By Andy Hirst, Special Correspondent
A football team set up in Huddersfield to help dads who have suffered the anguish of losing a baby has won a regional football tournament and helped to raise more than £1,000 for charity.
Sands United FC Huddersfield now has around 35 players who are all men who have lost a baby shortly before, during or after birth.
Sands (https://www.sands.org.uk/) raises money to try to understand why so many babies die, to improve maternity and neonatal care and to provide better bereavement care and support as it varies in quality across the UK.
The Huddersfield team has just competed in the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Sands Tournament and won it this year after not winning a game there last year.
Sands United FC was set up in Huddersfield by 34-year-old Alex Walmsley, who said: “Last year Huddersfield lost every game and didn’t score a goal. This year we won three out of four games, scored 19 goals, got to the final and won.”
Huddersfield striker Dominic Simpson won the golden Boot as top scorer and midfielder Matty Dalton was named player of the tournament as voted for by other managers.
Huddersfield beat Grimsby in the final.
Just over £500 was raised on the day and Alex works for Lloyds Banking Group who matched the amount, bringing the total to more than £1,000.
Alex and wife Olivia, 27, have suffered three baby losses in the early stages of pregnancy and Alex’s mum had also lost a baby years ago. Alex and Olivia, who live in Heckmondwike, have since had a son, Toby, born in March 2020 and their other son is seven-year-old Isaac.
The Sands United FC Huddersfield players have their babies’ names on their shirts and Alex has four stars on his.
“We have so much pride wearing our shirts,” said Alex. “The football team is for anyone who has lost a baby or has been touched by it so my brother plays along with two lads who worked with me and became my support network. Some of the younger players have lost brothers or sisters as babies.”
Alex added: “Football is a great way for us to get talking. The players support lots of different clubs from Manchester United and Leeds to Liverpool so one minute we’re talking about football rivalries and the next we’re talking about our baby loss. The bond between us all is incredibly strong.”
Sands United FC Huddersfield was originally set up at Soccer City in Waterloo but since that shut down they have played at St John Fisher Catholic Voluntary Academy in Heckmondwike on Sundays at 12 noon. There are usually around 20 players so they play 8-a-side games.
There are now Sands football teams across the UK after the first one was set up in Northampton in 2018.
In the UK in 2018 around 5,000 babies were stillborn or died within the first four weeks of their lives – that’s 75% of the deaths of children under 16 years old. The cause of death is never known for one in four of the babies.
* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who now runs his own Huddersfield-based agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting for business in Yorkshire and across the UK.