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 


Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

Much has already been said about the challenging season AFC Unity just had, so now I’d like to focus more on the future. However, it is worth acknowledging the adversity we experienced, because tough times always reveal true character in people, and in football players.

Let’s borrow an anecdote from men’s mainstream professional football. Love him or loathe him, Neil Warnock made no secret of the difficulties he had with Neil Redfearn at Leeds United, when Warnock was in charge of the first team and Redfearn was responsible for overseeing the youth academy, where resentment towards the first team set in.

We saw some of that in our second season when we had a Development system (since replaced by an overwhelmingly successful and award-winning Solidarity Soccer initiative). Thankfully, such resentment was rare in our newly-created second team, the AFC Unity Jets, even when players from there were called up into the injury-ravaged first team. After all, it’s totally the wrong attitude to resent your teammates an opportunity to progress! In addition, it’d have been wrong for any of us to be negative when the Jets then still had 18 players in the squad, and it’d have been wrong to focus on those who stopped showing up as the heavy defeats continued, rather than those who kept going: those who kept playing till the end are heroes.

Meanwhile, the constant changes in the first team presented its own difficulties, as mentioned before. Now as we revert back to one team and one squad, looking ahead I’ll be using about three different formations while we rebuild the football at AFC Unity on the foundation of a newfound footballing identity and playing style. Last season, we couldn’t even get the whole team to grasp one formation, let alone three, but that depends on having a squad who as a collective hold the four keys to winning. American college sports coach Davey Whitney once said, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way; if it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Last season, I stuck with one formation until there was belief. The majority of the team has been absolutely fantastic, and a dream to coach. Rather than disrupt an already injury-hit team by removing any odd negative players, I kept them in – and the more they got negative, the more the rest of us went positive; the more they wanted to play defensive, the more we went on the attack; the more they wanted to park the bus, the higher our defensive line got. It cost us of course, leading to its logical conclusion in the last match of the season and our record defeat of 17-1. But now we can wipe the slate clean.

Some players will just never believe, and are better suited to the old vanilla 4-4-2 – which of course is fine for them, because pretty much every other grassroots club does that, so there’s no shortage of other options out there for them. One coaching phrase is: One player can’t beat an opposing team by themselves, but they can destroy your own team with a bad attitude. Yes, there are some players who just always seem to associate with the negativity and bad apples and players we removed for poor behaviour; you can’t have them in your club, or else you’re asking for the same mistakes to be repeated over and over without learning from them – and when we preach learning from mistakes, we have to do so ourselves, and act on it! And we will. We have to now.

So what we’ll have going forward is a series of game plans we can spend pre-season embracing, learning, and enacting whenever they’re needed. It kills the season if you can’t even commit to one formation, but now we will have a squad that does, I can promise that. I’ll only have positive vibes in my squad, and complete faith in a team of players who in turn have faith in me. Any doubt, and they’re out! AFC Unity is a lovely club, everyone, even opponents, agree on that. But that doesn’t mean players don’t want and need solid, strong leadership to keep it positive. If you’re too soft, it crumbles.

We’re looking to build a single squad as a cohesive unit based on commitment, dedication, and talent, full of problem-solving players who are keen to listen, and learn, and trust in their coaches – again, it comes back to the keys to winning.

We’ll be signing players who completely understand the football philosophy, and believe in everything we’re trying to do at the club, and – beyond enjoying the environment – trust in our approach so that this environment can be sustained long-term. We can’t do that with players who might cause problems, who are oppositional, yet continue to enjoy everything we offer. That won’t work. ‘People who are in it for their own good are individualists,’ said another American college coach, Paul William “Bear” Bryant: ‘They don’t share the same heartbeat that makes a team so great.’

As manager of the first team, I’ve been so lucky in this past very unlucky season to have filled the majority of the squad with the best personalities and people I’ve genuinely been fond of and friendly with, and trusted – because despite how cynics may scoff at the idea, you simply can’t have good players who aren’t good people; the two go hand-in-hand. Gordon Strachan once said, ‘Believe me, you need good people if you want to make good players.’ So first and foremost, AFC Unity has to be full of good people who believe in the badge and everything it represents, who want to play for the badge, and who want to enact our ethos and football philosophy on that pitch. We want great ambassadors for this club.

I intend to build a strong squad of 25 players who might not be 25 of the best, but definitely the best 25 – those who are just happy to be part of AFC Unity, enjoy the environment, believe in it, and also enact it to further our ethos and prove it can work. And it can. It will.

While other teams might be an add-on to a men’s team, or be run like an army camp, or have cliques, or play re-active “man-marking” football, or play the long ball, waste time, run down the clock and complain – and they can and do win games like that, because the flawed rules of the game enable them to do so, sadly – instead we will choose the road less travelled, the longest and hardest path to success, because it’s important to succeed the right way. The journey is as important as the destination, if not more important; it’s like life itself.

I’m excited because I have so many players to choose from. The downside is, some players will no longer get the opportunities they once had to play 11-a-side football, but trust is key; players have to trust me, and I have to trust them, and if there was any shred of doubt either way, this wouldn’t work. It’s no secret we at AFC Unity admire the “Barçajax” football philosophy, but more because it’s ethos-first, and the victories have to come along later.

We need a solid 25 and definitely need 16 every single Sunday because our playing style – what I affectionately call “hard rock football” – can be intense, and rigorous, and demanding, but it definitely develops players. Yet it isn’t for everyone; we have to have defenders who play a proactive role in build-up play and attack, and we have to have forwards who are more than just poachers but press and get the ball. I truly believe that at this level, players can go no place better than AFC Unity to learn intelligent, exciting, attractive football that’s a real challenge to learn and grasp.

One player, who’s played for some top clubs, once even asked me if our style of play was too advanced for our team. But the thing is, I have never stopped learning since taking on this role, and I enjoy developing as a coach too, yet I have no football ambitions except for this club – it’s important that, instead, we raise the standards of football that we play. We’ve already seen some beautiful football even without a consistent, coherent unit! Wait till we finally settle into being one team with one vision, long-term!

We also have to present opportunity to Solidarity Soccer players as well as those coming to us from other clubs who show the trust, passion, and belief in what we’re doing – as well as high levels of attitude, ability, and attendance.

Sports mogul Robert Kraft once said he wanted the kinds of players to have an impact both on the field and in the locker room, and I agree that’s really important for building a strong team. With the newly-introduced shared, or rotating, captaincy we will keep developing, nurturing, and encouraging those leadership qualities right throughout the team so that it’s not just my voice reinforcing the ethos, or even one captain’s voice. It has to be a collective voice. That’s why we’re called “Unity.”

Not just because we’re going to be one team with one vision, but because we’ll finally have a large solid squad and a long pre-season, this finally feels like the AFC Unity we always wanted it to be. The building process won’t be easy – it might take the entire season to bond the team how we’d like – but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

And besides, yet again, the journey is just as valuable and exciting as the destination – and, after all, often more important.

2016/17 Season Ends with Awards Night

Friday night, March 24th saw the culmination of a rollercoaster ride of a season with the CFM Limited AFC Unity Awards Night at the Hidden Gem Cafe. As with last year’s event, the location, the awards and their titles were given a twist on tradition, in keeping with Unity’s status as an “alternative football club.”

Official AFC Unity sponsors CFM Limited put on the event, which honoured players and non-playing personnel alike for all their efforts in a challenging campaign. Every player who completed the campaign was presented with their own award in the spirit of “Unity.”

Sophie Mills was presented the Hope Over Fear Award by manager Jay Baker, who chose her for her three years of commitment to the club (having joined the night after Unity’s first-ever league game), and her dedication and determination throughout the season, fighting for and keeping a consistent place in the first team where she also took on a leadership role and played in various positions for the good of the squad while taking her skills to a higher level. “Millsy” also recovered from the black eye sustained in a heading collision in the final game in time for this photo.

Replacing last season’s Breakout Award, the Takeoff Award was created as the AFC Unity Jets Head Coach’s choice for player of the season, and gaffer Emily Salvin selected Chloe Burditt for her development, commitment, and positivity and for representing the team and the club as a whole so well.

Last year’s Hope Over Fear Award winner, Jodean Wadsworth, this time took the Unity Award as chosen by her own teammates, winning it in a landslide. The season’s top goalscorer, but more importantly than that – as first team co-captains Jane Watkinson and Simone Fenton-Jarvis explained – Jo developed as a player and a person, helped develop newer players in initiatives such as Solidarity Soccer, and had a great attitude throughout the season in-keeping with AFC Unity’s aims of “100% Positivity.”

Far from being a landslide, the AFC Unity Jets found voting on a teammate as players’ player far more challenging as evidenced by the result which at least gave us two clear joint winners: Sarah Choonara and Sue Bagshaw! Player/coach Corinne Heritage presented them both with the When You’re A Jet Award and commended them for their fantastic efforts throughout the season.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis took this season’s Integrity Award for upholding the vision and values of the club and defending it in challenging times. Manager Jay Baker described how she approached AFC Unity with such a shared philosophy that he at first thought it was a rib! She then went on to become first team co-captain. Like last season’s winner Charlotte Marshall, Simone represented the club so well and did so much for it that she followed Charlotte onto the Board of Directors, where she now helps run the club.

Last year there were three Solidarity Award winners for non-playing personnel who helped to develop and progress the club. This year, there was only one: Emily Salvin, who was injured in the Sarah Richards Testimonial in May of 2016 and went on to become the Head Coach of the AFC Unity Jets while recuperating, developing as a footballing brain and as a person, and working hard week in week out to develop the newly-created second team players. Manager Jay Baker heaped praise on her for her commitment and efforts and wished her well for the future.

First team goalkeeper Steph Sargent was presented with the unique CFM Award as selected by the sponsors, represented by Mel Scott and Simone Fenton-Jarvis. Steph was awarded for ‘representing the shared ethos of both AFC Unity and CFM,’ and by staying involved with the team and the club even while injured, promoting the club, and coming back to prove her invaluable worth on the pitch in goal.

Manager Jay Baker praised the AFC Unity Jets present – from a squad of 18 registered players even after call-ups to the first team, he emphasised – for making it to the end of the season, showing integrity themselves in the face of heavy defeats when so many others walked away, he said. He gave credit to Emily Salvin as well as player-coach Corinne Heritage for keeping the team going for so long and commended the remaining nexus of the squad.

As AFC Unity revert back to one highly-competitive squad of 25 registered players to choose a Sunday 16 from, Baker also made a declaration of intent for Unity’s return after spring break, which included an invitation of players – based on attitude, attendance, and ability – to try out for the team; players prioritised for their passion for Unity’s Football Philosophy and playing style; a selection of various formations within that style of play; a trial period that will last into the summer; all incoming players to trial for 4 weeks before being eligible for registration; more team-bonding socials; and promotion of co-captains Jane Watkinson and Simone Fenton-Jarvis to club co-captains, meaning the team captaincy would change around to nurture leadership qualities and collectivism.

Players also thanked Emily Salvin, and Jay Baker and Jane Watkinson (both co-founders of the club) for all their efforts over the season, giving them gifts as tokens of appreciation, which they were very pleased by. The event ended with thanks to Hidden Gem Cafe, photographer Kate Fenton-Jarvis, and CFM Limited who made the Awards Night possible.

Congratulations to all involved with AFC Unity right through to the end of the season and here’s to an exciting future!

AFC Unity Reverting Back to One Team


The AFC Unity Jets – our newly-created second team – have returned to their “hangar” as the AFC Unity Board of Directors have decided the side will not finish this season in the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League.

An audacious experiment, the AFC Unity Jets took off last summer when demand was so high that the decision was made to introduce a second team as a way of giving previous first team players more much-needed game time, as well as offer opportunities to others who wanted to experience competitive football with less commitment – resulting in a squad of over 16 registered players throughout the season but not all available for matches.

Despite heavy defeats against much more established teams from far bigger clubs, the AFC Unity Jets kept their spiritsimg_20160904_204923 high and ran until almost the end of the extended season, after several players moving on lowered matchday numbers further and finally necessitated its winding up.

As part of our upcoming annual spring break – and in the midst of speculation on the league having two divisions, or even with AFC Unity facing a return to Division 3 – the organisation will undergo an exciting restructuring and, as part of that, revert back to having one team next season, so our award-winning, strictly independent women’s football club can focus all of its limited resources on a strong squad of 25 players to get the club focused for further success in the future. This team is sure to be comprised of some current AFC Unity Jets players, as well as most players from the injury-hit first team. Announcements and invitations to try out for the team will be made soon.

The AFC Unity Jets reflect the organisation’s dedication to increasing opportunities in football for women of all backgrounds, at all levels – and alongside the Solidarity Soccer initiative, several other projects will be announced in the near future.

‘Being Head Coach of the AFC Unity Jets has been a great opportunity to help me develop as a coach as well as a player and it’s been a pleasure to work with a great club full of fantastic people’ said Emily Salvin, who took on the role after finding out a serious injury would keep her out of the first team for the whole season. ‘It’s helped me get through my injury as well as see the game from a different perspective. The players from the start have always supported and respected me regardless of me being so young, and they’ve helped the whole experience be so enjoyable.’

‘The AFC Unity Jets have been an inspiration to us all and have been the embodiment of Unity spirit,’ said AFC Unity Chair Anna Cordwell. ‘While we have had to face the fact that we can’t continue with two teams for now, those involved with the Jets have made it a thoroughly positive experience and have helped the club to grow. With the involvement of people like this, who are Unity through and through, we can all look forward to an exciting next season!’

‘The AFC Unity Jets have been awesome this season,’ said AFC Unity director Simone Fenton-Jarvis. ‘Their drive to learn, sheer determination, love for football and the club ethos has all been inspirational – and I say that not just as a director, but as a player; if we could bottle all of that, I’m sure every club in the league would be buying it!’

‘It is something everyone involved should be very proud of,’ said AFC Unity co-founder Jane Watkinson. ‘Emily Salvin has been a fantastic Head Coach and the team’s spirit and ethos has impressed and had a positive impact on many. With several women engaged via the Jets in competitive 11-a-side football for the first time, it’s something the club should be proud of and it’s something we will learn and build from. Thanks to everyone who put in so much hard work and maintained such a positive attitude to achieve what they did.’

‘In the sense of fulfilling what were in many cases decades-long dreams of 11-a-side affiliated league football – and giving other players game time to develop in a relaxed atmosphere without pressures – the AFC Unity Jets more than achieved its aims,’ said AFC Unity co-founder Jay Baker. ‘There are players who endured heavy defeats but kept going, and if you can build character, stay strong, play for that badge, and enjoy your football even without winning, well…for several players, very rewarding times indeed are ahead.’


AFC Unity vs Barnsley Development – match report

by Tom Menzies

This week’s fixture ended 2-9 to the away side, as unbeaten Barnsley Development’s fast and physical football style was one to be too much for AFC Unity. The match’s scoreline does show one of class and optimism for Barnsley Development who are climbing their way to the top of the league table, but also of injustice for AFC Unity who showed grit and determination until the end of the match.


The opening 45 minutes of the match showed a massive contrast between each of the two teams’ footballing styles, as each side managed to find the other’s vulnerability and pounce at the opportunity. Barnsley Development were the first to seize the lead in the match, in which they showed intuition to take advantage of the home’s side absences at the back from a set piece. A good amount of pressure from Unity did win them a corner early on in the first half, but their failure to put the ball in the net meant a counter-attack would break away for the away side. Barnsley’s number 11 managed to run down the wing and pull the ball back across goal for the striker to tap it in. No heads were hung from AFC Unity following their disadvantage early on, as they had a few chances to get back into the game. One of these involved Mills, who took a shot on goal following a clearance from a defender but unfortunately only managed to hit the woodwork. The other chance did manage to bring the home team level on goals, as Cusack pulled away an exquisite shot on goal, forcing the goalkeeper to parry the ball into her own net. The end of the first half did call on Unity goalkeeper Sargent to keep the home side still in the game; Sargent’s recent return from injury didn’t show to phase her through this period of the match as she did manage to make some heroic saves from the threat of Barnsley Development’s strike force. However, the ongoing pressure did result in two away goals as their number 9 and number 11 were sent through the middle of Unity’s defence, each finding the bottom corner of the net in the dying minutes of the first half. This meant that the away team had the upper-hand before the break, being 1-3 up after 45 minutes.

The second half of the match deemed more attacking minded for each of the two teams as the intensified midfield clash meant players ruthlessly challenged for an opportunity to get the ball forward. Barnsley Development showed no signs of complacency in their lead, as they started the second half strong as again, number 9 and number 11 managed to score 5 away goals between them by putting fine finishes into the net sending their the team 1-8 ahead. Despite the skill of their opponents, AFC Unity managed to display their class and composure on the ball as they fought hard to get the ball forward to their front players and give the away side a hard time at the back. Donohue for Unity showed one of the highlights of the match with an exquisite shot from outside the box, putting the ball past the goalkeeper, making the scoreline 2-8. The match ended on an away goal for the away side, as Barnsley Development’s number 14 drove into the Unity area and finished the match 2-9 to the away visitors.

After the match AFC Unity manager, Jay Baker, spoke about his views on the scoreline and how he thought it reflected his own side’s performance: ‘The result seems way over the top and unfair for how the game went today. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played against a fine footballing unbeaten side today but to their own admission they struggled with our system at first’. The manager also went on talk about his decision to stick with Unity’s style of play and how he thinks it will prove to be a success for his side in the future. ‘It’s a work in progress. Once we embrace positive brave attacking football rather than being negative and defensive, we’ll get there’.

Despite the unjustified scoreline, today Unity showed great battle against an undefeated team who are fighting at the top of the league table. A change in mentality as opposed to physicality may deem AFC Unity an improved team in the near future as they have the capability to beat the best but they need to believe they can do so.

Moving the topic aside from football, today showed another great achievement for Unity as they managed to collect a huge amount of food donations for the local food banks in Sheffield. Food poverty is a massive problem within the local area and the UK in general, with approximately 4,000,000 people currently living in food poverty across the country. Together, we can help tackle this problem as a force of unity and do our part to reduce these numbers. I’d like to give you a big well done today girls, on and off the pitch.

Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

UpTheLeftWingOpinions are like behinds, and everyone has one in football – be it at the top level or even at grassroots, and we all make judgements from our own perspectives, often with little insight into the inner workings of a particular team, and lacking context.

The phrase I’ve heard most often this season has been, ‘I don’t understand what’s wrong’ – even by my own players baffled that such a positive, alternative football club playing so well could be subjected to such a string of bad results. They’re the last to deserve such outcomes given the effort put in by the majority of them, and the football they’ve played. Only once or twice have I seen opponents play purer football than we have, because we’re dedicated to playing soccer that reflects our ethos: fearless, pro-active and positive.

We just enjoyed our third birthday. This is our third season in existence. In our first season we were promoted from Division 3 to Division 2, where we then more than held our own in our second season – stopping in their tracks teams that went on to dominate the division. It was then we decided that, as we improved at a faster pace than we’d initially imagined, we still wanted to give an option to players lacking game time or experience in competitive 11-a-side football – so we set up a second team, the AFC Unity Jets, an audacious decision largely met with more resentment and condescension than admiration or support from the footballing establishment. We went ahead anyway, to great enthusiasm from the players with a promise of more minutes in league matches than they’d anticipated.

So, pre-season became more about which players were going to be in which team, rather than any focus on one squad itself being a cohesive unit. With weeks – even days – remaining until start of the season (which came sooner this time), we rushed to finalise two teams, which started with just over a dozen players each, and stretching the club’s resources to the limit, fueled by our passion for engagement and empowerment of female footballers; the AFC Unity Jets in fact actually began with a bigger roster than the first team at the beginning (and look like ending with one too; we have to understand that expectations, pressure, and commitment are different than in the first team). We were blessed to have Emily Salvin step in as Head Coach of the AFC Unity Jets when lesser coaches would have spelled disaster for team spirit right from the start.

And then the first team was struck with the now-infamous “injury curse” perhaps related to having a squad spread thin and subjected to greater wear-and-tear. Having arguably the best goalkeeper in the league injured early on was also a massive blow to a first team destined to face constant pressure given our attacking style reflecting our unique football philosophy. By this time I was reluctant to make call-ups from the AFC Unity Jets, since we’d already made several – good ones, too, albeit meaning these absolute stars (good players as well as good people) took time to mesh with the existing players, by which time injured players began returning. Simone Fenton-Jarvis made the great point the other day that, ‘We’ve almost had three different first teams throughout the course of this entire season,’ and that’s true!

Having said that, in a recent match against Rovers Foundation, I was astonished by the first-half performance of a team dscf3799finally starting to look settled – it was only 1-2 at half-time, at which point I tried reverting to last season’s old formation, leaving us with just two forwards unable to apply their pressing style, and under bombardment; conceding six more goals in the 45 minutes that followed, an incredible example of football evolution meaning you can’t go back in time and unlearn something so much harder yet better: it’s hard, even wrong, for us to go back to old styles that don’t suit us anymore. Being defensive means being on the back-foot, and surrendering initiative, and that just doesn’t fit us, as evidenced by that 1-8 loss.

You also have to have the “4 Keys to Winning” unlocked in every single one of your eleven players who are on the pitch at one time in order to succeed – if even one single player doesn’t believe in themselves, their teammates, the system or their coach, you can’t do well. While we’ve finally created a first team that reflects our positive ethos, packed with players capable of unlocking those four keys, there have been occasions where I’ve heard odd players not just lacking belief in themselves, but knocking their teammates, or questioning the system and their coach, and you can give them numerous chances but ultimately their fate is in their own hands.

There are plenty of conventional clubs with vanilla formations out there, so I’ll never feel bad for eventually letting those players go, as they have plenty of other options. In fairness to some, when AFC Unity began as an independent women’s football club with next to no resources, I wasn’t as heavily involved with coaching and we hadn’t yet built our footballing identity – now we play with a sense of ourselves, and not all players caught up with that, aren’t willing to, and will be better suited to traditional football elsewhere.

The team I’ve begun to build is one of – yes – unity, as well as camaraderie, warmth, positivity, passion, intelligence and belief in the AFC Unity project, and it’s made me so proud. I’m going to nurture that, and add more of the same to it – from the AFC Unity Jets, eventually, too, because they still have some fantastic players. Great players who want to be “Red Stars” and play for our badge can even be found in the Solidarity Soccer initiative. Some of the finest players we’ve got have been the ones to come up through our own system.

So of course, there’s always context to results or poor form that people don’t at first realise; when you point it out to them, they exclaim, ‘Oh yeah!’ and don’t feel so bad about it. Understanding this context is why I’ve been able to not just remain positive, but become even more positive as the season goes on. If the vast majority of players are playing their hearts out now, what are they going to be like in the future? If we’re about more than just winning – the hundreds of kilograms of food we’ve raised for local food banks, for example – and feel good now, wait until we’re winning matches more often.

And we will be, I can promise that.

If promotions, multiple awards, and doing good for the community seems impressive in just three years, wait until you see what we have in store just around the corner.


Photo credit: Steph Sargent

AFC Unity Vs Mexborough Athletic – match report

by Tom Menzies

Despite AFC Unity’s bravery and fighting effort in their battle against Mexborough Athletic, their efforts to come back from behind were shattered in the closing minutes of the game as a looping fitness shot sealed their fate and the match finished 2-4 to the away side.

20160925_131818The first half showed much to be one of a midfield battle between the two teams, as each side showed their intention to battle for the ball and get it forward in the final third of the pitch. AFC Unity were unlucky to concede an early goal in just the third minute of the match, which automatically put the home side at a disadvantage. However, despite this drawback, Unity were to dominate the core passing play in the centre of the park for the rest of the half, as the central midfielders and wing backs connected fluently to put pressure on the away side straight away. Unity’s high tempo style of football instantly proved effective, as Kotta came close with a good run down the left flank using skill to beat the Mexborough defence before shooting wide of the goal. Nevertheless, the away side bounced back from early pressure as their number 9 stormed past Unity’s central defenders to shoot at goal, but it wasn’t enough to beat Sophie Mills whose impressive save showed no signs of nerves when covering out-of-action Steph Sargent due to injury. The closing key moment of the first half involved Unity’s Shanie Donohue from a free kick, who made a fantastic run on goal before cleverly chipping the charging goalkeeper; Kotta ran towards the looping ball to nod it in for the home side, but an acrobatic clearance from a Mexborough defender ensured that the away team went into the second half with a one goal advantage.

The second half of the match up between the two teams showed more quality in the final third, as the sides went back and forth in the race to come on top before the final whistle. Mexborough Athletic came close on a couple of occasions in the early minutes of the half, when their number 7, Natasha Carlton, ran straight through the home team’s back line to run on goal and managed to beat the goalkeeper with her shot, before hitting the post and maintaining the away side’s advantage to just the one goal. It was AFC Unity who were able to strike first in the second half, as Kotta sprinted down the left with intention before cutting the ball across the goal line and the rest was finished by Spillings, putting Unity at level on their home turf and making the score 1-1. Mexborough Athletic showed no signs of forfeiting their initial efforts on goal as they reacted rapidly with Carlton persistently peppering Unity’s defence. A cross was chipped into the 18 yard box by the Mexborough full back, and headed home by Carlton; once again the away side had the advantage over Unity, as the scoreline reached 1-2. Resilience and determination fuelled the home side to push on and shake away their drawback, as Kotta put pressure on the defender from a Unity cross and forced an own goal to put the scores equal once again at 2-2. The remainder of the second half involved a good level of pressure and intensity by the home side, as the midfield battle showed players flying in to tackles and intercepting loose balls being thrown across the grass. However, it wasn’t enough to stop a third goal for Mexborough in the last quarter of the match as a scramble in the box meant that the away side were able to head away an easy goal in fortune of miscommunication amongst Unity’s defence. Despite AFC Unity’s fighting efforts against Mexborough to try and gain their side a point, in the dying minutes of the match a fantastic finish from Carlton curled over the goalkeeper to seal their fate as it meant the away side were 2-4 up when the final whistle blew. Lots of positives from each of the two sides in this match up, as signs of ambition and persistence project a bright future for each of the two teams.

20160825_161110AFC Unity manager Jay Baker commented on how he thought the match had played out and how his side were possibly picked off by the opposition: ’It was a close game today, our opponents did their homework and tried to find chinks in our armour. None of this is to take anything away from Mexborough, they played well; we’ve been really unlucky and today just wasn’t our day’. The manager also spoke about the impact of injuries within the squad and how they may have affected his team. The starting line up against Mexborough was missing Jane Watkinson, as well as other crucial players to the first team line up such as Steph Sargent and Sophie Hirst, who fell ill before the game and unfortunately was unable to take part. Baker said ‘we lost a few players before the match and there were a few last minute changes that threw us off our game a bit’.

AFC Unity’s next home game is on February 5th, where they hope to shake off this minor set back and kick on with the rest of their season by playing the excellent football that they have showed here today.