Men often find it very difficult to open up and the idea of lots of men coming together for the same reason, is what helps in combatting that.
“Stereotypically we’re rocks aren’t we, we’re the ones everyone depends on. We’re not allowed to wobble, and we’re supposed to have this toxic masculinity.
“SANDS held fire with launching a team in the Brighton area at first because no one really came forward, then in February 2019, I got in touch with the Sussex County FA and put the first message out and it’s grown from there.
“From losing my son, to him giving me the encouragement to set something up, it’s done so much for me. Many people say what I’ve done for them in regard to Sands United that I sometimes forget what it’s actually done for me.
“We’ve gone from me putting the word out with a few Facebook posts to now 54 registered players. We’re quite unique in the sense that I had to accept non-bereaved players at first because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to start.
“One big question on the registration form states that you’re going to be playing with men that are potentially mentally fragile and by joining this team, you’re joining that support network.
“If someone is struggling then you talk to them. If that’s scary or daunting, then fine it might not be for you, but we thankfully haven’t had that!
“If a game falls on what we call an ‘angelversary’, a term we use which isn’t from a religious point of view, we just like to view our babies as angels that are looking down on us, and we dedicate that match to them. If a Dad wants to, they can become captain for the day, sometimes that’s a nice distraction.”
The support network at the club doesn’t just stop there with many teams and players coming together to support the work they do: “I’m extremely proud of Brighton & Hove and Sussex as a whole for joining us for minutes silences anytime we have an angelversary, teams are always very respectful.
“At least two times a month we’ll have opposition players come up and tell us their story and share their experience of baby-loss. We’re never on a recruitment drive or looking to poach players, but we always make it very clear that if you need a support network, we can be there for you.”
“Going through what these guys are going through I think it’s really important to have the support around you. Around likeminded people that know what you’re going through.
“We have some Dads that don’t talk, and have never talked, but we’re very confident they are getting what they need, because some people are just readers and will watch what’s going on.
“At the beginning it was tough for me because I was kind of the conduit for all conversations, and it can be very dangerous to take on everyone else’s emotions and grief and ignore your own.
“I’m very lucky though to be around such a great committee, so very quickly it wasn’t on my shoulders. It’s been a great distraction for me though and has taught me to be able to say my son’s name, Dexter, with a smile on my face and with pride.
“One of the most humbling things for me was when I found out WhatsApp groups were being made between players, so they could be in touch with each other should they need anything, especially when COVID first hit.
“Another thing I love is that Dads who were brought to us by a friend, are now interacting with everyone in the team without the help of that friend.
“Other than that period where I wrongly assumed everything was my responsibility, it’s been nothing but positive and it’s changed my life for the better.”