The Sarah Richards Testimonial: Match Report

A match report by Sam Clewarth

Team Sarah (Red): Emily “Red” Lester, Sandy Yere, Loren Attwell, Sophie Thomas, Sarah Richards ©, Anna Pickering, Lucy Strutt, Roshini Prince-Navaratnam, Jane Watkinson, Jodie Spillings, Natasha Carlton

Team Shanie (Blue): Kim Best, Ellen Holmes, Simone Jarvis, Sophie Hirst, Chloe Burditt, Olivia Murray, Jodean Wadsworth, Emily Salvin, Shanie Donohue ©, Charlotte Marshall, Sophie Mills

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The Sarah Richards Testimonial took place in order to honour her exceptional commitment to the club following her decision to finish her playing days at the end of the season. The match itself, which saw past and present AFC Unity stars come together for the occasion, was extremely entertaining and provided a memorable day for Sarah.

Things did not start well for Sarah’s side however, as a Jodean Wadsworth header at the near post saw Team Shanie go 1-0 up very early in the match. The Reds responded well to the goal and they created a couple of decent chances, including an outstanding long-range volley that was well saved. Despite these efforts, the Blues were very dangerous on the break, with a tidy finish into the top left corner from Sophie Mills giving them a two-goal advantage. The Blues were very much in the ascendency following this goal, with Team Sarah goalkeeper Red Lester making a couple of very important saves.

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The Reds were given a way back into the match, though, as they were awarded a penalty for a shove in the area (which looked so dramatic one might think it was pre-planned!) Sarah stepped up to the spot, but it wasn’t meant to be as she blazed the ball over the bar. Only a couple of minutes later though, Team Sarah finally got their first goal of the match as Jane Watkinson slotted past the keeper following an excellent through ball. This was a crucial goal for the Reds as they suddenly took control of the match with only 10 minutes of the first half left. Just 2 minutes after this, they picked up an equaliser with another very clinical finish from Lucy Strutt; the momentum remained with them until the break and they were very unfortunate to not take the lead after a flurry of impressive attacks.

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The fast pace of the game continued as soon as the second half continued. Team Sarah looked eager to regain their momentum from the end of the first half and they instantly forced an outstanding save from keeper Kim Best. Team Shanie looked like they were starting to gain a foothold in the second half until the Reds caught the keeper out with a speculative shot from Natasha Carlton to make the score 3-2. Shortly after this, Team Sarah continued their dominance as Lucy Strutt placed a shot in the bottom right corner from just inside the box to get her brace and Team Sarah’s fourth of the game. However, just as it looked like the Reds were going to run away with the game, Team Shanie showed great character and determination to pull a goal back courtesy of Sophie Mills with a brace of her own. The ball was not cleared well enough from a corner and Mills showed great composure to strike it to the right of keeper Red Lester. Shortly after this it looked as if the Blues had got an equaliser from a corner, but Lester tipped it over from point blank range.

A few minutes later, Team Sarah were awarded a free kick about 18 yards out. Sarah almost grabbed a goal in her testimonial here as she cracked the ball against the crossbar and the follow-up was blazed over by Jane Watkinson. The Reds remained in control of possession for most of the second half and were continuing to create opportunities at this point, however Team Shanie looked like a constant threat on the counter attack. This suited the Blues who had the better chances as they searched for an equaliser. Team Shanie looked likely to equalise but Lester made a huge save to keep the Reds ahead. This save was pivotal as immediately afterwards Team Sarah showed great attacking instincts and poached a fifth goal from Lucy Strutt for her hat-trick, which looked to have secured her side the win. Yet the game still had more to offer and the Blues responded straight away to this setback with Charlotte Marshall spectacularly curling one into the top corner to make it 5-4 to Team Sarah.

This signalled what was the end of a truly thrilling match! Both sides displayed both excellent and entertaining football and it was the dream outcome for Sarah on her testimonial, with the occasion certainly being a fun, fantastic and memorable one.

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Note: The Sarah Richards Testimonial collected an incredible 170 items of food for the Sheffield Food Collective as part of our extended Football for Food campaign and she has since been appointed Director of Football!

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The Start of Solidarity Soccer

by Sam Clewarth

AFC Unity’s innovative new programme, Solidarity Soccer, commenced on May 9th and proved to be a great success.

This opening session provided a very welcoming atmosphere for new faces who were looking to get involved at the club and provided a friendly, beneficial training session which focused on the importance of passing.

Passing is arguably the most vital aspect of football, particularly for AFC Unity, who take pride in an entertaining, passing style. In addition to this, the focus on passing demonstrates the importance of teamwork at the club, with everybody being involved on the pitch. As seen with Leicester City this season, a club with excellent togetherness and team spirit can achieve greater things than teams with outstanding individuals but no chemistry.

Once everyone was introduced, the session began with a simple passing exercise so that the players could get to grips with the basics of passing from various ranges. This exercise was followed by some ‘Keep Ball’, in which 3 players would try and retain possession from 3 opponents. This gave the women an opportunity to use the skills they had just learnt in a scenario that would be similar to a match in which they would not have much time in possession. Following this exercise, the session ended with a 3 vs 3 match which incorporated the skills gained from the previous exercise, and the results were excellent as everybody seemed very comfortable with passing the ball while being pressed by the opposition.

Also in Solidarity Soccer sessions, a new skill is taught each month. This month, the ‘Cruyff Turn’ was the chosen skill, and the first session signaled the initial practice.

The move made famous by Johan Cruyff is iconic in football today. Instead of kicking the ball, he would drag the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his crossing foot, turn through 180 degrees, and would burst away from his man. After a couple of demonstrations everyone managed to perform a Cruyff Turn, and one was even performed in the match at the end!

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Overall the session was a huge success. Everyone had developed their passing skills, but more importantly everyone enjoyed the session and enjoyed working with each other. The importance of togetherness is a crucial aspect of the club’s ethos, therefore it was brilliant to see the players connecting so well with each other.

If you are interesting in taking part our Solidarity Soccer programme, sessions are on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Everyone is welcome, so feel free to get in touch and come along! For more information click on Solidarity Soccer, and to see what the sessions are like, feel free to watch for clips from the sessions on our Twitter: @AFCUnity

Sam Clewarth will continue to document Solidarity Soccer through our “Tech and Tekkers” initiative – check this site and our social media for both his reports and videos!

10 Things That Make AFC Unity an Alternative Football Club

We’re often asked, since we call ourselves an “alternative football club” for women, what makes us such a thing? What makes us so different to our peers? Here are ten things that make us an alternative football club:

1. We’re a social enterprise.

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The social enterprise business model means we can be more professional in our approach, but are still a not-for-profit organisation.

What often separates grassroots from professional football is the legal structure of the organisation: most grassroots clubs are unincorporated associations, barely subject to regulations and lacking a business plan, while professional clubs are profit-driven, focused on return on investment for shareholders. AFC Unity occupy the middle ground – fitting for a club that’s quickly expanding yet has no desire to join the “dog-eat-dog” culture of money-dominated professional or semi-professional football. AFC Unity’s articles of association mean that, although we’re a limited company, all proceeds must go right back into the club, and we are subject to scrutiny from HMRC and Companies House.

2. We’re just for women.

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Most women’s teams are attached to an established men’s club – at grassroots, and in professional football. This often means that women are an afterthought or, sometimes, utilised to bring in funding as women’s football becomes a bigger priority for governing bodies (although not all the funding reaches the women’s teams in these male-dominated clubs!) AFC Unity is entirely focused on, and dedicated to, women’s football, reflecting its feminist values, commitment to female empowerment, and passion for equality. Although this makes us almost always the underdogs, we prefer it that way.

3. We’re run by women.

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As a social enterprise, the organisation is run by a Board of Directors – and all of ours are women. With backgrounds in governance, community and football, these directors of the board oversee the running of the organisation, and understand the importance of AFC Unity’s commitment to women’s football.

4. Our manager’s a feminist.

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Despite the manager being a man, he’s a lifelong feminist, with years of experience of campaigning for women’s rights and working with disadvantaged communities. With this background in community work, Jay Baker draws on this knowledge far more than traditional football coaching, in order to develop a unique football philosophy.

5. We have our own football philosophy.

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The football itself reflects the ethos of the club: unique individuality within a collective working together for the greater good, with 100% positivity. You can find out more here.

6. We buy Fair Trade.

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As evidenced by the Indonesian sweatshops of Nike, and the recent Sports Direct scandal, so much sportwear and equipment is unethical, we tried to make our resources reflect our own ethics. Toga Sports, who created our personalised kits, stress the ethics of their production, while our balls, from Senda Athletics and now Bala Sport, are certified Fair Trade.

With this approach, we’re hoping other football clubs will follow in using products that are locally and/or ethically made so that we resist exploitation of all kinds, and as football clubs do our bit to contribute towards helping make ours a better world.

We’re constantly seeking to further source ethical produce and materials for as much of our training resources as possible – so let us know if you think we can do even better!

7. We measure results differently.

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With our league results in two seasons already exceeding expectations, you can be forgiven for assuming we’re all about winning. The irony is that our measure of success is through the good we have done as a whole – collecting 339kg of food contributions for local food banks, offering wider opportunities for women of all backgrounds and skill levels, and greater player pathways thus engaging hundreds of women in our first two years alone.

8. Our brand.

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Since we’ve been against the odds as an indie women’s football club, we’ve relied on our ever-increasing brand awareness for reaching people who might not usually find out about us; when people see our logo or our posters, they recognise us pretty instantly.

9. Our allies.

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Anything different always provides a culture shock for established institutions based on the status quo. Despite this, AFC Unity have enjoyed the support of funding bodies and organisations such as South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation and South Yorkshire Sport. Beyond this, we have been able to connect with likeminded clubs: Easton Cowgirls, Republica Internationale, United Glasgow and Yorkshire St Pauli are just some of the examples of the clubs with whom we enjoy a healthy relationship.

10. We’re entertaining.

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The Football Philosophy mentioned earlier means our playing style is designed to be positive, pro-active, attacking and exciting. On the pitch, we do our best to represent women’s football as best we can, to attract more and more people to the game.

AFC Unity Seek Head Coach for Jets

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AFC Unity are seeking a Head Coach to lead its second team, the AFC Unity Jets, into the 2016/17 season.

As part of our rapidly-expanding organisation, the AFC Unity Jets Head Coach will play a key part in upholding the values of an alternative football club, empowering women, doing good in the community, and having a positive influence on the sport and society.

This is a voluntary role that may suit an individual with a background in youth and community work eager to build on an interest in grassroots football; no football qualifications or experience necessary – just positivity and a passion for football, feminism, and social justice. The applicant will have an understanding and commitment towards the ethos of AFC Unity and its Football Philosophy.

The role will involve:

  • Initial shadowing of the first team manager.
  • Understanding player pathways from the Solidarity Soccer programme, through the second and into the first team.
  • Liaison with the first team manager, Director of Football, and the Board of Directors.
  • Delivering training sessions in accordance with the AFC Unity Football Philosophy.
  • Leading the coordination of Sunday league matches.
  • Developing players in accordance with their individual aims and those of the teams.
  • A commitment to Monday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

Those interested should email afcunity<at>gmail<dot>com requesting an application form. Deadline for applications is now w/c 20/06/16, and those successful will be invited to a semi-formal interview process.

The successful applicant is now expected to be announced the weekend of 01/07/16 and will be ready to start by w/c 04/07/16.

 

[Edited 13/06/16]

Sarah Richards Appointed as AFC Unity Director of Football

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Having hung up the boots for the last time at the end of our second season, 2015/16 AFC Unity Solidarity Award winner and 2015/16 AFC Unity Collective Award winner Sarah Richards is now taking on a fresh challenge with the organisation she joined at its early stages.

This past Sunday – to pay homage to the years of dedication to women’s grassroots football she has provided, across Sheffield and South Yorkshire – we held The Sarah Richards Testimonial. As per her wishes, the event raised food donations for our expanded Football for Food project, which were contributed to Sheffield Food Collective and the food banks they work with to alleviate food poverty in the city.

The match featured “Red Stars” past and present, and several special guest players, including the league’s top goalscorer of the season, Natasha Carlton, from Mexborough Athletic, in addition to AFC Unity Chair Olivia Murray, AFC Unity originals Kim Best and Sandy Yere, former AFC Unity sports psychologists Roshini Prince-Navaratnam and Anna Pickering, and ex-Dronfield Town and Manchester City player Simone Jarvis, to name just a few.

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In typical end-to-end, high scoring AFC Unity fashion, the side captained by Sarah Richards won 5-4 over Shanie Donohue’s team in a match that featured thrills and spills, offbeat shenanigans, and, quite often, hilarity. And some excellent football. Only one negative was the unfortunate removal from the match of young Emily Salvin, who suffered an almost identical knee dislocation injury to Sarah’s from her first AFC Unity season, recovering to complete the second season and finish her playing days on her own terms.

It was confirmed on the day that the much-needed newly-devised role of AFC Unity’s Director of Football would be adopted by Sarah Richards herself. Utilising her vast experience and networks, as well as her passion for AFC Unity, the position will involve feedback from training sessions, scouting and recruitment, raising the profile of, and funds for, the organisation, and liaising with project partners both in football and in the community.

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In footballing tradition, she will also be an excellent link for the Board of Directors and Manager, Jay Baker, who said ‘As a rapidly-expanding and increasingly professional yet alternative football club, the Director of Football role is perfect for AFC Unity, and the right person has come along at the right time to fill such a position!’ Sarah added: ‘My aim as Director of Football is to continue to raise the profile of AFC Unity and develop the existing excellent structure of the club! I’m very excited to get started and I’m proud to be involved and to continue to represent AFC Unity!’

Introducing our Solidarity Soccer Programme…

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On the 9th of May we will be launching our NEW Solidarity Soccer programme, which will be replacing our Development programme that has been running at Hillsborough College for the last year.

Our Solidarity Soccer sessions will take place at Hillsborough College on Monday evenings and Concord Sports Centre on Tuesday evenings (the Tuesday sessions will start on the 10th of May).

Our Solidarity Soccer programme is about showing how football can reflect life, that it can be a positive force for change and help people learn valuable life lessons and apply these in other contexts. Football can be a force for good, increasing confidence in life and interpersonal skills and body image, improving health and fitness whilst breaking down barriers and divisions that exist in society.

Key aspects of the new programme include:

  • It will be delivered in reference to our club’s alternative coaching style, which you can read about here!
  • There will be a theme for each training session e.g. passing, which we will focus on through different exercises and explore why it is important in football, the techniques utilised (e.g. the different techniques of passing a ball) with an emphasis on there being no such thing as a stupid question (no matter how long you have played football, there is always something new to learn)!
  • We will have a strong digital focus to the training sessions, with us using social media and video technology (tablets, GoPros etc) to make the sessions more digitally interactive and hopefully even more engaging and rewarding!
  • We will have digital based awards that we will send out via email to different people taking part in the sessions each month, and – with permission – share online, reflecting on the progress and achievements people make in different ways!
  • It will involve our new Tech and Tekkers training exercise as part of the training sessions, where each month we will focus on learning a football skill that we will practice each week, with tech being used to document the learning process and share online – on that note, if there are any skills you want to learn (no matter how basic or complex they are) then let us know and we can look at teaching these (making no promises on the complex skills though)!
  • The new programme is about us demonstrating how football can tie into other non-football things going on in our life and how it can be a positive force for change – therefore we also ask everyone that engages on this programme to state one personalised life goal, so something that you want to achieve no matter how big or small and it doesn’t have to be to do with football, but it can be if you want! We will then look at if and how AFC Unity can help you meet this goal, whether that’s through the session or outside of the session! It can be as random as you like, we’re sure in most cases we will be able to help.

In sum, the new programme is focused on non-competitive training as our competitive options are expanding in the club, so we want to focus these sessions on engaging women who are new to the sport, want to give the sport a try, or who are wanting to build back confidence, skills, fitness etc., exploring key concepts in football and also connecting it to digital technology and wider life goals that we may have.

If you want to get involved in these training sessions, please get in touch so we can provide more information and we are happy to answer any questions you may have.

Finally, and most importantly, thank you to South Yorkshire Sport who have been invaluable in supporting our development of this programme.

AFC Unity Announce Second 11-a-Side Team: The AFC Unity Jets!

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Given the incredible success and fast expansion of AFC Unity which has seen its two years old 11-a-side team exceed expectations, we are excited to announce the launch of an additional 11-a-side team: the AFC Unity Jets.

In-keeping with AFC Unity’s dedication to women’s football and the empowerment of women, the name came about in reference to the suffragettes – ‘jets for short!

‘Given our high retention rates and our previous difficulties in meeting demand – and the breakaway success of the first team – the creation of the AFC Unity Jets provides an appropriate pathway for women wanting to get into competitive affiliated league football, without the increasingly high expectations of the first team,’ said AFC Unity manager Jay Baker.

‘Despite our ever-present challenges of having no affiliation to an established men’s team – with raising funds extremely difficult – we are confident that given our success so far as an indie women’s football club, we’ll be able to deliver a project that will be fun yet also provide development for women not yet ready for the pressures of the first team – as they now become ambassadors for the organisation as a whole,’ Baker added.

The AFC Unity Jets are expected to take off in the summer, and follow their first team “sisters” into the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League for the upcoming 2016/17 season.

A manager of the AFC Unity Jets will be appointed in the near future.