Solidarity Soccer Participant Spotlight: Corinne Heritage

Solidarity Soccer is our innovative community based football training initiative for women which has empowerment, skill sharing and a personalised approach shaping it. We have a session running at Hillsborough College and another session based at Concord Sports Centre, running weekly – we have plans to expand the initiative into more areas and engage more women in the sport in a unique way.

We spoke to regular Solidarity Soccer attendee Corinne Heritage about her experiences of Solidarity Soccer, and what kind of impact it has had on and off the pitch – Corinne has won the Solidarity Soccer Tech and Tekkers Digital Award for how quickly she learnt the Cruyff Turn and applied it into game situations, the Personalised Aims Digital Award for making considerable progress and development with the aims she set herself when joining the initiative and also the Teamwork award with her now a player/coach for the AFC Unity Jets!

AFC Unity: In a few words, how would you describe Solidarity Soccer to someone who hasn’t been?
Corinne: Primarily it is football skills training for women of ANY level in a friendly, 100% positive and fun atmosphere that empowers women of all abilities. Love football? You’ll love this. Hate football? You’ll probably still love this!

AFC Unity: What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to Solidarity Soccer if you wanted them to come along?
Corinne: Do it. You will be welcomed. I guarantee you won’t regret it!

AFC Unity: Do you have any stories that stand out from your time of being involved in Solidarity Soccer?
Corinne: A personal one for me happened as I was leaving after one Solidarity Soccer session. Some of the women who were staying for the first team and Jets training started calling me back to join them. I never felt I’d be good enough to be in any 11 a side team and that I’d only be wasting mine and everyone else’s time by trying. But, here they were encouraging me – all smiles – and the coaches too. So, I went over to the training and here too, I was made welcome and felt I was accepted and could contribute. I haven’t looked back. I definitely made the right choice that evening. I’m sure others who do Solidarity Soccer will have a similar story about overcoming a barrier.

Corinne skill sharing the Cruyff Turn with others

Corinne skill sharing the Cruyff Turn with fellow participants at Solidarity Soccer!

AFC Unity: Has Solidarity Soccer had an impact on your outside football life?
Corinne: Okay, how long have you got?! YES, a massive impact. Aside from the obvious stuff like improved fitness, making new friends etc. I would say that I’m just way more confident and positive in all areas of my life – job, relationships, family and so on. As my confidence and skills have improved on the pitch, so have they in my life outside football. The club’s positive ethos in the sessions rubs off and contributes to my life outside.

AFC Unity: Has Solidarity Soccer helped you with 11-a-side football at all?
Corinne: Definitely. The skills and small sided games we practise every week are essential to improve ability and prepare for the 11 a side game. Learning a new skill in depth each month in Tech and Tekkers really gives you time to consolidate and practice it so you gain the confidence to use it in an 11 a side game. The value and time the coaches place on these skills gives us permission to use them in matches and, even if we make mistakes doing so, we are still applauded by coaches and teammates. This way we learn and improve. The mix of ability and experience amongst participants also means we can share skills and learn from each other.

AFC Unity: If you could pick one word to describe Solidarity Soccer what would it be?
Corinne: JOY, or, INCLUSIVE (you choose – the first word came to me straight away, but it is, importantly, the second word also – and many more, in fact!)

AFC Unity: What has been your favourite skill to learn and why?
Corinne: Cruyff Turn because it was hard, but I got it! And it is absolutely gorgeous.

AFC Unity: Anything else to add?
Corinne: Loads, but I’ll save that for the book 🙂

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The AFC Unity Jets Journey Begins

by co-founders Jay Baker and Jane Watkinson

From our years of experience in the community sector, one of the most important principles of running a social enterprise is ensuring you meet a demand; evidencing this is key to all grant funding applications for this reason: there has to be a demand.

When we founded AFC Unity early in 2014, we didn’t anticipate needing a second team quite so soon. But by our second season it became particularly apparent that, with our unique ethos, we were attracting so many players that we had to advance on this concept.

Yes, we run community projects like Football for Food. Yes, we are about much more than what happens on the pitch. But as we tell Carrie Dunn in her brand-new book Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England, the success of AFC Unity in the league, long-term, is important for the profile of our indie women’s football club so that we can do even more social good.

With that in mind, just as AFC Unity had in its first season progressed from Division 3 to Division 2, where it consolidated nicely in its second season, this time we had to take one step back in order to take two steps forward: two teams, leaner at the start of the season, with a clear set of criteria, slowly building up as 2016/17 progresses.

We wanted to make sure that AFC Unity could continue to get better and move up the league over time, but there were players who were coming through our Solidarity Soccer initiative, and others who needed more game time to develop and couldn’t in the first team, so a second team became a necessity.

And so, the AFC Unity Jets came to be.

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With a young, dynamic Head Coach, Emily Salvin, who personifies our Football Philosophy, the AFC Unity Jets are comprised of players who want more game time, aren’t ready to commit to the pressures of the first team, or just want a little experience of competitive league football – some are even more than capable of being first team players but are important characters to have in the AFC Unity Jets at this time.

When you’re a Jet, you might be for any one of the above reasons.

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This has meant that not one, but two teams have essentially started from scratch. Incredibly, with each passing week, more players are added to the rosters of each of them. The ever-important “demand” is high. The AFC Unity Jets project is already a success.

One thing is for sure. Given their David-and-Goliath status as the quintessential underdogs with a “no quit” spirit of positivity befitting the “Integrity” badge itself, their journey – which everyone in AFC Unity is watching, and documenting – will see them go onwards and upwards. Emily Salvin is assembling a squad that has a contagious vibe to it, and one that can’t be kept down. After all, you don’t keep Jets in the hangar.

Why We Won the Respect Award

As you will know, AFC Unity have won the FA’s national Respect Award for the women’s pyramid. The decision was announced on the 19th of July, 2016 and co-founders Jay Baker and Jane Watkinson were invited to Wembley Stadium on the 7th of August, 2016 for the Community Shield so that they could accept the award from the FA’s acting chair David Gill before dignitaries from Bobby Charlton to Alex Ferguson, and from Geoff Hurst to Sam Allardyce. There, the FA premiered the video explaining the work we do and the reasons for the award:

Despite the co-founders long since resigning themselves to the possibility that the establishment would not recognise an indie women’s football club for their commitment to fairness on and off the pitch, including tackling food poverty in local communities, Director of Football Sarah Richards proposed a nomination for AFC Unity with its genuine dedication to practicing what many clubs preach in terms of the Respect Code.

As a player in the first season, the following year Sarah Richards was joined in her second and final run as a player by Sophie Hirst in Unity’s defence – and it was the latter’s write-up to the Football Association that ultimately convinced the governing body, supported by local figures like Nick Waterfield from Parson Cross Initiative (one of the food banks served by AFC Unity’s Football for Food campaign).

Interestingly, the FA themselves expressed appreciation for AFC Unity’s brand-new Solidarity Soccer initiative that superseded its previous development system, unique Football Philosophy with its trail-blazing “100% positivity” approach, and passion for treating players and people with dignity and respect – and how this links directly to the act of collecting food donations for local food banks at first team home games, which the FA were also supportive of.

AFC Unity are proud to be the Respect Award winners for 2015/16 and will continue such commitment to greater fairness in football, and a fairer society.