One of the great aspects of living in the modern world is the improvements in healthcare. No longer are we terrified of the common cold. The plague is not a regular occurrence. We’ve said goodbye to smallpox and polio. The benefits of modern medicine are far more reason to be thankful for the 21st Century than the ability to send a cat video thousands of miles within a few milliseconds. But unfortunately, we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re without a cure for cancer, diseases like the Zika virus are cropping up and, most heart-breaking of all, babies are still dying. Neonatal mortality rates are declining as we find ways to make pregnancies safer and resolve complications that may arise, but there are still countless babies dying either before labour or in their first few days of life. While this fact in itself is painful enough to consider, what about the families who are left behind? What about the parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings who lose the new member of their family in such a tragic way? How can they find a way to cope with their loss?
An unusual answer has come to light: football. In Northampton’s Nene Valley League a new club has recently formed with a very important message. Sands United FC is a football club made up of fathers and family members who have been affected by the loss of a baby; through miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death. It’s about men supporting each other during the worst of times. The loss itself is an experience no-one can truly understand until they’ve experienced it, but an equally hard process is continuing with the rest of your life afterwards. This football team hopes to make it slightly easier; by channelling the feelings of teamwork, achievements and unity.
The Team not only works to support the members, but also have a drive to “break the silence” through awareness and fundraising. They have already raised over £5000 for Sands (a stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and with increasing press attention on the club, it’s only a matter of time before that number starts to rise astronomically. However more important than the financial contribution, the football club is an incredible emotional support system for parents who have been devastated by the loss of a child.
Football may seem like a silly medium to process grief but actually, the sport does more good than we realise. Danny Rose recently spoke out during the World Cup mania about his own personal battles and how he found comfort and help within his team. Working within a team allows the men to rely on each other and find ways to develop friendships with people who can empathise with their loss. It brings together adults from different backgrounds with a common struggle; and creates a community of support for people dealing with parental loss. Additionally, in an era where male mental health is at critical levels (suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 50), it can only be good that men are finding a forum where they are comfortable to share their feelings and process their emotions.
If football is a proving an effective way for men to work through their mental health issues, then we are backing this 100%. Sand is encouraging the original founders of Sands United FC to reach out to parents and families in similar situations to set up their own clubs, in order to help create more platforms to process unimaginable loss and a unique form of adult mental health. Grab your tissues and watch the beautiful video below the men created for Baby Loss Awareness Week; then get your thinking cap on and figure out how you can show your support for everyone’s new favourite football team.