Support AFC Unity!

AFC Unity is one of the very few independent women’s teams not connected to a men’s club, in an era where football is becoming increasingly dominated by money – now, more than ever, affecting the sport for women and not just men.

AFC Unity is different. It’s legally formed as strictly not-for-profit but remains a limited company, professionalised in the way it operates, but still bringing people together for the love of the game beyond vested interests and the influence of profit. With campaigns raising donations to food banks and encouraging union membership, Unity’s spirit of solidarity and community is what drives the club.

The style of football played by AFC Unity is deliberately designed to reflect this ethos of positivity and collectivity, and the women involved are empowered to grow and develop as leaders together, providing positive role models. You won’t see any dives or theatrics here, just camaraderie, grit and determination!

AFC Unity’s status and dedicated approach automatically make the team the quintessential underdogs, and they need your support. Please come along and support the “Red Stars” as the 2017/18 season commences! It’s free to attend games, but you may want to buy a scarf, hat, wristband, or pin badge to show your support! Because we’re non-profit, every penny of proceeds go directly back into the running of the club and helps keep our high standards, from astroturf pitches to fairtrade footballs.

You can see updates on matches via our social media networks.

In addition, you can support us from near or far by becoming a member of our official supporters’ group, the AFC Unity Ultras!

The AFC Unity Ultras replaced our previous membership system in a bid to engage members more in the running of the club, and fosters a stronger and more interactive following of club activities including our 11-a-side team as well as our community projects.

AFC Unity Ultras members will be offered the following benefits, similar to the previous membership system:

  • 25% off AFC Unity merchandise.
  • 20% discount when purchasing services with club sponsor, CFM.
  • Membership newsletter – including updates from the manager and player videos.
  • Added to our general newsletter.
  • Invitation to our end of season awards event and invitation to vote on a set supporter/member award.

However, additional to this will be the following benefits:

  • Free pin-badge.
  • Annual meeting/event with club personnel to be updated on what the club is doing, meet key members of the club including players and also have the opportunity to suggest ideas that the club can look at taking forward – this meeting will feed into the Board of Directors’ AGM.
  • Events with members.
  • Quarterly surveys sent out to club members to provide feedback to the club on its activities and direction, including the opportunity to suggest any changes or ideas that the club can look into implementing.
  • Discounts from various local independent businesses, which we are working on developing.

The cost for membership is:

  • £25.00 annual membership for waged
  • £20.00 annual membership for unwaged or low-waged
  • 10% discount if part of a trade union

Get in touch, either online or at a match! We look forward to your support!

Launching our Create Space Project!

We are excited to announce the launch of our Create Space project, funded by The Scurrah Wainwright Charity.

Create Space is our innovative women’s street football programme reclaiming public space, challenging gender stereotypes and promoting female confidence, health and fitness, leadership and skill sharing!

The project will feature 10, 1-hour training sessions from the 1st of July at The U-Mix Centre, 17 Asline Road, Lowfield, Sheffield, S2 4UJ between 1-2pm and is free to attend for women (16+ years old) of all experience and ability levels. At the end of the 10 weeks will be a City Centre football flash mob!

The purpose of the project is to utilise the power of football to encourage women to reclaim and use public space, which is often male dominated especially when it comes to playing football. The project is also about breaking down gender stereotypes with women playing football together as a collective in a public space.

Women will also hand out leaflets regarding women’s football, the importance of public space, breaking down gender stereotypes and the benefits of football for women – with quotes from the women. The leaflets will be produced in consultation with the women during the training sessions.

There is no specific women’s only street football programme, especially one that challenges gendered dimensions of public space which is often forgotten when street football and freestyle football is promoted.

To get involved, please get in touch!

Exciting Club Changes with the AFC Unity Ultras and AFC Unity Advisory Group

AFC Unity’s Board of Directors are excited to announce changes to our membership system and club’s structure, with the formation of AFC Unity Ultras and AFC Unity’s Advisory Group.

AFC Unity Ultras replaces our current membership system in a bid to engage members more in the running of the club and fosters a stronger and more interactive following of club activities including our 11-a-side team as well as our community projects.

AFC Unity Ultras members will be offered the following benefits, similar to the previous membership system:

  • 25% off AFC Unity merchandise.
  • 20% discount when purchasing services with club sponsor, CFM.
  • Membership newsletter – including updates from the manager and player videos.
  • Added to our general newsletter.
  • Invitation to our end of season awards event and invitation to vote on a set supporter/member award.

However, additional to this will be the following benefits:

  • Free pin-badge.
  • Annual meeting/event with club personnel to be updated on what the club is doing, meet key members of the club including players and also have the opportunity to suggest ideas that the club can look at taking forward – this meeting will feed into the Board of Directors’ AGM.
  • Events with members.
  • Quarterly surveys sent out to club members to provide feedback to the club on its activities and direction, including the opportunity to suggest any changes or ideas that the club can look into implementing.
  • Discounts from various local independent businesses, which we are working on developing.

The cost for membership is:

  • £25.00 annual membership for waged
  • £20.00 annual membership for unwaged or low-waged
  • 10% discount if part of a trade union

We are currently working on developing a related campaign, following on from Football for Food, that will focus on tackling one of the causes of food poverty: lack of workers’ rights and poor working conditions.

Alongside the AFC Unity Ultras, the Board have also launched an AFC Unity Advisory Group, which will engage different people within the community to provide advice and guidance in relation to different aspects of the club and organisation as we develop, including in areas such as finance, marketing, business development and legal advice.

These changes will help the club develop and engage more people within this process.

For more information on how to become an AFC Unity Ultra please get in touch!

AFC Unity Win Another Award at South Yorkshire LGBT+ Awards!

AFC Unity won another award to add to their growing collection, one week ago at South Yorkshire’s LGBT+ Awards at Sheffield’s Library Theatre.

AFC Unity were nominated for “Sports Personality” alongside fellow nominees Jessica Ennis, Rotherham United, Sheffield Hallam University Rugby, Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, Sheffield Varsity, University of Sheffield Hockey, and Yorkshire Terriers FC. But it was AFC Unity that were chosen for the award ‘because (the) team’s actions have promoted positive representation of the LGBT+ community within sports and have inspired LGBT+ individuals to take pride, break down barriers and tackle stigma within the sporting community.’

‘It’s a fantastic achievement for the club and ties into our ethos as a club that football is so much more than just a game,’ said AFC Unity co-founder Jane Watkinson. ‘Football can be a powerful and positive force for social good and something we all want to keep building on.’

‘This award means a lot to us because it reflects our intentions as an independent women’s football club to not just be inclusive but pro-actively influence the wider culture as a whole,’ added co-founder and manager Jay Baker. ‘We’re proud to go to great lengths and great pains to protect our ethos and to shout out for the rights of the LGBT community as per the vision and values of AFC Unity, and we’re very grateful for this recognition.’

Coming off of Unity’s own end-of-season Awards Night where Baker spoke of greater empowerment of players in representing the club going forward, 2016/17 first team players Claire Cusack and winner of the CFM Award on that night, Steph Sargent, both attended the event to represent AFC Unity. They didn’t assume they’d be going up on stage to collect the award as winners!

‘The LGBT+ Awards ceremony was a fantastic evening, where members and allies of the community came together to celebrate those who have contributed to improving equality to those who identify as LGBT,’ said Claire. ‘Representing my team AFC Unity, and celebrating our achievements at such a prestigious event was a great honour, and a moment I will never forget.’

Added Steph: ‘I was so pleased to be asked to represent my club going to such a brilliant event – thank you, and here’s to the next!’

Despite AFC Unity being just over three years old, this latest award adds to the increasing collection in an extraordinary 12 month period for the club, having picked up the FA’s national Respect Award for the women’s pyramid, taking Bronze in Sport England’s Satellite Club of the Year awards, and runners-up as Most Innovative Organisation at the VAS Awards.

Solidarity Soccer Participant Spotlight: Stacey Leigh

Solidarity Soccer is our innovative community based football training initiative for women which has empowerment, skill sharing and a personalised approach shaping it.

We spoke to regular Solidarity Soccer attendee Stacey Leigh about her experiences of Solidarity Soccer, and what kind of impact it has had on and off the pitch – Stacey has won the Personalised Aims Digital Award and has been a key part of our Wednesday Solidarity Soccer session.

Stacey does the Rivaldo!

AFC Unity: In a few words, how would you describe Solidarity Soccer to someone who hasn’t been?
Stacey: If you like football and want to start playing or in my case get back into it, it’s a great way to get started. The sessions are fun, relaxed and non-competitive and cater for all levels of ability and experience.

AFC Unity: What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to Solidarity Soccer if you wanted them to come along?
Stacey: Come down and try it – you’ll enjoy it.

AFC Unity: Do you have any stories that stand out from your time of being involved in Solidarity Soccer?
Stacey: This is a tough one….it’s good fun every week. However, I did trip over my feet once when attempting the step-over – that was quite amusing.

AFC Unity: Has Solidarity Soccer had an impact on your outside football life?
Stacey: Yes – it certainly has. My fitness has improved, I am more active and have loads more confidence and I am making new friends.

AFC Unity: If you could pick one word to describe Solidarity Soccer what would it be?
Stacey: Enjoyable!

AFC Unity: What has been your favourite skill to learn and why?
Stacey: I would have to say the Rivaldo triangle as it was the first one I learnt. I was sure I’d have no chance of doing it but within a couple of sessions I had cracked it – I think everyone had for that matter.

AFC Unity: Anything else to add?
Stacey: I never thought I’d play football again, now as well as Solidarity Soccer, I play in a weekly 5-a-side league. It’s given me a massive confidence boost and I want to pursue 11-a-side football again!

Fairtrade and Unity – How this Alternative Football Club is Trumping Sexism and Exploitation

by Matthew Hamilton

Increasing hostility, the Brexit bombshell, and the election of Donald Trump inciting hatred and division; concepts such as women’s football club AFC Unity are a welcome change for many.

Negative stories seem to always top the search bar when it comes to football, however AFC Unity seek to combat this unsavoury attitude surrounding the sport of football to create an inclusive environment and a “unifying force”. These are powerful messages from Jay Baker, co-founder and manager of the club. AFC Unity have adopted a revolutionary outlook which other co-founder, Jane Watkinson, emphasised as “more than just a football club, it’s a way to achieve social change”, and their powerful message is at the core of everything they do as consistency is key to their success.

An example of their consistency is their quick adoption of Bala Sport footballs, which are more expensive than other providers. Bala Sport are a Scotland based company who make Fairtrade footballs, meaning the workers in Pakistan are paid a fair wage for their labour. This epitomizes the commitment to change which the women’s football club love to display, with players being described as ‘proud to use the balls as they recognize the impact Fairtrade has on workers.’

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The charismatic duo that founded the club explained their participants are from a multitude of backgrounds, with some coming from the food banks that AFC Unity work with. The club’s first team collects food donations from home matches to then distribute these to local food banks, with ‘some of the players offering to talk to recipients’ who would struggle without the compassion shown by the club. This experience served to educate players of the issue of food poverty which Ms. Watkinson said reduced the stigma and dramatically humanised the otherwise invisible pandemic.

Humanity and Equality. These words resound in the mind after discovering the beautiful rebellion of AFC Unity. Their ethos goes against that of the global norms created by fear and an undeniable confusion with difference. Although they may not seem to be a group of people fighting for change in same way Emmeline Pankhurst of the 1903 Suffragettes did, their use of modern tactics start to chip away at misconceptions typically found in our regressive culture.

A catalyst for this time travel to the dark ages can be found in the aforementioned election of Donald Trump, with his frequent displays of sexism, it’s now the time for us as the Human Race to fight these atrocities. Fighting against the conventional idea of football has not been easy for the alternative football club, with both founders expressing their discontent with the help received from the National Governing Body of the sport, the FA (Football Association).

The struggles that the club (and specifically Ms. Watkinson as secretary) go through is a key indication that although society may need change, the idealistic approach of the club is difficult for long-standing organisations to understand and support.

Why choose football when there are all of these barriers? Mr Baker replied that “it’s the only sport we’ve really tried. And it’s a game that can unite people more than others”. It would be easy for AFC Unity to lower their expectations. Instead they passively prove their point by taking an inherently masculine sport and turning it upside down by showing compassion, treating people like humans rather than competitors, and making a real impact in the community.

Community projects are a huge part of the work AFC Unity do, and speaking to both founders of the concept they have no plans to slow down. Procedures to improve the success of the first team are in motion. The team bonds during group skill sessions, and with experienced players coming from all over Yorkshire it’s easy for the club to access individual strengths to hold sessions that are beneficial to all.

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Success normally comes at a price, often meaning sacrifice and pressure. Ms. Watkinson completely rejects this strategy, with the avoidance of ‘pressure or fear, or anything like that’ which would put mental health and the club’s ethos in danger. This seems to be a winning formula too. The team wanted to be successful this season, and after coming into one of their final games after losing every one prior, the players realised this year was all about learning and fun. A pre-match talk by manager Jay Baker relayed the no-pressure message and seemed to be magical, producing a 3–7 win which was put down to the no pressure policy.

“There’s no mistakes, only lessons so don’t worry, messing up is a part of the learning process”. This quote by Mr Baker should be heard by every female, whether an athlete or not. The club shows unbelievable dedication to the feminist movement in a world where women are reduced to objects by figureheads such as Donald Trump who denied sexual allegations due to the victim being ‘too unattractive’. AFC Unity ‘likes to help create an inclusive environment’ which is necessary for personal development, and is why the club has gathered success from those previously marginalised.

The main use for the clubs’ money is to educate more communities around the UK. Mr Baker fantasised about having a stadium made for the club, he said: “We’ve heard about Forrest Green Rovers and it would be great to follow a similar path!” Although Fairtrade produce would create a financial barrier, Mr Baker reiterated the previously mentioned consistency which players strongly hold onto.

“Fearless, pro-active, positivity.” Three words which sum up the club for Jay Baker, and ones that certainly promote a healthy way of living for women across Yorkshire. Progress is inevitable and at half time, it seems the club may be onto another shock win against society, courtesy of the growing number of supporters that keep the dream alive and trump opposing ideologies.

Solidarity Soccer Participant Spotlight: Amy Brown

Solidarity Soccer is our innovative community based football training initiative for women which has empowerment, skill sharing and a personalised approach shaping it.

We spoke to regular Solidarity Soccer attendee Amy Brown about her experiences of Solidarity Soccer, and what kind of impact it has had on and off the pitch – Amy has won the Teamwork Digital Award and Tech and Tekkers Digital Award (which was for her use of the Zidane Turn, which you can see Amy demonstrate below!) and has been a key part of our Wednesday Solidarity Soccer session.

AFC Unity: In a few words, how would you describe Solidarity Soccer to someone who hasn’t been?
Amy: Inclusive, fun, relaxed.

AFC Unity: What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to Solidarity Soccer if you wanted them to come along?
Amy: Come and take part in a relaxed environment, learn new skills and improve on simple aspects of everyday football, and have fun whilst doing it.

AFC Unity: Do you have any stories that stand out from your time of being involved in Solidarity Soccer?
Amy: My stand out story is through Solidarity Soccer I’ve made some new friends and we’ve started playing 5-a-side together, to improve fitness.

AFC Unity: Has Solidarity Soccer had an impact on your outside football life?
Amy: Massively, it’s pushed me to go back to the gym, get fitter and change the way I eat to help improve my fitness and health, it’s also helped me get over an injury.

AFC Unity: If you could pick one word to describe Solidarity Soccer what would it be?
Amy: Fun.

AFC Unity: What has been your favourite skill to learn?
Amy: Zidane turn.

AFC Unity: Anything else to add?
Amy: Just for ladies to come and see what it’s all about, and help spread the word