The Sarah Richards Testimonial Set to Go

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As mentioned previously, original Red Star and 2015/16 Collective Award and 2015/16 Solidarity Award winner, Sarah Richards, has hung up the boots after years of football across South Yorkshire, finishing her playing days with the last two seasons at AFC Unity – the club’s first ever two seasons.

To celebrate her long-standing contributions to grassroots football and to AFC Unity, we are holding a special testimonial match at 2pm on Sunday, 15th of May, 2016, at our home ground of Hillsborough College sports complex. As per Sarah’s wishes – given her involvement in her local community – the event will also serve as part of the expanded Football for Food project’s donation drive for people to contribute food for local food banks such as the one in Sarah’s own community.

The testimonial match will be internal – meaning it will be comprised entirely of AFC Unity personnel – and is bound to be a fun and unpredictable event to mark an occasion that sets the precedent of AFC Unity celebrating and honouring the commitment and contribution from one of the very original Red Stars of the club.

After the testimonial, Sarah’s number 4 shirt will be retired, and there will be an announcement on the next chapter of her valued involvement with AFC Unity!

When promoting the testimonial, AFC Unity ask supporters to use the hashtag #ThankYouSarah on social media – whether you’re an old teammate of hers from a different club, a friend, and family member, or a player who has good stories to tell, we want to see it!

Alternative Football Clubs and their Potential for Social Change…

Written by Jane Watkinson

After our club’s first ever season ended in 2015, I was asked to take part in the Social and Political Thought MA dissertation research by Chris Webster – a leading member of Yorkshire St. Pauli – on alternative football clubs and assessing their potential for social change.

I was interviewed given my role as co-founder and captain of AFC Unity, given it is an alternative football club for women creating and providing an alternative football environment (for more on why we are an alternative football club, check out our vision, values and mission statement here!)

12548862_1106137386086461_6293804818362999771_nFor me, the key point of Chris’s findings was that, as an alternative club, it should be more than just providing an escape – so an alternative environment based on fairness, equality, unity, hope not fear, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, 100% positivity and empowerment, which are all central to shaping AFC Unity’s environment at trainings, games and club events – an alternative club should also try and change things around it as well.

It is important that what happens within the club environment is consistent with the ethos and alternative thinking and beliefs shaping it. That’s why we have an alternative coaching philosophy – it emphasises the importance of respect, empowerment and positivity alongside encouraging individual creativity and expression but not at the expense of the whole.

Our Football for Food campaign – where we collect food via the club to help local food banks via Sheffield Food Collective and raise awareness of the reasons for why food banks exist increasingly at the rate they are doing – is an example of how the club is a tool for social change, with human agency/action in line with the vision and values at the centre of the club.12928272_1091561964219929_3990835750889158030_n

When I played football as a child, the primal focus of it was to have fun; to enjoy it and be creative. But something happens to a lot of keen footballers when they grow up (it happened to me!) as they come into contact with different environments where there is more pressure, focus on commercialisation, and less acceptance of unique and diverse football styles and talent.

At AFC Unity, we want to get back to creating that fun, non-pressurised environment that you associate with when you were younger, but also showing how powerful football can be as a tool for social change, and that the way you play football and act on and off the pitch can have a huge impact on those around you in your local community. This is something Chris talks about in his dissertation when looking at things such as ‘jumpers for goalposts’ and how this can be a powerful way to reclaim the sport, our community and our public space.

As Chris discusses, football provides the opportunity to have conversations with people and groups that you might never have met otherwise – and thus is a powerful way of linking micro and macro politics and helping the alternative vision of the club permeate the actions and agency of those within and outside the club.

For a more detailed, critical and theoretical consideration of these issues please check out Chris Webster’s dissertation, which can be accessed here. It is very good! Oh and also, if you are in Leeds or nearby check out Yorkshire St Pauli’s football sessions – you can ask Chris some follow-up questions about his dissertation as well:CJlNXdDWoAAnK18.jpg:large

 

2015/16 Season Ends with Awards Night

After only our second ever season, AFC Unity consolidated our position in Division Two by finishing – after a goal drought and brief break – with two spectacular victories.

Against a Sheffield Wednesday Development team with nine players, our Red Stars put an unprecedented thirteen goals past the Owls, winning 13-1 on March 13th to achieve the biggest victory in AFC Unity’s history.

One week later, on March 20th, it was 9-1 against ten-player New Bohemians.

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The following night at The Circle – AFC Unity’s registered office – saw our official Awards Night, honouring players and other personnel, from volunteers to coaches, as well as the launch of our expanded Football for Food project now that home league games are over.

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And the Awards Night saw not only a talk from Nick Waterfield from Parson Cross Initiative – one of the food bank bases benefiting from Football for Food this season – but players contributing food donations one more time to mark the kick-off of the expansion project, which, as co-founder Jane Watkinson announced, will see a series of events take place to raise not funds but food.

Given Unity is an “alternative football club,” the awards and their titles were given a little twist on tradition.

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Midfielder/forward Jodean Wadsworth was awarded the Hope Over Fear Award by manager Jay Baker, who had until that point resisted picking out a single player. But since AFC Unity have been regarded underdogs for so long, this – it was explained – was for the underdog of the team who throughout the season turned negatives into positives and demonstrated faith in the manager’s vision. Baker told of how Jo had rapidly risen through the ranks, from the Development programme, into the first team, scoring two goals in her debut in a pre-season friendly, and overcoming challenges through the whole season.

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Players themselves had the opportunity to vote for their own player of the season, and after the vote count had ended, midfielder and top goalscorer Shanie Donohue had emerged as the clear winner. Keeping in mind factors such as attitude, ability and attendance while representing the club well, Shanie was chosen by her teammates and captain Jane Watkinson presented this award, speaking on behalf of the team to praise Donohue and and announce her as vice-captain for next season following the retirement of previous vice-captain Sarah Richards.

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Defensive player Sophie Thomas was picked for first team coach Olivia Murray’s Breakout Award, for notable improvement throughout the season as what Olivia called ‘an unsung hero.’ Factors such as development in physical, psychological, technical and social areas were all taken into consideration in Murray’s selection.

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Supporters and volunteers from around the club had the chance to pick their own player of the season for efforts on and off the pitch, and this one went to Sarah Richards. Appropriate, then, that the award was presented by Nick Waterfield from Parson Cross Initiative, which had been visited and promoted by Richards over the season to raise awareness of their efforts to tackle food poverty. ‘The ITV Calendar interview clinched it,’ joked a modest Sarah.

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Charlotte Marshall – who came into AFC Unity as a volunteer via the Venture Matrix programme at Sheffield Hallam University, being a director as well as a welfare champion and player – earned herself the Integrity Award for standing up for the club’s ethos and making difficult decisions in tough times, showing a commitment and dedication to setting a positive example to others.

Sarah Richards, who had joined AFC Unity early on, as well as first team coach Olivia Murray and Development coach Jonny Hodgson, were all presented with prestigious Solidarity Awards as selected by management and the Board of Directors.

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Sarah, who recently announced she was hanging up the boots, had played for several teams before taking a break, only to get back into action via AFC Unity, quickly making an impression enough to become vice-captain and even making the bold claim that if AFC Unity had existed when she was younger, she’d have likely stayed at the club permanently.

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Olivia was recovering from a serious injury in high-level football when she joined AFC Unity. Being an assistant coach in the first season, she became first team coach for Unity’s second season and eventually moved on to the Board of Directors, where she now remains as Chair despite moving on from coaching.

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Jonny is also moving on, but was the very first coach AFC Unity had – so crucial was this initial voluntary position, the co-founders stated that the club would not exist as we know it without his involvement from the beginning. He eventually moved into the paid role of Head Coach of Development, a programme which has seen several players progress into affiliated football.

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Volunteers were also presented with certificates for their time and efforts, and manager Jay Baker honoured each and every player, presenting them with Red Star Awards, and noting, ‘As of this night, we’re the only team with not one, not two, but three players in the top ten goalscorers of Division Two – because we work together as a team, and everything is a team effort, and our attacking style means goals can come from anywhere,’ before later referencing the community focus of the club: ‘When you’re only about winning, if you lose, you have nothing left…but we always have plenty left.’ The players also thanked him, and first team coach Olivia Murray, for their efforts over the season, surprising them with tokens of appreciation, for which they were very grateful.

Congratulations to everyone who made this season so special!