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Sands United FC set for a special first game

Sands United FC Belfast is a team of bereaved fathers and family members who will play their first game against Sands United FC Maiden City at Billy Neill Pitches in Dundonald this Saturday afternoon Sands United FC Belfast is a team of bereaved fathers and family members who will play their first game against Sands United FC Maiden City at Billy Neill Pitches in Dundonald this Saturday afternoon
By David Mohan

THE first game for a new team is always a special occasion, but for the players of Sands United FC Belfast, Saturday will represent something a little different.

Having just been formed in recent months by London native Omar Barrett, the group of 20-plus bereaved fathers and family members will kick-off a relatively new venture that has brought men together who are dealing with the grief of losing a child.

It will be a bittersweet occasion when they take on Sands United, Maiden City at Billy Neill Pitches in Dundonald at 4.30pm as they pull on the jersey for the first time that will feature the name and date of birth of their respective child.

Yet, it will also mark a huge positive for a group of men who have been going through their own personal trauma, but through the power of sport, have come together to support each other and get back to some form of normality.

“We are a bereaved dad’s football team,” said Omar, more commonly known as ‘Barry’.

“What happened was, my wife and I lost our son in February of this year and I just thought there didn’t seem to be much support for men in the same situation here.

“I got in touch with SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) of Northern Ireland and they said there wasn’t and sports or football for men in that situation here.

“The guy, Stephen asked would I consider starting something and I thought I would give it a go because there are men in the same situation who don’t know what to do or who to talk to.”

Omar arrived I Belfast 20 years ago having met his future wife in London and his passion for football led him to Rosario FC in South Belfast where he played for many years.

He and his wife have two sons aged 21 and an 18 year-old who also plays on the team, but it was the tragic loss of their third child earlier this year that prompted Omar to pull on the boots again.

A Facebook page drew the attention of men who were experiencing similar grief and it has drawn players from across Belfast and beyond.

“I used to play for Rosario here when I first came 20 years ago, so I started a Facebook page called Sands United FC Belfast and put it out there that if there were any bereaved dads, brothers or uncles in the same situation, we could form a team or get together for a kick-about even,” he explained.

“I’m sure there are more bereaved dads and family members out there who could benefit from this.

“It’s been going well so far but we would like to move it on a bit further. We have lads from across Belfast; most are from West Belfast, but I live in South just off the Ormeau Road and there is even a boy who comes from Antrim, so everyone is welcome from across the city.”

Maiden City was the first of the Sands team to form last year and since then, there have been strides made in Coleraine, Newry and now Belfast with efforts to form a team in Lisburn also.

The Belfast team meets each Wednesday at Olympia from 7pm-8pm for a kick-about and this Saturday, they will do it for real against their Sands counterparts from Derry.

Omar works as a chef in Hatch on the Falls Road where a bus will leave at 3pm on Saturday to transport players, family members and supporters to Dundonald for the game against Sands Maiden City and he is thankful for his employer and Pizza Guys for sponsorship that has helped buy kits and equipment.

While the idea of Sands’ teams is relatively new, the hope is that Saturday will be the beginning of something where other teams from across the North and beyond spring up to form a league in the future.

However, Saturday will be special occasion where a group of men from different cities come together to turn a negative into something positive.

“It’s as much of a positive as you can take out of a bad situation,” said ‘Barry’.

“It’s great to be able to get lads out and meet people in the same situation. We are hoping to get some people coming on Saturday afternoon to support us.

“We are hoping to get a game every month and we’re trying to get a game against Lisburn Distillery’s Over 35s team and other games against teams like that from around Belfast. It would be great to eventually get a bit of a league started in the future.”

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