London football club offers new hope for grieving fathers

For the players of Sands United FC London, their local football team means a little bit more.

The players have been brought together by grief, as they are all amongst the one in four fathers in the UK who have experienced the tragedy of miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death.

Despite its alarming commonness, emotional support provision for bereaved fathers is in short supply.

Shareef Mani lost his child to stillbirth in October 2019.

Initially, he felt his support options were far too narrow: speak to a conventional counsellor, or be left to your own devices.

Shareef said: “I’ve always been the type where the conventional route never works.

“There are many out there who it doesn’t work for. There were never really any channels or avenues that men could go down.”

Enter Sands United FC London, a regional offshoot of Sands United, a football club established by a charity for stillbirths and neonatal deaths. 

UNITED BY GRIEF: The players of Sands United FC London face a shared experience. Image credit: Mark Shepherd

Every player is united by their shared experience of loss, and every game the players don shirts featuring the names of their children.

The club kicked off two years ago with a small handful of players and they now number around 30 strong.

Shareef joined Sands United FC a year on from his child’s passing.

He added: “Looking back, I wish I joined sooner rather than later. I think it’s an absolutely amazing bunch, everyone looks after each other.”

The unique appeal of Sands United is that it is, fundamentally, a sports club.

This means that bereaved fathers can join other men with similar experiences in a natural, unforced setting in which there’s no requirement to articulate their grief.

Shareef explained: “There’s never really pressure or obligation upon the individual to come into the group and speak about what they’re going through.

“It’s all about finding a support network where the individual can feel at ease and to talk about their grief when they’re ready, but they don’t have to talk about it. 

“Emotional support is subjective, and individuals work on a case-by-case basis.”

Sands United has brought together a wide range of players, from football fanatics to novices who simply enjoy the company.

“Some people are part of our group who have never played football, who’ve never touched a football in their life,” Shareef added.

“With other people it’s just being part of a very organic group of men, being able to receive any emotional support or words of wisdom or ways to kind of tackle any sort of grief. 

“Some of them just read the messages to help them get through the day.”

After the Euros thrust the binding power of football into the spotlight this summer, Sands United hope that more men will come forward and join their growing community.

ROYAL VISIT: The Duke of Cambridge with a Sands United FC shirt. Image credit: Mark Shepherd

Last year they received a visit from the Duke of Cambridge, who praised the club for sending a very good message.

“People can come here without feeling judged,” he said.

“It’s about feeling confident enough to have that first conversation and say, ‘things aren’t great’. 

“It’s okay not to be okay.”

You can find Sands United FC London on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or email them on [email protected].

Related Articles