Grieving Doncaster dads unite to form a special football team - in honour of their lost children

A first football team for Doncaster, of men who have suffered the heartbreak of losing a child, or of never having the child they long for, has kicked off and is gaining huge momentum.

Wednesday, 10th April 2019, 4:56 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th April 2019, 4:59 pm
Some members of John's SANDS team
Some members of John's SANDS team

The project was started by devoted dad John Drury, who lost his son, Arthur, in February last year, at just a few hours old.

Linked to the charity, SANDS (stillbirth and neonatal death society), the aim, said John, is “to give men that platform to speak up and not bottle up their grief any more”.

John Drury with his son Arthur

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He added: “With the shared love of their children and the beautiful game, we hope, one by one, the men in the team can learn from one another and tell their story in their own time and when they feel ready.”

Next year the goal is for the men to play in the Doncaster Sunday League, so there can never be too many players signed up. 

John had 10 players join straight after squad  formation, and more are coming forward all the time. One player is a grandad in his forties.

Sponsors are still being sought, and any offers of help with funding would be welcomed.

John and Grace Drury with son Arthur

John and his wife, Grace, knew that Arthur faced problems from December, 2017, but although their baby’s health issues, including a heart defect, were many and complex, they believed they would be operable.

Arthur was born at 33 weeks, after his mother was admitted to hospital with severe pre-eclampsia. But tragically, he suffered a cardiac arrest at just  five hours old.

Despite the best efforts of the medical team  to keep his heart going,  his parents were asked to say goodbye to him.  

John, 27, of Carcroft, said: “He died in my arms. Later we discovered he must have had a twin, who was lost about five weeks in to the pregnancy.

“It was very hard and very surreal. Even now it’s a struggle to put in to words how you feel.

“Arthur died just before mothering Sunday last year and that day was so difficult to get through.

“After the funeral we wanted to be active and do things in his honour, to help others.”

The couple raised £800 by climbing Ben Nevis, for Leeds Children’s Hospital, where Arthur was treated. It was at the top of the mountain that John proposed to Grace, and they married in December, 2018.    

A charity night at their local pub raised another £1000 for Bluebell Wood Hospice, all in Arthur’s memory.

“Not a day went by or goes by when Arthur’s name isn’t mentioned,” said John. “There isn’t a great deal in Doncaster to help people who have gone through the trauma of losing a child.

“We are lucky in that we have very supportive family and friends. But we wanted to reach out to others. Dads can sometimes be overlooked.

“I got the idea of the team when coaching Doncaster Belles U15s. My love of football came back and I wanted to get back playing. I’ve been channelling my grief in to this.

 “ It’s early days but on our first meeting last week 13 turned up, and more have signed since then.

“Goals on Wheatley Hall Road gave us our first session for free and have offered reduced rates.”

A first charity event is to take place on Fathers’ Day, June 16 this year, with John's squad playing an over 30s team from the Keepmoat. Proceeds will fund kit and necessities for the team.

The death of a baby or child is still a taboo subject for many people, explained John.

But so many people are affected, not least the midwives and hospital staff who are involved.

“One of my most abiding memories is of being given Arthur, and of all the doctors and midwives in tears. They were in bits, as if he was their own son.”

Grace too, is busy considering a SANDS committee working with mothers, in Doncaster.

“We have met some wonderful people. This is the club you never want to be a part of, yet it is so supportive.”

John’s initiative is growing bigger at a pace, with members from across South Yorkshire. The men are to be filmed by the BBC shortly, to broadcast their story nationally.

“There’s a strong link in that a child dies every 90 minutes, the same length as a football game, which is a constant reminder,” said John.

He hopes eventually there will be a tournament of SANDS teams.

 Babies’ names are to be mentioned and honoured by team members on their birth days, and each player will bear the name of their child or grandchild on their shirt.

“No-one deals with grief in the same way but together we can get through anythi ng,” added John. 

Anyone wanting more details or to join the group can contact them via their Facebook page, or by John’s own facebook  page.