Footy team set up by dads who have lost a child win first game after 18 months

A struggling footy team set up by dads who have lost a child have finally secured their first win after 18 months and dedicated it to “all our angels”.

Sands United in Doncaster, a Sunday league football team, had been bottom of the league after seeing some disturbing 16-0 defeats.

Last season they lost all their fixtures apart from one, which was a draw.

But the determined amateur players, who have all experienced the death of a baby, either as a father or a family member, carried on fighting.

And finally on Sunday they beat Hyde Park 7-0, bringing an end to their lengthy winless league run.

They tweeted after the weekend’s victory: “We’ve only gone and done it!!! The 1st ever Sands United Doncaster league win, and what a win it was!! Oh and a 1st ever clean sheet too!”

Sands United Doncaster is part of stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, with similar amateur teams established around the country.

John Drury, 28, club founder and centre forward, from Belle Vue, said: “It was just an unbelievable feeling, everyone was ecstatic at the final whistle…it was so refreshing to see.

“We were losing 16-0 some days and I was seeing the effect it had on players’ mental health, so it was a feeling of ultimate pride.

“We played superbly and it was down to their keeper that the score stayed respectable.”

John’s son Arthur died in his arms just six hours after being born with a wide range of congenital abnormalities in February 2018.

They later found out after blood tests that John’s wife Grace, 23, had unknowingly miscarried Arthur’s twin at just five weeks.

The couple last year experienced the joy of giving birth to their “rainbow” daughter Dora and are expecting another baby just before Christmas.

John, a support worker for adults with learning disabilities, added: “When I found out my first born was going to be a boy, my first thought was looking forward to taking him to Doncaster Rovers and his football training.

“Obviously I didn’t get to do that, but this is my way of playing football with my son for 90 minutes, whether I’m playing or watching on the sideline.

“Our youngest player is 16 and our oldest is 47. We have 21 dads who have lost their child and a mix of siblings, uncles and even a grandfather alongside two NHS workers who work in childbirth and experience our situation.

“The team gives men the chance to get together and talk about what they have experienced. It is often hard for men to express emotions, and also it is difficult for other people to be able to say the right thing.

“Football is a common bond for us all, and across the team we have probably experienced every type of loss of a child imaginable.

“It’s been crucial for me and my teammates, but now we are winning games it’s an even better feeling.

“I think we are in for a really good season.”

The players take to the pitch with the names of the children they have lost written under their badges.

John said:”Arthur’s name is on my kit. It’s under our badge and my chest, all our angels are…just where our hearts would be.”

Recalling their horrific 16-0 defeat against Wadworth, John said: “The referee sin-binned our goalkeeper at 13.0 with six minutes left.”

The win lifts them from the bottom spot of the Doncaster Sunday Alliance League Division One table for the first time in more than a year.

Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020, which aims to raise awareness about pregnancy and baby death in the UK, begins on Friday.