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A Magazine for Sheffield

Hope Over Fear: A Celebration of AFC Unity

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There is an undercurrent of change and hope beginning to encompass Sheffield with a fervour not seen since the 1980s.

In the wake of devastating losses at the polls, there was good reason for people to lose sight of the roots on which this city prides itself. Spite and vitriolic rhetoric continue to dominate the media landscape, but Sheffield is seemingly entrenched in an infectious sentiment far greater than the sum of its parts: hope over fear.

Stepping off the train at Sheffield station you could be mistaken for thinking that a fresh-faced student from the leafiest and (until recently) most Tory London borough like me would feel ill at ease adjusting to life in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. At the heart of my burgeoning affinity with this wondrous city has been a deep-rooted passion for football and its ability not only to thrill and delight, but to connect communities and enact social change in a way not commonly seen in an increasingly globalised environment.

AFC Unity, a local team sponsored by Now Then, are at the forefront of this movement. Their unwavering belief in football as a platform for social mobility has left me in awe not only as a fledgling journalist, but as a football fan and, most importantly, a human being.

Unity have been covered numerous times in this publication, but as an outsider looking in I feel it is important to stress in these uncertain times what a superb job an institution like this does. On first meeting they looked beyond my posh southern accent to give me a chance to flourish and indulge in my passion for reporting on football. More to the point, their campaigns - Solidarity Soccer and Football For Food, among others - help promote a sustained legacy of change which flies in the face of claims that people will sell their liberty for a quieter life.

There is no self-righteousness, no publicity stunts

The team's principle ideology of social justice is not solely reserved for their enterprises away from the touchline. In promoting a "passing-orientated, positive playing style", AFC Unity have created an environment in which grassroots football can help to empower women and promote positive role models for future generations who may previously have felt disillusioned by the male-dominated environment of youth football.

I have only reported on two Unity games since I approached the club, but already I have noticed the determination they maintain to playing the game the right way, even if it doesn't always warrant the results it deserves. Having said that, I have still not seen Unity drop points this season. Maybe my impassioned cries from the touchline spur them on to success. More likely it's the work of coach Jay Baker and his team of passionate yet composed women driving behind one collective message, on and off the pitch.

There is no self-righteousness, no publicity stunts or clamouring for personal validation from a higher power; just a selfless will to devote time and energy to the localised causes of a Broken Britain so often overlooked by those in charge of running our country. I maintain no bias and I might be their Blair-sympathising antagonist, but I am in no doubt as to the continued opportunities they offer to the people who need it most.

It's perhaps no wonder then that even in my weariest of states, university life being what it is, I find myself fuelled by caffeine and a love of football every Sunday, up and down Yorkshire.

Sam Tabuteau

Become a member of supporters group AFC Unity Ultras for £2 a month or £1.50 with trade union discount.

Next article in issue 144

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