge women’s focussed pop-up quiz where people entered to take part by bringing food to donate at the event. We also included questions regarding food poverty within the quiz to raise awareness of the issues and the reasons for why we are running the campaign. Through this event we collected 70 items of food, working out at around 28 kilograms of food.

“Shocked at how much food poverty there is in our city” – feedback from someone who attended our Pop-Up Quiz event

*Football for Food 5-a-side Tournament: 16th of July 2016, 12-4pm, The U-Mix Centre, 17 Asline Rd, Sheffield S2 4UJ – AFC Unity, AFC Unity Jets, Yorkshire St Pauli, Mount Pleasant Park FC, Roundabout Utd, Clapton Ultras, Small Ideas FC, Easton Cowgirls and Mexborough Athletic all entered to take part in this tournament by donating food rather than paying to enter with spectators encouraged to bring food to donate as well. We also had the following speakers talking at the tournament:

*Gill Furniss, Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough
*Carrie Dunn, a journalist, writing about sport – primarily women’s sport – and has covered events from World Cups to the Ashes to the Olympics
*Nick Waterfield, works in and around Parson Cross in North Sheffield for the Methodist Church and is the Chair of Sheffield Church Action on Poverty
*Debbie Matthews, CEO of Manor and Castle Development Trust for 11 years and one of the founder members of the S2 Food Bank
*Steve Clark, volunteer with the Sunday Centre – a project open every Sunday afternoon for homeless and other vulnerable people – for about 12 years and is their current Chair

13775347_1153269481382510_183227721467368982_n

At this event we collected 915 items of food, working out at around 355 kilograms of food alongside a £50.00 donation for the food banks. This is more than we collected in 11 events previous to this point (excluding the Sponsored Kick-ups and Pop-Up Quiz events!).

“The link between football, socially minded football teams and social justice / food projects is potentially very powerful” – feedback from someone who attended our 5-a-side Football for Food tournament.

We also premièred 3 videos we have had made by local filmmaker Claire Watkinson for the campaign.

*11-a-side players volunteering at The Sunday Centre, 24th of July 2016 – The Sunday Centre provides a friendly shelter for homeless, isolated and vulnerable people where they can obtain refreshments and a cooked meal in the city centre on a Sunday afternoon. We volunteered to help with the serving of drinks and food to guests and chat.

In total, through the expansion we collected 1118 items of food working out to be around 432 kilograms of food!

Campaign Videos

As part of the Football for Food Campaign Expansion we had 3 videos made by local filmmaker Claire Watkinson – these videos were shown for the first time at our Football for Food 5-a-side tournament. The three films were:

1) Did You Know? Key Facts on Food Poverty:


In this video, players and personnel from AFC Unity deliver key facts regarding food poverty to the camera, with the aim of friends and family sharing this around their social media networks helping raise awareness regarding the issues. This was a key part of our campaign, as we didn’t want to only collect food donations without raising awareness of why this is happening and needed. Moving forward, we wish to challenge the growing normalisation of food bank use as this is not part of creating a long-term fair and equal society.

“I didn’t quite realise the scale of the problem, with 4 million in food poverty” – feedback from someone who attended our Pop-Up Quiz event.

2) Food Bank Case Study:

A food bank we distribute collected food to was visited – this food bank is based in Parson Cross at Mount Tabor Church. Parson Cross Initiative Share Food Bank have utilised this video to promote the work they do too.

3) We Are AFC Unity:


This video helped us as a club promote what we do, creating more awareness regarding our Football for Food campaign, highlighting how the club is an agent for social change rather than just being a football club.

Campaign Statistics

As part of the campaign, we also produced a page on our website where we added and will keep adding statistics on food poverty and the causes and reasons for this providing people with further reading and sources/evidence for the claims we have shared during the campaign (such as through our Did You Know? Key Facts on Food Poverty video).

Awards Ceremony and Launch of Expansion of Football for Food

We launched our Football for Food campaign expansion at our End of Season (2015/2016) Awards Ceremony, where we also collected around 12kg of food and 31 items. Nick Waterfield from Parson Cross food bank attended the event and talked about the importance of the campaign.

12439442_1084313478278111_5489708387239758082_n

“Very surprised by the number of children in poverty in Sheffield” – feedback from someone who attended our Pop-Up Quiz event.

13592655_1147625728613552_4734619858830161769_n

Football for Food 5-a-side Tournament

The Football for Food 5-a-side Tournament was the biggest event as part of the expansion campaign. We do want to build on this more however, as there is a worrying normalisation of food bank provision within the welfare system. This is a key reason for why we had speakers at the tournament that talked about community food provision, food poverty and community responses to it.

“There should be something like this in every council/village/town” – feedback from someone who attended our 5-a-side Football for Food tournament.

All teams were presented with an award at the end of the tournament by Nick Waterfield for taking part with the winners winning the “Football for Food 5-a-side Trophy”. Sheffield Live and BBC Radio Sheffield covered the tournament event too.

13690755_1153270668049058_863693262367483721_n

We had 7 volunteers that helped out on the day:

  • Kate, helped with selling merchandise and counting up the food donated on the day.
  • Sarah R helped with counting up the food donated on the day.
  • Sarah C recorded the scores of the games, the goalscorers and updated the league tables coordinating with the referees.
  • David helped with coordinating the speaker section of the event.
  • Theo helped with counting up food and collecting survey and demographic information.
  • Sharon helped with taking the food collected away at the end of the game.
  • Nick Waterfield from Parson Cross food bank helped out by providing teams the timetable of the day and a tournament booklet when they got there and also presented the awards.

13707613_1153269541382504_8894500480520421345_n

We are planning for this to be an annual event – responding to the feedback we have got from running our first ever tournament – until food banks are not required at the extent they are. We do not want food bank use to be normalised but understand how valuable they are at times like these and are encouraged to carry on given the positive feedback regarding our campaign and events run as part of this.

“Great campaign to raise awareness, collect food and have fun whilst doing it” – feedback from someone who attended our 5-a-side Football for Food tournament.
“It is an excellent initiative, as it helps on three levels: 1) Practical volunteer support 2) Donations 3 ) Raising awareness” – feedback from someone who attended our 5-a-side Football for Food tournament.

We also had a video produced documenting the Football for Food 5-a-side tournament which includes interviews with some of the speakers and players that took part in the event.

“Effective, well run and a brilliant way to raise awareness and help those relying on food banks” – player feedback regarding the campaign.

Media Coverage

The project has received considerable media coverage:

“It’s brilliant! It makes such a difference and it’s something nice to get involved in instead of just playing football” – player feedback regarding the campaign.

Key Campaign Achievements

13729064_1153270394715752_6207952487721208576_n

  • Through the expansion we collected 1118 items of food working out to be around 432 kilograms of food.
  • Ran a series of events that not only collected food but also raised awareness of the campaign and why we are running the campaign as a club.
  • Demonstrated the potential for football to be more than a game, and football clubs to be key agents for social change.
  • Raised awareness of the scale, extent and reasons for food poverty with an emphasis on the local context.
  • Changed people’s opinions on food poverty and the use of food banks, tackling myths and misconceptions e.g. on who uses food banks.
  • Engaged a wide range of people across Sheffield and beyond in the events and the campaign.
  • Achieved wide spread coverage for the campaign, the campaign being key to us winning awards.
  • Engaged several volunteers in the campaign organisation, research and implementation, increasing confidence, skills and social networking.
  • Empowered 11-a-side players as positive role models through their involvement with the campaign.
  • Helped improve our promotion of the regular food collections we do at our home games, helping us produce marketing material we can utilise beyond the project to keep advertising this.
  • Increased our connections with food banks in Sheffield, understanding the need more and how we can make the campaign work better from now onwards.

Long-Term Plan

We want to do more work on raising awareness of the causes of food poverty, with real life stories and the impact this has had something we will look at doing more on. We have done a lot on sharing statistics and the extent of food poverty, but we can definitely do more on producing real life stories that people can connect with that can relate to challenging the normalisation of food poverty.

Solidarity Soccer Participant Spotlight: April Worrall

Solidarity Soccer is our innovative community based football training initiative for women which has empowerment, skill sharing and a personalised approach shaping it.

We spoke to regular Solidarity Soccer attendee April Worrall about her experiences of Solidarity Soccer, and what kind of impact it has had on and off the pitch – April has won the Teamwork Digital Award and has been a key part of our Tuesday Solidarity Soccer session.

screenshot-from-2016-12-08-18-11-53

AFC Unity: In a few words, how would you describe Solidarity Soccer to someone who hasn’t been?
April: It’s a fun weekly event where you can join other women to learn football skills and play football.

AFC Unity: What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to Solidarity Soccer if you wanted them to come along?
April: Switch off your TV or phone and come and join me and others enjoying playing football‎ and learning new skills. It will make you feel better all round.

AFC Unity: Do you have any stories that stand out from your time of being involved in Solidarity Soccer?
April: I’ve met some really nice people who have managed to recapture during the sessions, what I fondly remember football was like for me as a child. Fun and rewarding working with a team who are supportive‎ throughout. I had been looking for a session like this for a while and glad I have found one close to home.

AFC Unity: Has Solidarity Soccer had an impact on your outside football life?
April: Yes, it’s encouraged me to do more exercise as I was starting to believe sitting down was a sport at one point. It’s also helped me whilst re-training in a new job as the exercise has helped manage stress better.

AFC Unity: If you could pick one word to describe Solidarity Soccer what would it be?
April: Enjoyable.

AFC Unity: What has been your favourite skill to learn and why?
April: I’ve enjoyed learning the 360 degree turn, which has taken a lot of practice. It makes my game more entertaining even though it makes me a tad dizzy.

AFC Unity: Anything else to add?
April: Thanks to all at Solidarity Soccer and if you’re thinking about taking up a sport then try Solidarity Soccer…you won’t regret it!