Ask DadPad, Bereavement

Ask DadPad: What is Sands United FC all about?

Posted on 2nd June 2023

In this week’s blog post, we’re shining a light on some of the amazing work being done by the teams at Sands – the UK charity focused on supporting those affected by pregnancy loss or the death of a baby.   As well as all the general information on their website, and their helpline, they also offer specific advice and support for men affected by baby loss, including brothers, uncles, grandparents, friends and colleagues, as well as dads.

In addition to their Sands Bereavement Support Book – which has a dedicated chapter just for dads and partners – they also have a private support group for men on Facebook and offer online support meetings, via their Sands Online Community.

The aspect of their work that we wanted to specifically focus on today, though, is their network of Sands United FC football teams.

Currently running over 35 active teams across the UK, the idea behind SUFC is to provide bereaved men with a support network via a shared love of sport, offering them the opportunity to talk about their grief when they feel ready. To date, the teams combined have supported nearly 1,000 men and their families, through a shared understanding and safe space to talk.

To learn more about Sands United, we spoke with James Havelock, Marketing and Communications Officer at Sands, and Craig Spivey, the Sands United Community Lead, about this unique initiative.

Where did the idea for Sands United FC come from?

Sands United started just over five years ago, on 23 May 2018.  After the loss of his daughter, Niamh, in 2017, Rob Allen attended a Sands bereavement support session with his wife, Charlotte.  Recognising the lack of men attending, alongside a need to offer a more informal setting, Rob organised a charity football match in the hope of raising money for Sands and supporting others he knew who had experienced loss, also.

The inaugural match was a huge success, both on and off the pitch, and what followed was the creation of the first Sands United team, SUFC Northants.  Brought together through shared experience, members of that special day, led by Rob, valued the importance of talking to one another in a relaxed environment.  Using the power of sport and a shared love of football, Sands United was able to open the opportunities for men to talk openly with others about their loss – something many struggle to do in certain situations.

Through peer-to-peer support within the team, Sands United empowers men to talk about loss, whilst also remembering their babies through matches and organised events, as well as displaying their names proudly on the shirts they play in.  Linked heavily to Sands Support Groups, Sands United allows the charity’s bespoke services to evolve and be enhanced.

How do the teams play?

Sands United was created naturally and has been allowed to evolve naturally, meeting the demands of the members and managers in a variety of different ways across the UK.  Currently, we see teams that meet once, twice and sometimes three times a week.  Some play competitively in local leagues, whilst others play more casually, against other charity teams or in local friendlies.  The format of competition is also not set, based on numbers and members’ demands, we have Sands United teams playing every version of football, such as five-, seven- and eleven-a-side matches.

The nature of Sands United is that we want it work for the people it serves.  The support element is never overlooked, but the make-up of a Sands United team evolves and diversifies through its existence.  Perhaps the most accurate way to describe what we do is to support men and their families by offering an opportunity to talk and grieve, and then kick a ball about in some shape or form.

Are there other ways to get involved in and become part of SUFC, even if you’re not a ‘player’?

Absolutely! The possibilities and opportunities within Sands United are limitless.  We have bereaved men as a part of Sands United who do so much, without stepping foot onto the pitch.  As well as playing, there’s space to support the running of the team, attending events and matches as support, and we even have members who support through officiating.

However you want to take part and get involved to support yourself, a Sands United team will welcome you with open arms.

Perhaps the most accurate way to describe what we do is to support men and their families by offering an opportunity to talk and grieve, and then kick a ball about in some shape or form.

What’s your personal experience of Sands United FC?  Do you play for a team, and how has it benefitted you?

Craig’s experience: I was first introduced to Sands United in 2019, learning of the few teams that existed at that time.  I am a bereaved family member – I lost my brother, stillborn, in 2007 and at the time I was 13 years old, so processed grief and my loss very differently.  My family received amazing support from Sands and, upon hearing about Sands United, I felt this was a chance for me to give back to a charity that meant so much.  In August 2019, I therefore set up Sands United Hull & East Yorkshire, a team that – in its four years – has achieved amazing things and supported many men and families in my area.  To date, I still manage the team and play weekly, representing my brother and al the other babies lost too soon.

For me, Sands United gave me the opportunity to give back, but what I never expected was the level of support I received and naïvely never felt I needed.  I can confidently and comfortably process my brother’s loss now, talking about his member and that time of life amongst people I am comfortable to confide in.  I have met some inspirational people over the last four years, most of whom I am proud to now call friends.  We share a bond that I never wish we shared, but a bond that will never leave.  I love the environment that is created within teams – there’s a genuine want to care, alongside an uplifting atmosphere.  We support one another through loss, but the positivity in the space is always in abundance.

For me and many others that I speak to, Sands United is a team that you never want to see grow, but one that you cannot be without.  To take what, for most, will be the most difficult experience of their life and turn that into a positive and supportive experience for others is a testimony to everyone who wears a Sands United shirt.  I am immensely proud to be a part of that network.

Craig has also shared with us this link, which takes you to the stories of two other managers who are also part of Sands United: The soccer club that’s tackling grief.

What should a dad do if he thinks he might want to join a local team?

Get in contact when you’re comfortable and ready. You can find info on your local team using the following link: but take a look on social media, too, and get to know your local team a bit more.

And NEVER be concerned about not being able to play, kick a ball straight, or your level of fitness.  Sands United is not created for the footballer or athlete inside us; it’s created to support everyone who needs it, regardless of ability, age or fitness levels.

What if there’s no team in his area already?

Sands United is an ever-growing network but if, for whatever reason, there’s no team local to you, then do get in contact with us or maybe even think about starting your own:

There’s a simple application phase to go through, lead and supported by Craig, James and our colleague, Pete, ensuring that you have everything you need to provide bereavement support for yourself and others in your local area.  As mentioned before, the structure of Sands United allows us to create teams based on demand and reality; there’s no base level of commitment required, so teams can fit around your daily lives.

How do the players share their experiences?  Is there a formal opportunity to chat, or does it all take place more informally?

On the whole, Sands United creates an informal space for men to come together and share their experiences, whenever and wherever they feel comfortable and ready to do so.  Fundamentally, there will always be a peer to listen to your experience and offer support based on shared understanding, wherever you are and in whatever setting you’re participating in.  Some teams do offer a structured ‘support session’ around the football, at set times away from the pitch, recognising the difficulty sometimes in expressing emotions and of opening up to a group, but needing to confide in an understanding peer.

Why do you think that this informal model of encouraging men to talk and share their emotions is such a successful approach?

Sands United works because it allows freedom to the individuals involved.  We all have emotions and controlling them can be difficult.  Sands United offers a constant provision for men to come together whilst adapting to suit the needs of its members as and when required.  As someone feels ready to share, someone is ready to listen.  It’s a recognition that the space has been created and an opportunity is present for you; you can utilise that opportunity whenever you need to, as many or as few times as you require. Just having that support and presence around you is enough for some, creating a secure environment for others to grieve their loss, where nothing is expected of you.

If a bereaved dad/man feels the need for support for his grief, but doesn’t feel that joining SUFC would suit him, what other options does Sands offer?

Sands offer a range of support, in many forms, to families experiencing baby loss.

To find information on the range of support that is on offer and to investigate what you think might suit you, follow the link to our website for more information:

[There’s also a Sands United eSports online community and a ‘Sands United Fishing‘ group, which is part of SUFC London.]

Thank you so much for your time, and for sharing all of this with us.  Would you like to end by telling us a bit about the new ‘Together we are Sands’ campaign?

The Sands community is unlike any other: a community connected through the power of shared experiences that exists to make a difference to save babies’ lives and support anyone affected by loss.

This June, we are celebrating the impact of the connections we make within and beyond the Sands community. Whatever the reason you found Sands, wherever you live, and whatever you do, we want to help you connect with others.

Your connections can help people to understand why Sands exists, share what we do and grow our community so that together, we can save babies’ lives and support bereaved families.

Together, we are connected. Together, we are Sands:

References and further reading:

Sands Charity webpages and social media:

Sands United FC teams across the UK (in June 2023):

Sands United eSports: Twitter

Sands United fishing – via SUFC London: Instagram

References and further sources of information:

Capaldi, Lewis (2023) Pointless (Rob Allen’s Story), on [online]

Ryan, Hannah (2023) The soccer club that’s tackling grief, on (29.03.2023) [online]