Spectacular victory for Unity

A blog post by Finola Fitzpatrick

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In only their second game of the league, AFC Unity won 6-0 against New Bohemians on Sunday. After a disappointing 5-1 last week against Rotherham United Ladies FC Development Team, Unity bounced back in top form.

The game also spelled the launch of AFC Unity’s Football for Food campaign. Unity have partnered with the Sheffield Food Collective to raise awareness of food poverty in Sheffield, with the hope of using women’s football as an instrument for positive social change. Football players, managers, sports officials and members of the public are being encouraged to bring along donations of food to matches which will all then be distributed to local food banks.

Lots of people donated generously to the food bank on Sunday, and we are extremely grateful!

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Food bank donations collected, it was time for kick off.

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Mel Kostrzewski’s goal saw the match get off to a strong start, and Jane Watkinson followed hot on her heels, scoring a further two goals for Unity.

Jodean Wadsworth ensured that the second half was equally as strong with her goal contribution, as did Shanie Griffith who scored two goals to round off the game.

Here’s an audio snapshot of what the atmosphere was like from the side of the pitch…

AFC Unity scored some fantastic goals on Sunday. Although photos don’t do them full justice, here are just a few photographs which attempt to capture the brilliant goal scoring of Unity players…

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I caught up with AFC Unity manager Jay Baker to find out his reactions to the win:

Fancy coming along to see Unity play? Please do, because…

AFC UNITY WELCOMES YOU!
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All smiles as league kicks off in Unity

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A blog post by Finola Fitzpatrick

AFC Unity played Rotherham United Ladies FC Development Team on Sunday at Sheffield Park Academy. As a new volunteer sports journalist for the club, it is the first time I have had the pleasure of seeing Unity in action.

At 12 o clock I set off in the car with Jay, Jane and Lauren, who very kindly agreed to give me a lift. All the way there we chattered excitedly about the day ahead and our hopes and ambitions for success in the league.

Even then I knew that it was going to be a memorable day.

When I arrived at Sheffield Park Academy I had the pleasure of meeting our team at last. Everybody was extremely welcoming, and it was immediately obvious to me why the team is called AFC UNITY. It is one big family united by a love of football.

It was really inspiring for me to see players being so supportive and encouraging of each other in the build up to kick-off. Everyone worked together to calm any pre-league nerves.

I was particularly impressed that Linda had brought three pairs of shoes with her to prepare for all weathers on pitch!

This is what our players had to say before kick off…

As we approached the pitch long before kick off, spectators had already gathered to watch the game, with the hosts offering food and drink to anybody else there to support the teams.

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The team began to warm to up, then Jay gave a motivational pre-match pep talk. What I like about AFC Unity is that it is not just about winning and doing well in football, it is about the journey they take to get there. As Jay said in the pep talk, it is more important that the team enjoys themselves along the way.

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Rotherham United Ladies FC Development Team played very well and the final score of the game was 5-1 to Rotherham. Although Unity lost the game, their spirits were still as high at the end as they were in the beginning. Every player put in a strong performance despite first league game nerves. Particularly in the second half, Unity’s nerves went away as quickly as the food and drink on offer at the side of the pitch!

Sophie Mills scored an impressive goal for the team, which gave everybody a boost to carry on and play at their best.

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Everybody was positive at the end of the match, and we are very much looking forward to our first league game at home on Sunday 27th September against New Bohemians. Kick off will be 3pm at Hillsborough College.

This is especially exciting as we will also be launching our Football for Food campaign.

AFC Unity have partnered with the Sheffield Food Collective for a “Football for Food” initiative which will raise awareness of food poverty in Sheffield.

One in five people in Sheffield are living in poverty, and that is why AFC Unity is using women’s football as a platform for tackling this statistic. Players, managers, members of the public and other sports officials will be invited to bring along food to games, which will be directly donated to food banks via the Sheffield Food Collective.

Future plans include supporters watching- and eating- at games for free.

I interviewed manager and co-founder of AFC Unity, Jay Baker, to find out more about the Football for Food campaign:

Up the Left Wing

UpTheLeftWingby Jay Baker

Welcome to the first entry into my manager’s column, entitled Up the Left Wing, which is an interesting title for someone who, if anything, might have been fortunate to carve out a footballing career as a slow, plodding, tough-tackling centre-half, if I was lucky. What’s that old saying? ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’ And my managerial techniques are more likely to be found from my community work than a football course!

I first want to say how very proud I am of our humble alternative football club from modest beginnings little over 18 months ago, running a training session with about five attendees, to now becoming a frighteningly fast-growing organisation – an FA Charter Standard Club, an incorporated non-profit company limited by guarantee, with a Development programme, a fast-learning five-a-side team known as the 5 Stars, and the eleven-a-side first team gaining promotion in its first-ever season, from Division 3 to Division 2 of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League, having involved nearly a hundred women ever since.

In that short space of time, we’ve learnt so much, from being a club seen as somewhere to take waifs and strays – and the teething troubles that go with that – to finally ensuring our integrity and inclusion is expected of our players, as well, to ensure a positive environment of collectivism over individualism.

We’ve also gained a sponsor, Nourish, which is another dream collaboration, and have connected with the Sheffield Food Collective to tackle food poverty in our city, because our spirit of camaraderie extends beyond the field, using football as a force for positive change, and bringing out the best in people; seeing the best in people.

With all this said, I’m very excited to oversee much of this with my co-founder Jane Watkinson and the Board of Directors, and have implemented a five-year Business & Development Plan that will see AFC Unity continue to expand while adhering to its founding principles. Without the subsidisation of a men’s club, we have still identified ways of building stronger foundations to continue to engage and empower women in football as part of their community, and some of our plans are very exciting!

Our Development programme overseen by Olivia Murray and delivered by Jonny Hodgson is a crucial entry point for women young or old who are returning to the game, recovering from injury, or kicking a ball for the very first time, and the exit strategies for them – into our five-a-side team, or eleven-a-side team – are also broadening in the near future. We see our approach in delivery and promotion of grassroots women’s football being emulated across our local area, and this makes us very proud, because more and more people are realising this is something to shout about, and just as valuable – if not more valuable – than multi-millionaire men running around on television, taking far more than they give back to working class communities.

Our passion for positivity is what drives each and every decision in the club, off and on the pitch – where positive, pro-active, pressing, passing football is key, and where we try to be bold and brave, rather than cynical or overly defensive – my preference for winning 6-5 rather than 1-0 means that, despite testing the patience of my defenders, people will see some fantastic games! And wearing my hat as first team manager for a moment, I’m overjoyed with the ‘dream team’ I’ve assembled already, and the pre-season preparations – where we lost only one game, winning two, and drawing one, against a First Division side, no less – were very impressive, despite the injuries we sustained, which are only sent to test our quality and depth in a 2015/16 squad comprised of genuinely lovely people, all so very different and unique as individuals, but who come together and play as a team.

With how fast everything’s moved, my pre-season plan was to consolidate this season, in the Second Division, and carefully place the building blocks to achieving our lofty long-term goals, but anything is possible. AFC Unity is in for the long haul, and I hope more and more players – and people in general who want to support women’s football – will continue to be attracted to its positive ethos and connection to the community. I’m sure it will continue to be one heck of a journey.