Why Everyone Is Rooting for Sands United FC

Meet the amateur soccer team brought together by tragedy, bonding through sport

sands united mobile
Courtesy of Gary Morrisroe Photography

Sands United is a squad of 34 men who have, whether as a father or other family member, experienced the loss of a child.

The Northampton, England–based football club began in 2018 when a charity match was arranged to raise funds for Sands, a child bereavement organization, in memory of team captain Rob Allen’s daughter Niamh. The game was such a success that a few of the players talked about taking it forward and making football a weekly thing in the lives of bereaved men.

Fast-forward a couple months and Sands United was beginning to take shape. Ten men took to the training field for the first time, word quickly spread and more players were recruited as more men affected by loss decided not to hide from their bereavement but instead come together in a very public way. The team is now 34 members strong and growing.

Sands United aims to use football to break the silence on the taboo subject of child loss. Embroidered on each player’s shirt is the name of the angel the team member is playing for, and supporters from across the U.K. have purchased replica shirts with their angels’ names printed on them.

Recently, Sands United made an appearance on Arsenal Fan TV’s new show Blud Bruvvas, aseries on the popular YouTube channel documenting the formation of the Arsenal Fan TV Football Club. Ultimately, Sands United was defeated in the match they played in, but their dignity before and after the game proved to be the highlight of the episode. Respect was madeall around the pitch, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the arena.

“We want to provide a safe haven for men to come together with other men who have experienced the same losses and enable a platform where men can open up about their feelings if they ever want to. It’s about peer support from those who ‘get it,’” one Sands United player says on the Blud Bruvvas episode.

Mental health is a sensitive subject, and people are always looking for ways to escape from their terrible experiences. It seems the beautiful game has proved to be a great treatment for these players. No matter what your situation, nothing is more comforting than walking with your friends to the pitch and having a kick around. For most, it’s therapy.

“We also harbor ambitions to win trophies for our angels, though we know that we make them proud just by stepping out onto the pitch,” says Luke Barker, who plays keeper for Sands United. 

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