New football team for grieving parents launches in Norwich
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A bereaved Norwich dad has set up a football team aimed at bringing together people affected by stillbirth and neonatal death.
In June 2020, Guy Mansfield and his wife were left heartbroken when their daughter, Emma (named for their midwife at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital), was stillborn at 37 weeks.
The couple had no idea what they would be faced with, and thought they had a perfectly normal pregnancy.
“My wife went into labour naturally, and off we went to the hospital, carry cot in hand. It was a complete shock when we arrived to find that Emma had no heartbeat and had died.
“The consultant estimated she died in the 24 to 48 hours before labour had begun, and there was nothing my wife could have done. No way she could have known.”
In the UK, every day around 13 babies die before, during or soon after birth. This means that every two hours a family face the same devastation that Guy and his family suffered. In fact, contrary to what many believe, stillbirths due to genetic or developmental issues count for less than one in ten stillborn babies, with the cause of death unknown in almost half of those 10.
The extreme sadness and shock of his wife having to give birth to Emma, and the moments with her afterwards, are difficult to describe, says Guy.
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“It still hurts deeply. Emotions until the funeral were painful. I felt numb and still am to some degree. Carrying my daughter’s coffin into the chapel for the ceremony was horrific. As time moves on the pain rarely leaves, and there will always be a gap in our family.”
After the loss of his daughter, Guy overheard an interview with SANDS United FC on the radio and on realising there was no such club in Norfolk, felt inspired to do something positive in Emma’s memory.
SANDS (Stillbirth And Neonatal Death) is a UK-wide network of volunteers who provide support for anyone affected by the death of a baby, through stillbirth or neonatal death. The aim of the charity is also to improve the care parents receive, and create a world in which fewer babies die.
The first SANDS Utd FC began in Northampton in 2017, when couple Rob and Charlotte Allen’s baby daughter Niamh died at 39 weeks and three days. The couple vowed to create a legacy in her memory, and footy mad Rob set up a charity match in aid of SANDS in 2018. The club went on to receive an award from Pride of Britain, and was featured in the 2020 BBC documentary Football, Prince William, and Our Mental Health. Since its launch, SANDS FC has now grown to over 33 teams across the UK and Ireland.
Guy set up SANDS Utd FC Norwich with Norfolk SANDS in June this year and is keen to spread awareness of the charity. The group is looking for new team players, as well as charitable support, donations and sponsorship to help with kit and pitch hire costs.
The grief of losing a baby is overwhelming and many bereaved fathers find it hard to access the right support, or find it difficult to share their grief with their partners or loved ones. SANDS Utd FC provides a space in which these men, and their relatives, can feel acknowledged and supported.
There’s no expectation for members to ‘open up’ or discuss their personal experiences, unless they want to, or to be brilliant footballers. “No level of footballing ability is required…my best footballing days are far behind me,” Guy adds, saying: “Each player will also have their own personalised kit, where they can proudly display the name of the child, or children, that they are honouring. We would love players families to also be involved in supporting their relative in the club.”
For any newly bereaved father, the club will provide an unpressurised avenue for friendship and support, with people who understand, says Guy. “This club is worth much more than a win after 90 minutes. Being part of a team, and meeting new friends in such sad circumstances, yet with a desire to positively honour my daughter’s memory is why I’m very much looking forward to being a small part of it.”
If you are interested in joining, or think you can provide financial support, please get in touch through the SANDS United FC Norwich Twitter and Facebook accounts, email Guy at SUFCNorwich@gmail.com or call, message or WhatsApp on 07731 418472.
You can also visit the SANDS United FC All Teams on Facebook Facebook page to see how clubs nationwide are supporting bereaved fathers and families.
If you have been affected by the death of a baby from stillbirth, or neonatal death, you can call SANDS Helpline 0808 164 3332 email@example.com