Team

Manager

Now in his fifth season, Jay Baker has managed AFC Unity in over 70 league and cup games. He is an outspoken feminist, experienced and qualified youth and community worker, and FA qualified coach. He has conceived and developed a playing style influenced by “Barcajax” football philosophy, designed to reflect the ethos of the club – based on collectivism where every unique individual plays a key part, with an emphasis on high-concept football for the grassroots level whilst maintaining a positive environment.

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 2

Soccer background: ‘I started playing when I was 10 when a girls’ team was set up in the next village. I played until 18 then stopped for 3 years during university. This is my comeback!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘They really encourage a positive attitude and are incredibly supportive! I also love the community projects and political vibes.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘To stop being compared to men’s football! More alternative clubs and more support.’

Random fact: ‘When I was about 8 I wrote to Stephen Hawking asking what there was before the big bang and I got a reply explaining it to me from one of his assistants!’

What she brings to the team: ‘I am quite tall…?’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 5

Soccer background: ‘My Dad told me I have played football since I could stand up (around 2-3 years old), where I used to chase him around the house and garden with my twin sister Claire taking a small ball off of him! I then went on to play with several teams including the Sheffield United Community Foundation, Centre of Excellence, and also at West Brom’s stadium The Hawthorns, as captain, with my secondary school team Meadowhead when we became the best girls school team (14-16 years old) in the UK. Sadly, I gave football up when I was 16 years old for around 6 years because I was put off by the pressure and lack of fun that was increasingly becoming part of my experience playing, and instead concentrated on my studies and politics. I got back involved when I was 22 years old and then decided to put my passion for football and community change to co-found AFC Unity with Jay Baker in 2014.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘It’s not just about playing football. At AFC Unity we want to use football as a force for positive social change – this is important, as professional football becomes increasingly corrupted and saturated by money. We want to help bring back what football is supposed to be about – solidarity, having fun, hope, teamwork, and unity (hence the name!) Football can really bring people together and be a powerful tool for social change.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Less pressure and more fun-based environments from a young age – creativity and individual flair needs to be nurtured and mistakes need to be encouraged as learning points not failures. There is still a lot of work with breaking down social conceptions of what a girl or a woman “should” be doing, and so to develop the game we still need to keep challenging this. This requires the media to become considerably better at reporting and covering the women’s game, with there still a considerable amount of sexism in the media’s reporting of women’s sport.’

Random fact: ‘Little did I know I have been playing football without an ACL since I was 15 years old and I have only just got a new one! Go me!’

What she brings to the team: ‘I’ll work hard on and off the pitch to help maintain a 100% positive, inclusive, creative and fun club environment! #InUnity!’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘As a child I sometimes played football at the Wallsend Boys club with my older brother (other times, I played arcade games). I was always the only girl there, but I had fun. By secondary school, I played some girls football. I had a few years of no football at university, before picking up mixed six-a-side. I decided from there I wanted to play for a women’s team, and found AFC Unity.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘Positivity, and a sense of community.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘To get more people involved in playing, watching and supporting.’

Random fact: ‘I worked at St James’ Park while I was in sixth form.’

What she brings to the team: ‘A positive attitude, and a willingness to give it my all.’

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Unity Award winner, 2015/16 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 5

Soccer background: ‘I have played football from a young age and played for a variety of teams. After a few years away from the game, I played again at university and then with AFC Unity.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘The ethos. A lot of other clubs I have heard of or been involved with didn’t have the positive ethos that this club has. I was also drawn to the openness and approachability that you don’t always find.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Even more coverage to build on the excellent work of the Lionesses in the recent tournaments.’

Random fact: ‘I love Marmite and I eat it every day!’

What she brings to the team: ‘Pressing as a forward and hopefully some goals from free-kicks!’

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Hope Over Fear Award winner, 2016/17 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 5

Soccer background: ‘I’m not sure what got me into football, but I’ve been a Nottingham Forest fan since the age of 7. I loved playing with the lads at school and finally joined a team at university, where I played for Sheffield Medics women. In 2011 I took a few years out due to work commitments and travelling, but a couple of years ago decided I missed the fun and camaraderie – and AFC Unity seemed like the perfect place to pick it up again.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘The focus on qualities other than individual skill – like attitude, teamwork and commitment. And the positive feeling within the team. I’ve never seen anyone blamed for a mistake.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘To keep up the good work! It’s been a great few years for the women’s game, particularly with the World Cup performance – but now we need to capitalise on the coverage the game is starting to get, and encourage more girls to get involved from a younger age.’

Random fact: ‘I’ve done barbershop singing since the age of 11 and have competed in international competitions in Nashville, Texas, and Hawaii!’

What she brings to the team: ‘Good team work and a positive attitude. And hopefully a few more goals!’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 2

Soccer background: ‘I started playing football from an early age. I joined Sheffield United Community Foundation football team alongside playing for my school (Meadowhead) and Centre of Excellence. I used to play four times a week alongside any chance I could at school, after school and holidays with my twin sister Jane. One of my footballing highlights was becoming the Champions of the UK (14-16 years old) with Meadowhead School and playing at West Bromwich Albion’s stadium, The Hawthorns, that was one amazing experience!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘The ethos behind AFC Unity is fantastic and the way it is run makes you feel involved & respected. The atmosphere at the club is friendly and inviting. The extra work that takes place at AFC Unity socially such as their work with local food banks is also fantastic and something that highlights its strengths as a football club.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘I think it needs a lot more exposure and air time on mainstream TV alongside more money pumped into it to develop the entry level schemes. Women’s football has grown exceptionally in recent years. I remember growing up and being so disappointed to find out the captain of the women’s England team had to also have a job at a supermarket whereas David Beckham was earning millions, whereas this seems to have developed and I can even now play as the England Women’s team on FIFA! The difference between the men’s and women’s team is still evident with coverage of matches not being given as much attention. However the advancement that’s happened so far is encouraging.’

Random fact: ‘I’ve met the legendary Joanna Lumley! ’

What she brings to the team: ‘I believe I can bring my experience from playing football for many years at a variety of different levels. I’m looking forward to doing this and hopefully scoring some goals!’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 2

Soccer background: ‘I played football from a young age and at junior school I played in the mixed school team. I continued playing in senior school and was in the girls’ school team and represented Sheffield playing for the Sheffield School Girls. I regularly went to the Tony Currie’s SUFC school holiday camps and eventually became a player for Steel City Wanderers. I played for them for quite a few years in both their U16 and Open Age squads until I suffered an injury and needed surgery. Despite my sheer determination and desire to play, I struggled to recover from it and eventually had to stop and have barely kicked a ball since. Now, 15 years on, and thanks to AFC Unity’s Solidarity Soccer initiative, I have finally got back into the game.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘AFC Unity’s ethos is different to other clubs. They do a lot of work with the wider community such as the Solidarity Soccer initiative which caters for all levels of ability and backgrounds. These sessions are great and without them I would never have got back into playing football again. They have really helped me build my confidence and have given me the opportunity to play again.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Women’s football needs more media coverage and more recognition.’

Random fact: ‘At the age of 9 at the SUFC training camp, I won the open age (U16’s and under) penalty shoot-out!’

What she brings to the team: ‘I am really determined and will always work hard and give 100%. I’d like to think that I will be creative, assist my teammates, create a few goals, and even score one or two!’

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The Breakout Award (formerly known as Takeoff Award) winner 2017/18 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘I’ve always played football with my friends and with my cousins when I was younger, but was too shy to try and join a proper girls’ team. I ended up playing netball through school to county level, but always regretted not joining a girls’ football team. As I got into my 20’s, I really thought I’d missed my chance, and then heard about Unity. I joined the development side, and have since played for the Jets, and now the first team!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘I love how inclusive the club is. They give everyone the chance to play the game at the level they feel comfortable with, and provide amazing support in developing skills. I don’t think I’d have been made to feel as welcome as a novice 28 year-old at any other club! The social and community aspect of the club is amazing.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Definitely more investment, more exposure, and a more positive commentary. It’s forever being compared to the men’s game when it should be promoted and celebrated in its own right.’

Random fact: ‘I stood on a wooden cocktail stick when I was 9…and age 13 I had to have 3cm of it surgically removed after not realising how much was still embedded! I still have a massive scar on my right foot!’

What she brings to the team: ‘Energy and enthusiasm, I never stop running!’

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The Integrity Award winner 2017/18 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘I got involved in football with the sudden realisation it’s now or never!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘Positive ethos, equality, freedom.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Positive media coverage, more women, more funding and Jay Baker on national TV!’

Random fact: ‘I speak fluent French (sorry, boring – do not include that!)’

What she brings to the team: ‘Enthusiasm.’

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Hope Over Fear Award winner, 2015/16 season

Unity Award winner, 2016/17 season

Collective Award winner, 2017/18 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 4

Soccer background: ‘I’ve played football for as long as I can remember. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and always will!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘AFC Unity is a club like no other. It’s positive and does a lot for the wider community. It’s bang-on!’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More exposure and money. Women put just as much into football as men, and deserve more recognition.’

Random fact: ‘I can ride a unicycle and juggle!’

What she brings to the team: ‘Speed, skill, and power.’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 1

Soccer background:  ‘I can’t remember when I started playing but my dad has always been my biggest supporter and probably the reason I continued turning out to play in the snow and the rain every week when I was a kid. I’m coming back after a 4 year break and I’m not sure why I stayed away so long.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘It’s a club that has a friendly and honest attitude towards the game and recognises how it can be a positive force in the community.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More of it! Particularly more mainstream visibility and encouragement/access at grass roots.’

Random fact: ‘I like bouldering.’

What she brings to the team: ‘A healthy dose of sarcasm and dark humour combined with a calm head that will hopefully keep everything fun no matter the score sheet.’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 1

Soccer background: ‘My dad’s first language is football, so we spent a lot of time playing together. Also, I grew up in an American schooling system in the Middle East – all the girls played soccer!’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘AFC Unity have a very strong sense of identity which they promote proudly. Their positive and inclusive atmosphere, along with their social ambition, create an awesome vibe.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Positive voices who can translate the enthusiasm found on the pitches to women around the world.’

Random fact: ‘I am vegan.’

What she brings to the team: ‘(Other than vegan cookies? :D) I think that I am quite positive in nature – keen to make other people feel good, and I like to work hard for my team.’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 2

Soccer background: ‘Played since I was young.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘Welcomes everyone, friendly and encouraging.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘Needs more publicity.’

Random fact: ‘I was the Head Coach of the AFC Unity’s second team in the 2016/2017 season.’

What she brings to the team: ‘Youth.’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘I have a younger brother and we used to play football out in the street and backyard. Growing up there were no girls’ teams around so I had to play with my brother and his friends, as my friends were not into football. About eighteen years ago I started playing five-a-side football and in a five-a-side league. Earlier this year I played in the FA Peoples Cup, again five-a-side in the female veterans’ league, and we were runners up.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘Everyone is encouraged to try new skills and to never be afraid of making mistakes. It’s such a friendly team to be involved with.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More media coverage. After the Women’s World Cup there was a lot more interest in the women’s game, and that needs to be maintained.’

Random fact: ‘I’ve got an allotment.’

What she brings to the team: ‘Commitment and an ability to keep running till the end of the match – and I want to keep on learning and improving my game.’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘Used to play when I was younger, gave up for years as the manager thought he was a Sargent Major in the army. Found AFC Unity on Facebook and here we are 3 seasons later.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘The manager is dead nice, believes in us all and gives us all the confidence we need to believe in ourselves.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More women playing, better coverage on TV.’

Random fact: ‘The most expensive and posh (sort of) car I’ve driven is a Ford Mustang GT Fastback. The perks of working in the motor industry.’

What she brings to the team: ‘Confidence, being helpful and charismatic.’

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Hope Over Fear Award winner, 2017/18 season

Unity Award winner, 2017/18 season

Seasons with AFC Unity: 3

Soccer background: ‘Unfortunately for me there weren’t many girls/ladies football teams around when I was young. I didn’t start playing until I was 19. It all started with a letter to Rotherham Borough Council. I was put in touch with the Manager at Rotherham United LFC. I trained every week and helped out in friendlies, although I didn’t break into the 1st team for a couple of seasons. I was Captain of the reserve side for a couple of seasons and was then called up into the first team. I played for RULFC for a good 15 years when I made the decision to leave to start a family. In the meantime I signed for Dinnington Town LFC and enjoyed a good few seasons there (one season off to have a baby). I then made the move to Ossett Albion LFC who played in a higher league (I decided I had enough left in the old engine to compete at a higher level). After making the decision to leave Ossett I trained with AFC Unity and the rest is history in the making.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘I like the fact that no matter how good or old you are, you feel welcome and part of a team.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More financial support and maybe a little more media coverage.’

Random fact: ‘I once played in a testimonial match and crossed the ball in for Karen Walker (ex-Belles and England striker) to head the ball in the top of the net! Result!’

What she brings to the team: ‘Gosh, I don’t know what to say. I’m not one for bigging myself up! I think I bring hard work, experience and hopefully a friendly nature to the team. I’m hoping my football speaks for itself – only you can decide!’

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Seasons with AFC Unity: 2

Soccer background: ‘Going to Hillsborough to watch Sheffield Wednesday started my passion. I then just played at school until I was 15 when I played 11-a-side.’

How Unity is an “alternative football club”: ‘It’s very inclusive and provides lots of different opportunities.’

What the women’s game needs: ‘More support, money, and equality!’

Random fact: ‘I used to compete at international level in karate.’

What she brings to the team: ‘Energy, and support.’

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