by Sam Holmes
In this day and age, it is rather difficult to maintain a set of morals within football. With the constant media pressure, any player’s antics are captured and reported about within minutes. Every nightclub squabble, training bust-up or driving fine seems to be applied to a player on a weekly basis. Of course, sometimes players do not respond in the most positive of ways. Some even forget how they act as role models for young players across the world.
This shortage of genuine footballing heroes, many of whom receive considerably less media attention than the less well-behaved amongst them, proves worrying at times. The constant misbehaviour often transfers through to Sunday league, with abusive language towards referees or supporters unfortunately being as commonplace as goals at times. It can be demoralising watching or playing for a local side, and having to witness such negativity.
Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to experience a team that refuses to be tarred with the same brush, so to speak. AFC Unity pride themselves on being ‘an alternative football club for women’. There is no room for criticism within the group, and rightly so. It is purely about being a team – win, lose or draw.
This mentality, rarely seen in the modern game, has brought about the right results. Their sheer dedication to contributing as a team resulted in a mid-table finish in Division 2 of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League. This was undoubtedly extremely respectable, considering it was the squad’s debut in the second division. They built a sort of fortress at home, losing only twice as hosts throughout the campaign, one of which came against eventual runners-up: Edlington Royals.
AFC Unity were founded in 2014, which highlights just how successful they have been. To climb into a higher league and establish stability and consistent results within two years was not only impressive, it was attractive. The high interest in the side led to a long list of applicants, each hoping to represent the team. This, in turn, formed the second-team. AFC Unity Jets’ formation, whose name stems from ‘suffragettes’, highlighted how an initial squad bursting with confidence, yet encouragement for one another, could lead to other women wanting to play football.
Players of all ages, each with differing levels of experience of the beautiful game, now represent the teams. The expansion saw form drop somewhat this season, however with long-established sides such as Sheffield United Reserves competing, there is certainly no negativity. There is no reason to be pessimistic, as high morale within the team has rewarded them in past seasons.
Co-founders Jay Baker and Jane Watkinson are confident that, once the injured return and younger players adapt to playing at a higher level, the goals will start coming. Maintaining the team chemistry appears to be a vital method of yielding results. Jay, who is also first team manager, told his side the following during training:
“Whatever reason you first started playing football…that is why you want to play on Sunday”.
This quote perfectly defines the whole club, and again contrasts to the ideologies of today’s footballing powerhouses. Nowadays, the so-called ‘stars’ of world football often seem to lose sight of the main reason for playing football. It shouldn’t merely be a way of acquiring a mansion or the newest supercar. There should be passion on the pitch. Often, a bad challenge is regarded as passion. This common misconception again suggests that football has lost its way.
Football, at least at the highest level, seems to involve criticism constantly. The media critique players, the players blast managers, and the managers roast referees. The cycle continues. Therefore, it is so refreshing to see a team with a differing outlook. AFC Unity ignore all unconstructiveness associated with football. They boast a football philosophy concerned with inclusivity and fair play.
They are, simply put, a remarkable team.
Photo credits: Yin-Hsuan Yiang and Kate Fenton-Jarvis