This new Surrey football team is supporting men with baby loss
- Credit: Sands United
A wink across the pitch. A hand on the shoulder. A text message saying, ‘I’m in town – you want to grab a coffee?’ Through regional football clubs, charity Sands provides bereavement support for men who have lost babies. With a brand new team being created in Surrey, we speak to those involved about the club's launch. the benefits of being a team player and why it could be useful for someone you know…
There’s nothing quite like the art of the beautiful game to help bring people together. Bonding over a shared enthusiasm, ecstasy and inevitable agony (should you be watching England) is one of the reasons why Surrey FA and Sands (the UK stillbirth and neonatal death charity) have launched Sands United FC Guildford. Hoping to kick off in time for the new season, the organisation is offering a call to find a manager and players.
Ashley Gumbrell, the education and workforce manager at Surrey FA, first became aware of Sands’ work through a 2020 BBC documentary which highlighted the charity and aim to support those suffering from loss and bereavement. ‘The documentary struck a chord with myself and my wife through our experiences of multiple miscarriages during the early stages of pregnancy, and while directly supported by Sands at the time, I felt compelled to support similar initiatives locally.’
He continues: ‘We reached out to Sands United to begin the process of creating a network of local teams across Surrey. We hope that men and their families will come forward to be part of the first team in Surrey and replicate the great success seen elsewhere across the country.’
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One of the men who has benefitted from the work of the charity and now hopes to encourage others to see support is Peter Byrom. Currently playing for the Bristol squad, he also works to help support other football teams across the country. ‘We're open to any man affected by the death of a baby so dads, brothers, cousins, nephews, uncles and granddads, as well as those men working in stillbirths unit,’ he says. ‘Some players come to teams weeks, months or even years after experiencing their trauma, and we welcome them no matter what stage of grief they are at.’
For some men, the idea of sitting in a room at a support group doesn’t really appeal, so the opportunity to have conversations and bonding in a more casual setting is ideal. ‘Having that peer-to-peer support is really beneficial – everyone on the teams knows that if you want to talk to somebody because you might be coming up to an anniversary or just are having a tough day, you can,’ Peter explains.
‘You can leave everything else behind for 90 minutes while out on the pitch - a wink or an uplifting arm can make a big difference. But we never forget why we are there and will often do a minute’s silence or applaud before matches in remembrance.
Outside of the football pitch, the team are just as supportive too. ‘All the teams have a WhatsApp group where you can drop a message to say that you’re coming up to an anniversary or that you’re having a really tough day, and the guys will rally around, offering private chats, phone calls or coffee catch ups,’ Peter adds.
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Having experienced the loss of his baby Thomas, Peter finds that being part of the team helps to keep him alive. ‘When our babies pass away, so do the lives we had planned for them – I always wondered if Thomas would be a big sports fan like me, and if I’d spend Sundays in the rain watching him play,’ Peter tells me. ‘But I’ve got my shirts with Thomas’ name on them, and when I play it’s one of the very few times I feel like I’m doing something with him.’
For those who are thinking about joining the Guildford team or know someone who could benefit from joining, Peter has some encouraging words. ‘It doesn’t matter if you can only run for 90 seconds or if the last time you played was at school – the team will welcome you, help you on your journey of grief. I encourage men who have experienced baby loss to join the team and use the avenues of support that come with that.’
Anyone interested in managing the team can find out more about the role at sportingconnect.com or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.