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Football club set up to support bereaved men to hold family fun-day in Lurgan

"With our kits you can put your child's name on the badge. It just gives you that bit more pride because you're not playing for yourself, you're playing for all these wee angels."

A Co Armagh football team set up to help men cope with the loss of their babies is planning a fun-day to help raise awareness around the organisation.

Sands United FC was set up as a way for bereaved men to find a support network through their shared love of sport. It started in England but a number of clubs have since been set up in Northern Ireland.

Wayne McConachie is one of the founder members of the Sands United FC ABC Branch, which was set up just over two years ago. He joined, with the support of his wife Sarah, after the passing of their little girl.

He says the club proved a vital asset in helping him process his grief.

The team’s family fun-day will kick off at 1pm on Saturday, June 1, at Oxford Sunnyside in Lurgan. There’ll be a bouncy castle, a dance studio, face painting, an exotic zoo and plenty of food offerings available.

On the day the team will be competing against the Oxford Sunnyside over 35s.

It’s hoped the branch will be able to continue the success of last year’s fun-day, which raised over £1,800 for the charity.

The Sands charity has proved vital in helping bereaved parents across ABC and further afield, even providing a generous donation to help open a new bereavement suite in Craigavon Area Hospital last year.

The ‘Butterfly Suite’ provides a safe and comfortable environment where families can grieve their loss.

Speaking on the importance of Sands United FC and the impact it had on her family, Sarah McConachie said: “Our little girl was born two years ago on the 25th of April and she passed away three days after she was born. So we’d only just had Grace and then the football team had just started.

“We were always quite engaged with services from the start and then the football team was suggested to Wayne and he’s been there ever since.

“You don’t have to be a dad, you could be friends with someone who has been affected by baby loss or a sibling or a grandparent. It’s more just to bring men together who have shared a similar experience and give them an opportunity to meet with other people and get that support.”

Wayne continued: “There’s no rule of going down and telling your life story. If you want to go down and have a bit of craic there’s an understanding between everybody that though their circumstances are different, we have all suffered the loss of a child. There is that common bond between everybody.”

As the ABC Branch numbers grew, the team decided to enter into the Mid-Ulster League alongside their charity matches.

Sarah continued: “For a long time after Grace was born, people would see Wayne and ask him how I was doing. Nobody asked him how he was doing because it was always seen as my loss because I was the one who was pregnant.

“Men become the forgotten part in it, so to have other men there who just understand that is priceless.

“We found out, like many other parents, there’s not a lot of funded support after the loss of a baby. It’s all charity-based so in order for people to still have that option it’s absolutely vital that they get regular funding and we keep up that awareness.”

Wayne added: “I’d just like to shout out our sponsor, William Street Dental, who sponsored our kits. They have been a great support because they’ve been on the same road and suffered loss.

“With our kits you can put your child’s name on the badge. It just gives you that bit more pride because you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for all these wee angels.”

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