A dad who formed a football team for men in Huddersfield who have suffered the anguish of losing a baby has won a national award.
Alex Walmsley set up Sands United West Yorkshire in 2020 after he and his wife lost three babies in pregnancies and it now has around 35 players who have lost a baby shortly before, during or after birth.
He won Sky Bet Real Football Number Ones, an award scheme to honour people who go above and beyond in grassroots football and Alex beat 900 nominations to the top spot.
He’s also won major prizes for the team – in effect financial support for a couple of years including 48 shirts and full kit personalised for the dads with the names or stars for the babies they’ve lost, training pitch costs for two years, pitch hire for six 11-a-side tournaments and 150 bereavement packs so the dads can get the support they need.
Alex has also won 10 VIP tickets for the Sky Bet EFL Championship 2024 play-off final at Wembley including a behind-the-scenes tour of Wembley Stadium.
The judges were chaired by Sky stalwart Jeff Stelling and included famous football pundits Graeme Souness and Clinton Morrison.
They decided the touching story and incredible dedication shown by Alex was the best example of a footballing hero making a genuine difference off the pitch.
Leigh Peacock-Goodwin, head of brand and sponsorship at Sky Bet, added: “I’m so thrilled to announce that Alex Walmsley is our first official Real Football No1. Alex truly was our number one which he earned for turning personal loss into something extraordinarily positive with Sands United.”
As chairman of Sands United Alex has many responsibilities including sorting out kits, encouraging new members to take part, folding raffle tickets, booking the pitches, organising the players and even hosting fundraisers for charity.
Alex is passionate about having a safe space for men to chat and play football where they are surrounded by others who have been through similar devastating experiences, creating a strong support network.
Alex said: “I formed Sands United West Yorkshire after me and my wife lost three babies in three separate pregnancies. I also lost my brother Josh when I was younger.
“As there wasn’t anything else out there I set up the club for men who have lost babies. They come along, play football and grieve through football.
“It’s for my children and it’s their legacy. They are not here, they’re not growing up, they are not aging, but this club is in their memory and if it wasn’t for them there wouldn’t be a club.
“The stars we have under our badge are personalised to each player. I have four stars – one for each of my children and one for my brother.
“One of the guys said to me that every hour he plays it feels like it’s his daddy daughter time. That’s the one hour a week he spends with her and he knows she’s there because of the badges on his chest.”
Alex added: “It’s a tough conversation to have. You don’t want to talk about something so negative but if we don’t then things are going to happen where people are going to repress these emotions and it just gets worse and worse for them.
“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and that we even exist. Eventually I’d love to have our own pitch, our own ground. I’d love to have different teams whether it be different levels of male football, whether it be female football, children’s football.
“I just want that legacy to keep going and, one day, I think my proudest moment will be when my children are wearing that shirt for their brothers and sisters.”
Player Chris Hudson said: “Alex is football’s number one. He’s literally saving men’s lives. We are there with our mates for our mates.”
Find out more about Sands United West Yorkshire at https://www.facebook.com/sandsunitedwestyorkshire/
Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.