Club Spotlight - AFC Unity

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July’s edition of Club Spotlight features AFC Unity, a multi-award winning women’s club that has received national recognition for its contributions and successes within grassroots football. SHCFA met up with Jane Watkinson, Jay Baker and Charlotte Marshall who are at the forefront of this success.

What is your role and how do you support the club? (JW)

I am a director, secretary, admin and a player. I basically do a bit of everything and anything that needs to be done behind the scenes. There are a lot of fund raising bids that we have put together and research that we also do, along with all the basic administration that comes with running a football team. I also support the coaches with sessions when possible as well as supporting the other projects that we have running. Charlotte supports me and is also a director and player at the club. She is also looking to become our club welfare officer for this season.

What do you feel the club does well? (JW)

When creating the club we really wanted it to be a club that has strong links to the community and we believe we have developed good relationships with this. We really feel that it is important to invest and support the local community and we have built this into several projects. I think the fact that we are one of a few women only clubs is a positive and we are a great attendance at training and games. We have players from all over come to play for us not just Sheffield based.

What experience do you think the players have during their time at the club? (CM)

We have players from a variety of backgrounds with mixed experiences and we really try to engage with them all. We want a 100% positive environment where people can really find a love for football. We encourage players to try new things and make mistakes and the emphasis is always on fun. I think the players will also experience a great social side as part of AFC unity.

“the women we have in the team now are brilliant and very dedicated and prefer to do things the hard way than take any short-cuts”

How does the club support its coaches and volunteers? (JW)

We support staff looking to progress onto courses and training events to progress their knowledge. Through our funding bids we have financial support for these courses to allow people to attend. We also help people with courses such as safeguarding, welfare and sports psychology.

What are the next steps for the club?

We had a hard season last season in terms of results so we would like to have a better season for the 1st team. We would love to be able to find out own grounds with a club house that we could use. This would really help us develop our social and community aims. Further down the line we would also like junior teams but this will depend on funding and resources that we have available. We do face barriers of finding pitch space that is suitable at the moment.

What are some of the other projects running that AFC Unity have created?

The Solidarity Soccer project is one that is having a great deal of success. It is a programme based on non-competitive and social focused training. The ethos of the sessions revolve around hope over fear and how football can be a positive force for change. These are proving very popular and we hope to continue to grow this programme.

The other project we run is the Football for Food campaign which is based on players, management and supporters brining donations of food with them when they come to games. This has also included support from the opposition who have provided great support for this initiative. The food collected is then distributed across four Sheffield food banks. The campaign aims to raise awareness of poverty in the local areas. So far, we have collected 870 kilograms of food over 24 events.

“It took me out of my comfort zone at first but when I met the staff and the players and saw how friendly and supportive they were”

SHCFA then had the opportunity to speak to a few players around their experiences since joining the club.

Steph (GK) – I have really enjoyed my time at the club and it is a very approachable club. I think we are inclusive and encouraging and provide something for everyone. There are also some great characters at the club.

Michelle (Def) – I’m 55 years old and this is my first experience of football. I love playing and really enjoy being part of the club. It is open to everyone that wants to get involved and they are all so welcoming. It took me out of my comfort zone at first but when I met the staff and the players and saw how friendly and supportive they were, I wanted to stay. Jane and Jay and the rest of the staff have done so well to grow and develop the club to where it is now.

Sophie (Def) – I’ve played since 10 and I’m now 26. A lot of my previous clubs were very cliquey and negative which I didn’t really enjoy. Here everyone is so positive and enthusiastic about the club and football and that’s why I enjoy the club.

Jay Baker (Manager) - As with all coaching, the emphasis here is on the players rather than my voice but there is an added layer of importance on empowerment because we're an independent women's club so it's key that women are at the forefront - even the Board of Directors is all-female, and they drive it all, while I enact the on-the-pitch element in a way that's reflective of the ethos: so, we encourage positive play that's fearless, we don't park the bus, and we emphasise passing as part of the spirit of collectivism that's important to the club, as reflected by its community links. It's really hard to stick to that approach, but the women we have in the team now are brilliant and very dedicated and prefer to do things the hard way than take any short-cuts. I think this is what makes us interesting: everything we do on the pitch is designed to come across as befitting the club's values, right down to the formations we play! "

The club has recently achieved great success for the work it is doing and listed below are some of their current awards:

-The FA Club Respect Award (Women’s Pyramid) -2016
-South Yorkshire LGBT+ Sports Personality Award - 2016
-Yorkshire Sports Foundation – Satellite Club of the Year (Bronze) – 2016

Sheffield & Hallamshire CFA representative Calum Oakenfold stated: “It was a great experience to go and meet Jane and the team. It is clear just from observing the session that the players involved have a great love and ownership over the club. The support, enjoyment and enthusiasm showcased was great to see and the underlying philosophy that the club want is evident. The club is a credit to the city and neighbouring areas for not only its developments in women’s football but its support and awareness of local community campaigns. They deserve every award they have achieved and hopefully other clubs can adopt similar links to community support. I would like to thank Jane, Jay and Charlotte for accommodating us and from all at Sheffield & Hallamshire CFA we wish them all the support and success for the future.