A group of bereaved fathers have formed a charity football team aimed at supporting parents dealing with the loss of a child.
Sands (stillborn and neo-natal death) United Football Club was first formed in Northampton but is spreading nationwide and this month its Brighton and Hove team will play its first match at Steyning Town FC.
Shoreham’s Andy Lindley lost his son Dexter, who was stillborn in 2014, and has been one of the driving forces behind setting up a local team.
He said he and his wife Leah were naturally devastated, but he had become more confident talking about his loss in the four months since he became involved with Sands.
“Many grieving fathers bottle up their feelings, which can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, so we want to help break the silence among men, empower them to own their feelings and take care of their mental health,” he said.
“Through this team we are hoping to give these players and men a support network so they can finally feel able to open up about their loss.”
Andy said he had never understood grief until he and his wife were told their son would not survive.
Anger, despair and heartbreak followed, he said, after everything they were so excited about was suddenly taken from them.
“Then came the devastating news that in the coming weeks we still had to go through labour, knowing our baby had not survived, the worst moments of our lives,” he said.
“The maternity staff were carrying out a delivery they wish they didn’t have to, you could see the effect it was having on them.
“What seemed like only minutes later we were saying goodbye to our baby boy, Dexter. Goodbye to the hopes, the dreams and plans we had already built for him.
“Goodbye to all those memories and experiences we were looking so forward to making and we were left with an insurmountable emptiness, a void that guilt, depression, anger, confusion and misery would fill.
“In the time since, I wouldn’t say we’ve grown stronger – perhaps better at hiding the pain, learning to live with it or accepting that we will feel happy at times and not feeling too guilty about that.
“We remember and miss our little boy every day and use the haunting grief to motivate ourselves to do something to honour him, to try and reduce the number of families that have to embark on this journey.”
Leah has since given birth to another son, Jackson, but the memory of Dexter has not faded from their lives.
In Sands United teams, each player wears the name of their child on their chests, sewn onto their kit.
Matches will also be dedicated to anybody reaching a milestone, such as a birthday or anniversary of their loss. As well as supporting bereaved parents, Sands works with local hospitals and midwives as well as funding research to try and reduce the number of babies that die before, during or shortly after birth in the UK.
According to the charity, stillborn and neo-natal deaths occur every 90 minutes.
The Sussex team’s first match will take place on Father’s Day, June 16, at Steyning Town’s Shooting Field ground.
Lining up against a Dads 11, the teams will kick off at 10.30am with tickets priced £5 for adults and £2 for children.
Tickets can be purchased from www.ticketsource.co.uk/sandsunitedbrighton
As well as the match, the team are undertaking a full pre-season with plans to enter next season’s Sussex Sunday Football League.