AFC Unity Awarded the FA’s Club Respect Award for 2016

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BREAKING NEWS

We are proud to announce that AFC Unity has been identified as a joint national winner in the Women’s Pyramid System – Club Category.

According to the awarding body, the Football Association, ‘this award recognises AFC Unity’s exceptional work in offering an experience of football which is fair, safe and enjoyable.’

AFC Unity personnel will be going to Wembley Stadium on 7th of August, 2016 at the FA Community Shield to accept the award.

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AFC Unity manager Jay Baker offered a brief statement: ‘This is the greatest achievement we’ve experienced in terms of football in our short but incredible history, and frankly my co-founder Jane Watkinson and I are astonished and overwhelmed that an alternative football club such as ourselves has been recognised in this way.’ He added, ‘Major thanks to Director of Football, Sarah Richards, for proposing the nomination, and to Nick Waterfield, and Sophie Hirst for clinching us the successful nomination itself!’

More information to follow.

Up the Left Wing

 

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by Jay Baker

Feminism isn’t about women emulating men – and yet still more of them are watching Euro 2016 than watched the Women’s World Cup in 2015. The whole culture of football is still geared towards men, so most eyes go on men’s football, because most money goes on men’s football.

England's players celebrate their 1-0 win over Germany in the bronze medal match at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Edmonton, Alberta on July 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO/GEOFF ROBINS

Of course, I grew up watching men’s football, even though the ban on the women’s game had by then been lifted. My dad started taking me to Doncaster Rovers games when I was aged 9. He played football since a young age, a small but nippy winger in local factory teams featuring former professional footballers, before turning to refereeing, instilling a sense of footballing fairness in me from the very start.

When my dad first started attending football matches in the latter part of the 1940s, aggregate league attendances were over 41 million. By the time I began going, in 1986, they were around 16 million, damaged by several years of increasing wages for workers and the corresponding diversity of leisure activities available to them – not to mention hooliganism putting people off. I was watching a very different version of football to the one my father had.

In my dad’s day, the players retired from the game and joined the factories blokes like him worked, still playing football for fun, because they never earned much from the sport. But after that, they very understandably got together and complained that, despite being entertainers, many of the fans were earning more money than they were. The Professional Footballers’ Association, led by the late Jimmy Hill, fought to have the maximum wage scrapped, and eventually, as we know, player salaries skyrocketed to astronomical proportions, to the point where today, unlike over in the American NFL, top teams make sure they get more of the TV revenue than smaller clubs, in order to help sustain their multi-million pound superstar wage bills.

And given the players are such celebrities now – like Hollywood movie stars – they’re also treated as role models. This is why convicted rapist Ched Evans provoked such an angry response even without a judge’s sentencing, by handling the whole case so badly – parents now spend a small fortune taking their children to games to watch stars like him play, and understandably, they expect better. No team touched him for months until, disappointingly, Chesterfield decided results mattered more than morals. Whether he ever successfully appeals or not, he’s left himself the picture of a misogynistic scumbag. Chesterfield, meanwhile, are sadly adhering to their constitutional obligation towards generating profits for their shareholders, whereas AFC Unity are incorporated as a not-for-profit social enterprise – legally, all proceeds must go directly back into the organisation.

Cristal-champagneBut the sport is full of scoundrels on the pitch and in the board room; players who dodge taxes, endorse sweatshop brands, and look out for number one (and I don’t mean the goalkeeper); they reek of individualism in what is supposed to be a team sport. They’re working class folk who kicked a ball around a field to make a million, marry a model, and live a tacky nouveau riche lifestyle in a gaudy millionaire’s slum somewhere in Cheshire.

In 2012, the average Premiership club spent a shocking 70% of its turnover on player salaries – insanely, Manchester City were spending more than 100%! No wonder they’re jumping on the bandwagon with Manchester City Women and starting up New York City FC in the States; they’re developing a multinational brand that desperately requires different revenue streams to try and plug the hole.

Since I was a kid, I’ve witnessed what to my dad was an unknown phenomena of numerous clubs entering financial jeopardy and even administration. I’ve blogged at length and even included it in one of my documentaries how Ken Richardson ran our beloved Doncaster Rovers into the ground before being convicted, as many fans got together to form the Viking Supporters Cooperative (VSC). These kinds of trusts are nothing new, and often a threat to powerful vested interests – shortly after it was founded in 2008, Liverpool FC bigwigs referred to the newly-formed Spirit of Shankly (SOS) group as ‘a very small, yet highly-motivated group of agitators.’ And yet, a few years later, it was named Cooperative of the Year at the Social Enterprise North West Awards.

At the Keepmoat Stadium, on November 15th, 2014 – my birthday, no less – I was gifted a place on the board of directors by the voting members of the VSC, a legally constituted trust represented by a democratic steering group with a view to liaising with Doncaster Rovers officials and ensuring fan influence protected the club from the likes of Ken Richardson (or his predecessor John Ryan, who was certainly no saint, either).

At this time, having co-founded AFC Unity with Jane Watkinson, I began making my presence felt more at the matches of Doncaster Rovers Belles, the world-famous women’s team formed back when Doncaster Rovers were still playing at their old dilapidated Belle Vue stadium, the women initially calling themselves the Belle Vue Belles. They, too, have been burnt – being ousted from the Women’s Super League to make way for Manchester City Women and their millions of pounds of investment from the men’s club. The Belles, despite moving to the Keepmoat Stadium with their male counterparts, made it clear to me that they were pretty adamant about remaining independent. And who can blame them? They’ve finally made it to the WSL on their own merits. They’re struggling now, but if they went even further in the WSL, what then? The money is becoming even more important there, too. How can they compete all on their own?

DSC05286This is something I asked Carrie Dunn about when she spoke at FURD’s International Women’s Day event, and she admitted there were no easy answers: Just like the male players who made millions for their chairmen while paid a pittance, the women today very understandably want to be paid and valued in a similar manner to their male counterparts. This may mean a race to the top, thus it isn’t a coincidence the top names in women’s football are all too familiar: Manchester City… Chelsea… Arsenal… Liverpool… oh dear. It’s the same familiar names, the same elite interests. The 1% of the football world. To be successful means being part of that high class group.

Lovers of the game all over are increasingly suspicious and disenchanted with the money-dominated nature of the big leagues. Manchester United’s fans, of course, simply went off and created their very own alternative, FC United of Manchester. They’ve been another success story, climbing up the non-league divisions to the point where they now just got themselves a brand-new stadium, paid a visit by the Tory politician who backed it – provoking outrage from a hard core of their followers, who stand true to the founding principles of the club.

CRCpj76WsAA8hwS.jpg:largeBut what do they expect? The more money you make, the more professional you become – and then the more you find yourself no longer part of the solution…but part of the problem. Hey, even the progressive, forward-thinking, fan-owned FC Barcelona are still in debt. After all, it’s still in the same system as all the rest.

So what are the Belles striving for now, exactly? Are they wanting the bigger salaries, the greater turnover, the corporate sponsorships, and the disconnection from the community that unavoidably goes along with it all? Is that what they want up there? Maybe they, too, want to chink champagne glasses with Tory politicians. One of the head honchos of the Belles recently disconnected from me on Twitter because I expressed my personal support for Jeremy Corbyn!

There is no trickle-down effect here, either. The women’s World Cup was better than those before it, got a better-than-usual coverage via the BBC, and had people mentioning it around the water cooler at work for the very first time – for a few days. At grassroots, women’s football is still used by the men’s teams it’s usually associated with as a cash-cow to gain funds intended to go to women’s football, but in fact spent on the men – so it barely reaches the women’s game.

1G0A7433AFC Unity is an independent women’s football club, so it’s all about the women. Because we’re one of the few of our kind, when we first set up, it was bloody difficult, but we still played games with as few as nine players, losing 8-0, and never once complained.

In our second season, we were fielding a full team every week, and beating women’s teams from established men’s clubs by even greater margins than that, when they couldn’t field full teams themselves – precisely because women’s football was an afterthought for their club. Some even had the audacity to ask us to put our players – who joined us for our ethos – into their shirts as ringers, violating league rules, just to fill their team, because of their own failings. As though we should help the established clubs who never helped us, just because they don’t prioritise women’s football.

Now, in our third season, demand is so high we’ve had to set up a second team. Our retention rates outdo our recruitment rates because it’s tough for people to find out about our indie women’s team – but when they do, they rarely leave, they love it so much. We keep a positive ethos, and run a tight ship, also known as “The Stalinist Dictatorship” by the same mentality that got Sheffield derisively called “The Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire” by the city’s then-lone Tory, Irvine Patnick.

We are known for going to great pains to tackle negativity and keep the majority of players smiling at the expense of individual “bad apples.” They’re still smiling, and our aim is to keep smiles on faces.

DSC_5429I always say, when you’re just about winning, you’ve nothing else left on the days you lose, but we’re about much more than winning matches; we measure success differently. Our aim is to engage and empower women, and keep a connection to our roots, with things like the Football for Food campaign. We do tangible things to help our community, right here, right now, by tackling food poverty and feeding people.

I find myself so immersed in grassroots football that at Carrie Dunn’s talk, I erroneously referred to Ellen White as “Ellen Smith” – because I’m more familiar with a top goalscorer of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League than I am with an England international.

This is partly because once you’re involved in running such a club, once you’ve got the bug and experienced that buzz of real grassroots, community-driven football, nothing is ever quite the same again. It’s like coming off drugs and switching to orange juice with a drop of liquid alfalfa in it. It’s not even close to the thrill you had.

BellesvBirminghamKeepmoatStadium20110828As with the Belles, I still go to see Doncaster Rovers play on occasion, but I’m no longer a season ticket holder. There’s only so many times I can sit and watch wealthy men serve as the sole justification for a ticket price twice as much as it’d cost for me to sit in a warm cinema enjoying two solid hours of entertainment…even while still watching millionaire celebrity superstars like George Clooney – the movie theatre still costs less. How many times can I endure “my local team”? Hey, what does that even mean in an era when they’re shifting clubs from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes? And I can count on one hand the Doncaster Rovers players who actually have any connection to Doncaster itself. So what are we being loyal to, exactly? As Seinfeld joked, you’re basically just, well, cheering for clothes.

Despite being promoted from Division 3 in our first ever season and now, against all these odds, miraculously hanging in there in Division 2 of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League, AFC Unity recently experienced a record defeat, losing an hysterical 14-0 to Barnsley in the Women’s Challenge Cup, and we still loved every minute of it. There actually wasn’t that much between most of our players and theirs, in terms of skill level and raw talent – but we train for an hour a week, about a quarter of what they do, and that’s why they’re a well-oiled machine, striving for the WSL, storming up the pyramid. Rather them than us, to be honest, as they head up into the darkest echelons of women’s football.

I’ve long suggested to our Board of Directors inserting into AFC Unity’s Memorandum and Articles of Association a clause that prevents players ever receiving a fee for their participation. If we can subsidise their activities so they pay next to nothing, great. But never would I advocate training much more, and treating it like a job, or even becoming a job. When a manager starts shouting at his or her players, ‘What am I paying you for?’ it’s the beginning of the end for the spirit of the sport. When football is driven by money, it loses its connection to grassroots.

After all, money is the root of all evil.

 

This includes extracts from Jay Baker’s own blog

AFC Unity “Love Football, Hate Racism”

This past Saturday, July 2nd, 11-a-side players from both AFC Unity teams combined and traveled to Leeds to join our allies Republica Internationale on a day featuring the theme, “Love Football, Hate Racism.”

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We met up with Republica Internationale – and members of Yorkshire St Pauli – at the train station, and joined them in a peaceful march through the city centre carrying banners and calling for an end to racial prejudice in all its forms.

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At the culmination of the rally, the crowd gathered on the steps of Leeds Art Gallery, where speakers emphasised the importance of reporting hate crimes and nurturing inclusive communities.

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Afterwards, AFC Unity and Republica Internationale headed off to the pitch to assemble the goals (and score plenty, in Republica Internationale’s case!) for a very unique friendly match.

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It was a fantastic day of solidarity through soccer, showing once again how football can be a positive force to bring people together and have a good influence on the community.

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AFC Unity wish to thank Republica Internationale for hosting us, and for their continued friendship and solidarity, as together clubs like ours aim to change the sport, and society, for the better.

You can read more about Republica Internationale and the good work they do here, at their official website.

Emily Salvin Appointed Head Coach of AFC Unity Jets

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With the announcement of the introduction of a second team, the AFC Unity Jets, came the search for a Head Coach to guide the team through their first-ever season. The emphasis on ethos was crucial in recruitment, and this immediately deterred traditional coaches from applying, as AFC Unity looked inward amongst their own personnel, having put several current and former players through coaching courses to earn their qualifications.

DSC05043Emily Salvin was injured in The Sarah Richards Testimonial match, and will miss an entire season of playing. With long-standing ambitions to coach, although the injury was unfortunate, it did provide a perfect opportunity for her to throw her hat in the ring as a Head Coach was sought after, and the Board of Directors all agreed she was worthy of the role.

‘I have loved playing for AFC Unity for the past year, and despite my injury, both players and management have been very supportive,’ she said. ‘This inspired me to step up, and I’m delighted to become Head Coach for the Jets this season.’

‘I’m absolutely thrilled that Emily has taken charge of AFC Unity Jets,’ added Director of Football, Sarah Richards. ‘It’s great to see such positivity through injury and Emily has the perfect attitude to guide the Jets to a successful debut campaign.’

AFCUnityJETSlogoThe AFC Unity Jets will start this September in the Third Division of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League, and was set up to meet overwhelming demand, providing opportunities for players wanting experience in 11-a-side competitive football while developing their skills, whether they are aiming to progress into the first team in future, or simply want to enjoy their football without the commitment or pressures of the first team.

Manager Jay Baker, who coaches the first team, added, ‘Emily Salvin has been a young yet phenomenal footballer – and will continue to be later on – but for now the AFC Unity Jets have chance to gain from her football intelligence while being guided by a peaceful calm and warmth few teams get chance to enjoy – and the team will grow as she does in the role; it’s a fantastic appointment by the Board of Directors.’

Be Our Club Sponsor for the Next Two Years!

AFC Unity is an indie women’s football club based in Sheffield and we are currently looking for a club sponsor for the next two years! We’ve been on ITV News, Hallam FM and more for all the community good we do by being more than just a football club.  AsFeaturedIn

We have two 11-a-side women’s teams playing in the local Sheffield and Hallamshire Women’s County Football League, an expanding Solidarity Soccer initiative providing innovative football training sessions for women that are new to the sport or wanting to get back into it, and run community programmes and projects such as our Football for Food campaign where we are collecting food at our home games and club events to then distribute to Sheffield food banks via the Sheffield Food Collective.

As a club we envision a society where the football club plays an active role in its community, engaging and empowering women as positive role models, and using the sport to encourage unity and solidarity.

Please email us at afcunity [at] gmail [dot] com for more details and a sponsorship package that provides more information about the club programmes, activities and projects we are running and also the benefits club sponsorship would provide a sponsor and the different ways we can engage a sponsor in the expansive and ever-growing activities of Sheffield’s indie women’s football club.

Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

UpTheLeftWingI haven’t made an entry into this column since the last season ended, but suffice to say I was very pleased with what was a mission accomplished after we set out to consolidate in the Second Division.

After a pre-season of shakeups in the way we trained, and the newly-set target of holding our own in Division Two, the nerves took over for our opening league game at Rotherham United Development, where we were already losing 4-0 by half time – a regroup needed in the break to score a goal and concede one in the steady second half, for a 5-1 result.

We responded well the week after at home, beating New Bohemians 6-0, before losing to Shaw Lane Aquaforce 6-2 at theirs, incapable of dealing with their tried-and-tested tactics and seeing them take the top spot in the table, undefeated.

Being 3-2 down by half time at former Division One side Edlington Royals, we felt we really had a chance to take the win, but an unregistered referee and horrific two-footed tackle on Charlotte Marshall that made her miss most of the season rattled the whole team, and we lost 4-2.

The team remained rattled for some time, and we lost 7-2 at Mexborough Athletic who, despite playing the best football we’d seen at that point, admitted ‘something wasn’t right’ about Unity. My coach and I felt we fixed it in training the following day, and felt much more confident about the next game, at home to undefeated league leaders Shaw Lane Aquaforce, who we beat 3-2 by playing to our system in a disciplined manner, where everyone had their part to play, and did so very well. Later that month, we took Mexborough to the limit at home, winning 6-5 in another thriller.

Trailing 2-1 at half time at AFC Dronfield, who had taken the top spot in Division Two and won every single match, we remained confident of further “scalps” as league underdogs, but lost 4-2 in a close game, and were beating them 2-1 in the return fixture when a lack of concentration made us concede the equalizer in added time, albeit becoming the first team in the division to stop their winning streak. In between those two matches, we beat Sheffield Wednesday Development 3-2 at home despite losing 1-0 at half time. We remained unbeaten in home league games for over a year as a result.

That record was broken with relish by Rotherham United Development, who beat us 6-0 when a fragile formation fell apart because a key individual refused to be a team player, presented a host of headaches for the players, and was eventually ousted. This was the opposite of the win over Shaw Lane, where team harmony beat the odds, and this trauma caused to the team meant it took a 3-0 home defeat to Edlington Royals for them all to resettle and enjoy their football again, which we did, winning the last two games 13-1 and 9-1 to guarantee the mid-table finish we needed, and deserved. Granted, teams were struggling for numbers by this point despite being backed by significantly-sized men’s clubs, and we certainly shouldn’t ever apologise – or be penalised – for valuing women’s football and engaging high numbers. Our opponents get penalised by losing, as it should be.

“Unity” isn’t just a word. When you have players out for themselves, upsetting half a dozen teammates, we deal with them. Grassroots football is too often about “survival of the fittest,” with players bullying others or being bullied themselves; teams driven down to the lowest common denominator – a horrible culture I reject and one this club rejects, and as a result we go to great pains to get rid of rotten apples before they spoil the barrel.

We have to keep an environment of positivity. Negative personalities thrive off negative dialogue and slanging matches, making scenes on the training ground, and I reject that. I will never engage in negativity that my team must be subjected to, and everyone who runs AFC Unity understands, appreciates and values that. Players value that too, and that’s why, despite being one of the very few clubs in the country exclusively dedicated to women’s football, we have such high retention rates.

REVOLUTIONAsk any of our players – especially ones who have experienced the pain of playing for other clubs just about football and nothing else – and they’ll tell you what a positive environment we have. Our end-of-season Awards Night was a fantastic celebration of this, where I reiterated the sentiment that when you’re only about winning, on those occasions you lose, you have nothing left. That’s why we keep smiling even when we lose. We’re unstoppable. We keep going. Unity always goes on, win lose or draw. That’s why what we’re doing is a women’s football revolution.

As we look towards next season, we have a better way to keep up with our high demand with the introduction of a second team, the AFC Unity Jets (who are not “reserves,” as some clubs like to call them). This provides a clearer line between competitive ambition and a fun chance to play 11-a-side league football.

The AFC Unity Jets will enter into Division Three, with the first team remaining in a Division Two which will endure an influx of top teams deserving of higher status but forced to climb the ranks of the leagues – this will make it harder for the first team, but I look forward to this next challenge, and at the same time am excited for the AFC Unity Jets to take off on their own experiences!

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone involved in AFC Unity, from my co-founder Jane Watkinson, to the Board of Directors, and newly-appointed Director of Football Sarah Richards, to the players, coaches and volunteers, for everything they put into this fast-expanding organisation that is utilising the power of football to do so much good for people.

¡Viva la Revolución!

– “Jay Guevara”

The AFC Unity Scarf Contest Open for Submissions!

We’re proud to announce the opening of the AFC Unity scarf contest – which will run until the start of the season in September!

Got an official AFC Unity scarf? We want you to send us your photos brandishing it!

It might be by the sea, up a tower – or even jumping out of a plane (with a parachute, please!) Or it may simply be a heartwarming photo of you and your friends while you’re wearing our scarf.

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We’ll include all submissions on our Facebook page to see which image people like the most!

The winner will receive an exclusive signed copy of Carrie Dunn’s book, Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England!

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Grab your scarf here or get in touch!