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SANDS UNITED NORTHERN IRELAND

Sadly, the death of a baby is not a rare event and every 90 minutes in the UK – the length of a football match – a baby dies shortly before, during or soon after birth.

When a baby dies the feelings of loneliness and isolation can be overwhelming and having other bereaved parents to talk to is vital, but dads can sometimes be overlooked or struggle to find ways of getting support that suits them.

We know that some men can struggle to talk about how they’re feeling after the death of a baby. We hope that by building trust and a common bond, by playing together as a team, many more will be able to break their silence about baby loss and help others to do the same.

Playing team sports can aid the grieving process by helping lift someone’s mood, give them a focus, help with sleep problems, and reduce feelings of isolation. SANDS United FC is a unique way for dads and other bereaved family members to come together through a shared love of sport and find a support network where they can feel at ease talking about their grief when they’re ready. SANDS United FC has already saved the lives of men left feeling like they had no one to turn to in their grief.

The first SANDS United FC grew from grief after Charlotte and Rob Allen’s baby daughter Niamh died on 9 October 2017 at 39 weeks and 3 days. The couple vowed to do all they could to honour their daughter’s memory and ensure her legacy lived forever on, and Rob’s love of football led to him organising a football match at Northampton Town FC in aid of SANDS on 23 May 2018.

After the success of the match, the bereaved dads, uncles and brothers decided to form SANDS United FC, in Northampton’s Nene Valley League. Rob’s initial idea has led to the creation of 30 + SANDS United teams across all corners of the UK.

Stephen’s Story

My son Jude was tragically stillborn on 4th November 2014. Myself and my wife Karen went to hospital 3 days after his due date, due to some concerns we had. On this visit we were told there was no heartbeat. I will never forget the feeling of total loss and heartbreak at that moment, as Karen and I held each other. We only had a scan 2 weeks previously, with nothing suggesting anything abnormal. Karen now had the knowledge that she still had to give birth to our baby,  knowing that he would not be coming home with us.  

We returned to the hospital and after about 9 hours of labor, Karen gave birth to our beautiful baby boy, Jude Joseph Doran. As I held my baby son for the first time, at that moment, I felt like the proudest father in the world. Despite us knowing that Jude will never open his eyes, never hold my finger with his chunky hands and never kick a football with his daddy, nothing can ever take that moment away from me.   

I spent the next 2 years tirelessly raising awareness and funds for stillbirth research and baby loss through running (I have continued with this over the last 2 years, running more than 400 X 3 mile runs in memory of babies gone too soon, during my lunch break).  This included several marathons and a 164 mile walk from over 5 days from London to my home in Llantrisant (near Cardiff). In this time though, I never spoke to another bereaved father to see how they coped with their loss. However, I was moved by the idea and concept of the original SANDS United story and I thought it sounded like an unique but amazing outlet to help support other fathers, to talk about our Angels (who we love and miss every day) and to play in their memory.

Therefore, I looked into creating a team to support fathers in South Wales. With support from my local SANDS Group (Cardiff & Newport), the first message went out via Facebook in February 2019 to establish interest in the team. In the space of two months, we had 18 fathers interested and the first official SANDS United Cardiff team meeting was held on 27th March 2019. The team continued to evolve and grow, seeing the team support 36 bereaved fathers and uncles in less than a year after it was created. All the players are all extremely proud to wear the SANDS United jersey. Each player’s Angel’s name sits proudly under the crest of our jersey and every player has wears a numbered shirt that has a significant meaning to them (mine is 4, the date in November that Jude was born).

Feilecain Fathers v SANDS United Northern Ireland match

In a way to further honour our team's Angels and also spread the message of support from Rob Allen's original idea, I contacted Féileacáin (in 2019) with the idea of playing an international charity match. On a personal & emotional level, being from Dublin, it feels I have an opportunity to bring Jude home by playing this game. However, more importantly, it is an opportunity to share the pitch with other bereaved fathers, to show they are not alone and representing our Angels. The game originally was due to take place in May 2020 but unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted these plans for SANDS United Cardiff to play. However, to ensure this game still takes place and spread an important message for bereaved fathers, I invited players from the teams representing SANDS United in Northern Ireland (Belfast, Maiden City, Dungannon, Larne).

As a team,  we are privileged and honoured that we have the opportunity to be able to share the pitch with our brothers in Féileacáin. In a time when Mental Health is so much firmly in the spotlight, we want to spread the message that it is ok not to be ok. It is ok to ask for help. We want to encourage men to talk, about their loss, their angel, their feelings. Don’t ever feel you are alone as there is help out there. I believe that the loss of a child is not something you can move on from, but you can move forward.

We are the team that nobody wants to be part of but we are united. We are united in grief. We are united as bereaved fathers. We are united in the love of our Angels. We are SANDS United.

 

  • Stephen Doran will be playing for his son Jude

  • Omar Barry will be playing for his son Quinn

  • Jordan Neill will be playing for his son Rory Joseph

  • Andrew Maguire will be playing for his angel and his nephew Callum

  • Stephen Murray will be playing for his daughter Grace

  • Brian Mc Larnon will be playing for his son Declan

  • Peter Tierney will be playing for his son Cahir

  • Bobby Quinn will be playing for his angel

  • Carlo Angelone will be playing for his son Filippo

  • Charlie, Michael and Manuswill be playing for their angel Peanut

  • James Monaghen will be playing for his son JJ

  • Gary Caldwell will be playing for his son Cameron Gary

  • Matt Carson will be playing for his angel

  • Peter Gibson will be playing for his daughter Ruby Elizabeth

  • Neil Brennan will be playing for his angel