Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

AFC Unity has a habit of attracting players who have really good jobs. And by “really good jobs,” I do not mean high salaries and superb perks that enable them to live flashy lifestyles; I mean they generally do really genuinely good work for a living. Teachers, doctors, nurses; these are women who work in public services, do important jobs. I think there’s some link between our culture of collectivism and our players who genuinely see life in general as being about more than just what they can get out of it, but what they can also contribute to the world around them. Interestingly, the rewards for our society as a whole are reflected by the work these women often do. For example, each £1 to a trash collector creates an equivalent of £12 in terms of health and sustainability. For every £1 a hospital cleaner is paid, over £10 in social value is generated. And for every dollar a researcher earns, a value of at least $5 is pumped back into the economy. In contrast to these examples, for every pound earned by advertising executives, for instance, they destroy an equivalent of £7 in the form of stress, overconsumption, pollution, and debt. So let’s talk about professional football players…

In my last entry to this column, I concluded that elite professional players of our fine sport understandably have a mentality of “win at all costs.” Indeed, everyone at the top of the game are trying their best to financially succeed: the players, the managers, the board of directors, the investors – sporting success and financial success are totally intertwined in the professional game; they’re one and the same. If you win a tournament, you reap financial awards. Conversely, if you lose money, you’ll have fewer resources at your disposal in order to do better on the field. It’s a fine balancing act, where the budget and the results must be matched carefully – football clubs raise finance in order to provide a catalyst for footballing success, careful not to “overspend.” If what the board consider to be a generous budget is provided for the management, the pressure is then on the manager to make decisions that reflect wise spending, in order to provide success on the field. As a result, the managers convey that pressure on to their players, as evidenced by Brian Clough telling his team on a particularly good day, “Now that’s what I’m paying you for!”

I met Brian Clough as a child when I was with my dad paying one of our many visits to various football stadiums. My dad encouraged me to ask for his autograph, which I did, to which the notorious and rather intimidating Clough – still getting his gear out of his car – replied, “You certainly can, my beauty,” before signing in my autograph book, with a personal message that included the all-important reminder: “Be good!”

On Monday, November 15th, 1976, I was born in Doncaster Royal Infirmary, like any football fanatic, kicking and screaming at 3pm – traditionally kick-off time. My dad supported Doncaster Rovers, and began taking me to games with him when I was aged 9. He played football since a young age, a small but speedy and skillful winger in local factory teams featuring former professional footballers, before turning to refereeing, instilling a sense of footballing fairness in me from the very start.

When my father first started attending football matches in the latter part of the 1940s, aggregate league attendances were over 41 million. By the time I began going, in 1986, they were around only 16 million, ironically damaged by several years of increasing wages for workers and the corresponding diversity of leisure activities that this made available to them – not to mention hooliganism putting people off and being used as state rationale for related crowd controls. Yes, I was watching a very different version of football to the one my dad had.

In my father’s day, the players retired from the game and joined the factories blokes like him worked, still playing football for fun, because they never earned much from the sport. But after that, they very understandably got together and complained that, despite being entertainers, many of the fans coming to watch the games in their droves were earning more money than the players they’d come to see! Tickets were selling in their thousands, and chairmen were making a fortune, as football clubs became seen as investment opportunities. No surprise, then, that players wanted their fair share. The Professional Footballers’ Association, led by Jimmy Hill, fought to have the maximum wage scrapped, and eventually, as we know, player salaries skyrocketed to astronomical proportions. Interestingly, the businessmen owning the clubs remained rich, and this continuation was only made possible by rising ticket prices and deregulated television rights deals. Top teams make sure they get more of the TV revenue than smaller clubs, in order to help sustain their bloated multi-million pound superstar wage bills. This is very different to American football, where television revenues are distributed evenly amongst all the teams, while the top teams get to the back of the line when getting picks on the up-and-coming college players ready to be drafted up to the NFL.

Televised soccer has meant revenues generated for the teams that play games the general public want to watch. Naturally, this means that the sport becomes top-heavy, because the larger teams attract fairweather fans who will follow clubs simply for their success and likelihood to win games – thus the larger clubs sustain significant income generation; smaller clubs will rarely get a decent opportunity since fewer members of the national audience care to watch them.

In 2012, the average Premiership club spent a shocking 70% of its turnover on player salaries – incredibly, Manchester City were spending more than 100%! No wonder they brought in Pep Guardiola to develop a football philosophy and subsequent brand, built up around the world – with New York City FC in the States, Melbourne City in Australia, and – back home – Manchester City Women: they required different revenue streams to try and plug the hole. And revenue streams are what women’s teams are becoming for many large football clubs, make no mistake about it.

Since I was a kid, I’ve witnessed what to my dad was an unknown phenomena of numerous clubs entering financial jeopardy and even administration. Even our very own Doncaster Rovers was taken over by a corrupt businessman, Ken Richardson, who ran it into the ground before being convicted as many fans got together to form the Viking Supporters Cooperative (VSC). These kinds of trusts are nothing new, and often a threat to powerful vested interests – shortly after it was founded in 2008, Liverpool FC bigwigs referred to the newly-formed Spirit of Shankly (SOS) group as “a very small, yet highly-motivated group of agitators” and yet a few years later it was named Cooperative of the Year at the Social Enterprise North West Awards.

The democratically-elected directors of the not-for-profit VSC helped support Doncaster Rovers and steer them from dangerous waters into calmer seas, where it was taken over by businessman John Ryan, who had a passion for Donny as big as his ego, and despite rescuing the club financially, eventually butted heads with the VSC itself when it started asking questions about shadowy consortia he was interested in selling significant control of the club over to. I wanted to see my club influenced by democratically-elected representatives of the supporters, so there was only one thing left to do and on November 15th, 2014 – my birthday, no less – I was gifted a place on the board of directors for the VSC by its voting members and in my year’s tenure on the VSC board, I felt sorry for my fellow directors – all really sharp, switched-on guys with rhinoceros skin who, regardless of what was shouted by some clueless hooligans who couldn’t tell a penalty from a pennant, genuinely cared passionately about Doncaster Rovers and felt fan influence in football clubs was the way forward. From what I understood, the current owners agreed, and their Club Doncaster initiative fit in well with the long-term vision for financial sustainability through collaboration with Donny’s other local sports teams.

One exception was Doncaster Rovers Belles, the world-famous women’s team formed back when the club was still playing at its old dilapidated Belle Vue stadium, at the time calling themselves the Belle Vue Belles and the subject of I Lost My Heart to the Belles by Pete Davies, who I cited here last time. The Belles, despite moving to the Keepmoat Stadium with their men’s league counterparts, made it clear to me in the past that they were pretty adamant about remaining independent, only to be informed by the FA, after having played just one match that season, that they’d be forcibly relegated from the Women’s Super League to make way for Manchester City Women and their millions of pounds of investment from the men’s club. When the Women’s FA Cup final took place at the Keepmoat Stadium, Belles’ self-professed “noisy fans” turned up on the day to hand out fliers about their scandalous “relegation” and passed around a petition, only to have their campaigning materials confiscated by stewards “acting on behalf of the FA,” including not only the pamphlets and petition but also replica shirts and a banner that read “DONCASTER BELLES: 22 YEARS IN THE TOP DIVISION ENDED BY THE FA’S GR££D.” As a director of VSC, I wrote a regular column in the local Doncaster Free Press at request of their sports writer Paul Goodwin, who covered the whole Belles affair and who himself wrote, “Decisions like this set a dangerous precedent. Bang go the concepts of competition, fair play, and a level playing field to do it all on.” He was right. But sadly he was talking about the very core principles of professional football itself.

In my time enjoying insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of a professional football club, I witnessed things I couldn’t reconcile. This wasn’t a reflection of that particular football club, but of the professional game as a whole. At the time, I’d co-founded AFC Unity, and a by-product of coaching players from the local area, who paid to play, was a decrease of enjoyment of the pro game: the cold concrete stadium bearing the name of a sponsor, featuring players supposedly representing my birthplace but who were manoeuvred into the team by their agents brokering the best deals for them, and everyone from the locker room to the boardroom obsessed with making more money to keep their jobs. I watched each game at this time with less and less enthusiasm. Who were these players I supposedly supported? What did they represent any more? A profit-making corporation called Doncaster Rovers Limited, with a board of directors with money on their minds, lest the team fail to exist at a professional level. As I mentioned in my last column entry, Sheffield Wednesday are owned by Dejphon Chansiri, a Thai businessman. Sheffield United are owned by Abdullah bin Musa’ad and Kevin McCabe (at the time of writing). These are just business entities, controlled by multi-millionaires, with rich players in the team, more than most quite content to play for whoever pays them the most. What are we really supporting any more? A professional football club that happens to be based in our hometown? What does that even mean in an era when they’re shifting clubs from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes? You can probably count on one hand your team’s players who actually have any connection to your town outside of playing their home games there. So what are we being loyal to, exactly? I’ve said this before, as Jerry Seinfeld humorously pointed out, when you’re supporting a pro sports team, you’re merely cheering for a shirt:

Lovers of the game all over are increasingly suspicious and disenchanted with the money-dominated nature of the big leagues. Manchester United’s fans, of course, simply went off and created their very own alternative, FC United of Manchester. They’ve been another success story, climbing up the non-league divisions to the point where they now just got themselves a brand-new stadium, paid a visit by the Tory politician who backed it – provoking outrage from a hard core of their followers, who stand true to the founding principles of the club.

But what do we expect? The more money your club makes, the more professional it becomes – and then the more you find yourself no longer part of the solution…but part of the problem.

At AFC Unity’s beginning, bullying, bad-attitude, traditional players not getting picked demanded greater democracy – but they didn’t want it for everyone, just themselves. They wanted to strong-arm their way into the game. AFC Unity being set up as a not-for-profit independent women’s football club coached by a feminist was seen by some as a weakness to exploit: “Oh, you’re about ethics and empowerment, so give it to me.” These same players moved on (thankfully) but lo and behold never once called for greater democracy from the traditional teams they went on to play for. This is because they themselves – if they were honest – wanted power. As we’ve shown at AFC Unity, we’re very much of the Nye Bevan mentality: “The purpose of having power is to be able to give it away.” That’s why, here we are, years later, and we’re opening up the football club to greater ownership, with responsibilities and rights taken up by the players themselves – players who aren’t just in it for themselves. These players aren’t journeying footballers drifting from one team to another until they get the high profile they want like some sort of football version of Chuka Umunna. Not at all. Quite the opposite.

Players having an ownership over their football club is key when they’re putting their money into it; in AFC Unity, they are getting an increasing input into how their subs are spent. There are bimonthly team meetings and these are becoming slowly intertwined into the ownership of the company limited by guarantee that is AFC Unity’s legal status, registered as strictly not-for-profit so that every penny has to go back in to the club, and is subjected to annual accounting scrutiny. How many other football clubs anywhere in the world can say this? Legally registered as a company while also obligated to be non-profit. There’s almost nothing like this in non-league grassroots football, let alone at professional level.

In the professional game, the argument is that those putting their money into clubs are not the players, but the supporters. There is still a major problem with this, though. Even the fan-owned FC Barcelona are five hundred million euros in debt and still seem unable to avoid scandal. After all, it’s bloated, the fans crushed under the weight of the club they supposedly own, and it’s still in the same system as all the rest of the clubs: turnovers of hundreds of millions are required to stay at the top of the sport.

So what’s the solution? Well, take the money out of the sport altogether.

For starters, you’ll find that players genuinely go where their hearts are. Suddenly, they play for their local team – wherever they genuinely choose to live at the time. Then the spirit of community returns once again; cleaners, youth workers, volunteers, refugees, all from your local area, all playing football to represent it. And most of all: playing for fun, not for money. This is an ethos that can not be found anywhere in the professional game. And it’s not about taking us back to the days before Jimmy Hill came along; it’s taking us forward to a world where every community has its own identity and camaraderie reflected in its own football team; rather than one team for a city with the pressure of thousands of citizens resting on it, paying more entry fees than the club knows what to do with; there would instead be one team for each district, with a few hundred people supporting it from that area. This breaks up Big Football the same way we talk about breaking up Big Energy or Big Banks. It localises it once again, by taking the money out of it. Communities working cooperatively could maintain their own facilities, and team supporters could pay just enough to cover the costs, the players being their neighbours, friends, family even. There would be an accessibility and relatable quality to the players known in women’s football for now but being lost to big money as we hear stories of top stars moving away from terraced houses into fancy homes in gated communities. Teams – and their players – should represent their communities once again.

Trapped by the big business of professional football, FC St Pauli have paid over a million euros for some players – their current squad of thirty-odd, at the time of writing, featuring only eight actually from the vicinity of St Pauli’s city of Hamburg (and this is a better ratio than most!) Granted, St Pauli is the football club providing “a home for those without a home” with supporters travelling from across Europe to sit in solidarity with like-minded fans, but they’re still supporting professional football. Fans flock to St Pauli games because they are seeking something they lost in their communities back home, and I can understand that. But flying on a plane to another city to pay for players’ over-the-top wages for kicking a ball about is counter-productive and adding to the problem, not the ethical, bottom-up solution in our own backyards (and at least, worldwide, St Pauli supporters have set up their own localised versions). But at grassroots level, we are poor, because they are rich. Professional football has to go.

It’s easy for me to finally admit all of this because, as I said, I long since lost any loyalty or love towards professional football. It seems difficult to believe that, as a child, my parents took me to pub quizzes knowing I’d get all the football questions correct. Now, while obsessed with the coaching philosophies and tactical concepts of the sport itself, I wouldn’t know most top players if I bumped into them in the street. Ultimately, even before I became involved with and fell in love with AFC Unity, there were only so many times I could sit and watch wealthy men serve as the sole justification for a ticket price twice as much as it’d cost for me to sit in a warm cinema enjoying two solid hours of entertainment…even while still watching millionaire celebrity superstars like George Clooney – the movie theatre still costs less. I had this conversation with family recently when my sister pointed out, “These people are just modern-day court jesters. Why are they being paid so much?” I thought she had a point. Wow. Paid court jesters.

Let’s go back to the value of work, and the social impact of jobs that we do – as I said at the start, some jobs like cleaners and researchers and nurses and doctors have absolutely immense returns on investment; those are the very backbone of our society. There’s a great example by historian Rutger Bregman where he compares trash collectors going on strike, and bankers going on strike – the city needed the garbage collectors as they just couldn’t allow their streets to fill with waste, so they gave them a pay rise that they needed; the bankers went on strike, and nothing really happened.


Someone kicking a ball around and being paid more than the people who do those good jobs cited above is, in my opinion, utterly immoral. The USA national team’s quest for equal pay is a just cause in principle, but long-term, the aim needs to be to avoid matching men’s obscene wages and instead chopping them down to size. This is my greatest concern about the rise of the women’s game: it will be seen as a money-making opportunity to sell twice the amount of football kits at extortionately high prices, sell twice the amount of football boots made in overseas sweatshops and oppressing and exploiting other women, and ultimately, simply reinforcing an out-of-control capitalist football system.

Not one single person I have ever met in all my life has ever said they think there isn’t enough money in professional football; not one person has said they think the players need a pay rise. Quite the opposite. We all complain constantly about there being “too much money in professional football.” People passionate about soccer almost always sympathise with the losers who just happened to make a simple mistake, which is human to its core – but mistakes cost money for the powers that be, and cannot be tolerated. These fans also hate cheating in the game – but when there’s money at stake, why wouldn’t the players cheat? It’s their job; their livelihood. Getting rich means getting to the top of the sport; getting to the top of the sport means getting rich.

Who has any power to change all this? The players themselves aren’t going to ask for pay cuts; they’d be mugged in the dressing room, probably kidnapped and dumped in some unknown location. The PFA is the most powerful union in the world – and it’s the only one whose base members get filthy rich through its bargaining powers. It’s more of a mafia than anything else.

So, women’s football may well be on the rise, but in what sense? When you have women who are multi-millionaires just like the men, cheating to win, hiring the slickest of agents, avoiding taxes, signing sponsorship deals, doing bad “reality” television shows, and promoting unethical products, will we suddenly consider ourselves a fairer society when families are having their incomes slashed while having to pay hundreds of pounds to take their children to watch the big women’s game? Ticket prices are so high that you’re seeing a Norman Conquest-style transfer of wealth from poor to rich via something as silly as soccer. In this sense, professional football becomes one of the most sickening examples of capitalism.

As technology replaces many jobs – in a lot of cases, jobs we don’t want to be doing – there will be a crucial requirement for implementation of a shorter working week, and even a universal basic income, as we finally realise work was only ever supposed to be a means to an end, not the end itself. Life is about enjoying leisure activities, socialising, travelling, while also contributing to making the communities we live in and the whole world a better and fairer place. Football would be very low on the list of jobs needed (in fact, it won’t even make the list) – but it will be a valued leisure activity. With that said, it’s more important than ever that we put our money where our mouths are, turn off the television, cancel the sports channel subscriptions, choose not to renew that season ticket, and instead support grassroots football. Kick the habit, get into something much heavier, man.

Start now. Start with supporting AFC Unity’s against-all-odds mission this coming season. As the for-profit football clubs enter teams into our league, your support is more important than ever as we try to promote a different, better way of doing things. It will cost you nothing but your travel fare and maybe a lunch on the way there – and you’ll be supporting these players who make a living working hard in jobs around your community, not by playing football. The football just represents that community.

If you can’t do any of this, find a local team near you. Support it. Urge them to adopt a transparent, democratic operating structure with a sense of local ownership, a commitment to remain linked to community issues, and a promise never to ruin the team with a money motive. Help them out. You’ll find a renewed passion, a renewed sense of pride and connection to your football team, everyone involved coming from your community, by your community, for your community. It can really help begin a significant change in football, and start to set the wrong things right.

Thanks in advance, and thanks for reading.

The views expressed in “Up the Left Wing” are those of Jay Baker and do not necessarily reflect those of AFC Unity or any of its personnel or players

Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

On a mild spring day back in 2016, AFC Unity defeated Sheffield Wednesday Development 1-13 at their home of Hallam Sports Park.

It was only our second season in the league at the time, and we were one of only two women’s teams with absolutely no link to a pre-existing men’s team. We had little to no profile in the community. Our ethos wasn’t well-known or even clear within our own ranks. We were very much at the beginning of what we now know as a multi-award winning football club legally registered as strictly not-for-profit, subject to accounting scrutiny, with a first team as well as a unique and innovative beginner-friendly programme called Solidarity Soccer, and with a 2020 Vision.

So we’d had months where we struggled to recruit and gather and sign players. The league stressed that it was unlawful in the rules of the game to ever field a player whose registration hadn’t been submitted and completed – known in footballing circles as “a ringer.” Even when it hurt us, even when we lost heavily – even when we didn’t have enough players, even – we never, ever, once played a ringer; there were occasions where new players had to simply stand and watch from the sidelines, unable to help. We’ve never played a ringer, and never will. It’s how we agreed we’d conduct ourselves right from the start.

Right from our first league game, we suffered a culture clash with some other teams – they’d shout inappropriate remarks, cheat, and – yes – play ringers. One such occasion cost us the win over a side that was the top of the division on that very day, right in the dying seconds; they’d made a phone call to a friend from the Midlands, who pretended to be someone so completely different it was almost amusing, and stopped us dead in our tracks. And one weeknight, we played an eventual championship-winning team with just eight players available for us, so as to fulfil the fixtures for the league – the inevitable heavy defeat saw me stood alone watching my gutsy players battle a team who put nearly ten goals past us and celebrated every single one like it was the realisation of a life-long dream and then gathered on the pitch to enjoy their title-winning celebrations. We swallowed our pride, did the job, and went home. That’s football. It happens.

“Soccer is not about justice,” said sports historian Pete Davies. “It’s a drama – and criminally wrong decisions against you are part and parcel of that.”

So on that day when we beat Sheffield Wednesday Development by an incredible 12-goal margin, it felt like maybe something had gone our way. Here was this massive football club, with dozens of teams at different tiers, and a phenomenal infrastructure and financial backing, with its women’s development side who had played us (and beat us) before, playing against little AFC Unity – and we were battering them. They were even down a player for periods of the match; their bench was pretty much non-existent. But you’d have assumed everyone else outside the world of Wednesday would have been rooting for us nonetheless.

Not so.

From day one, we wanted to build an independent women’s football club that was a safe space for women, where women are empowered, and the coaching comes from that feminist perspective; we wanted justice – if not always found on the field, as Pete Davies knew full well – to be fought for in our community campaigns, like Football for Food, and Unity For All. We coached players more and more in a collective style of football, and we wanted them to see how different our inclusive, collective approach was, and choose that and fight for that too, play for our badge and only ours.

I should say here that Sheffield Wednesday Development have always been one of my absolutely favourite teams to play against and still are: their players rarely if ever cheat, the coaching staff are always amiable no matter who they are that season, and the behind-the-scenes staff are some of the absolute very best in the league, or indeed anywhere. They also play beautiful football, with quick passing players. A game against them is never stressful, never an ordeal (as it is with some teams, trust me) and always a pleasure, and long may that continue. Win, lose, or draw, the experience is always positive.

But on that spring day when we played Sheffield Wednesday Development, one league official on the day actually asked me, since I had a full bench, if I’d considered letting my players instead pull on a Wednesday shirt and play for them – a ringer. The Wednesday coach on the day, who I’d known quite well and was on very good terms with, also made a joke about borrowing some of my players. And while I felt bad for him, as this situation was by no means necessarily his fault – being as he was a mere cog in a gigantic machine – I felt this was a lesson to be learned in women’s football, that if you don’t promote your team well, you don’t recruit well, and you don’t retain players well, you will be punished – even, dare I say, must be punished. Wednesday, of all clubs, surely deserved that lesson; their personnel committed to women’s football deserved it too, so they could cite the experience as part of demands for better support from almighty Chansiri. And who better than little AFC Unity to deliver such a message? We never ever once blamed anyone else for our shortcomings; we always took it upon ourselves to do something about it. Even now, with the 2020 Vision. We take responsibility for our own inadequacies on the day.

And yet there I was, simply high-fiving my players after each goal (as became Unity tradition), albeit with decreasing enthusiasm as we approached the certain safety of double figures, and my assistant coach at the time (who I’m still friends with and who I hold in very high regard), a former Wednesday player herself no less, suggested I perhaps not even go for my patented high-five, out of respect for Wednesday. A couple of players (who later left our club to play for more traditional teams) also suggested it wasn’t sporting of me. Even the opposing coach, who always dropped me a line once in a while, didn’t speak to me for a very long time after that day. That 1-13 scoreline was Unity’s highest win in our history, a record victory that still remains today. And yet I could have perhaps enjoyed it a little more. I wasn’t really allowed to. After all, I was just a Unity guy. I needed to know my place. And yet you can bet that no one would have treated the Wednesday coach like this had the scoreline been reversed – hey, they were Chansiri’s Sheffield Wednesday, for goodness sake! (In fact, Chansiri himself, a Thai businessman, has arguably been the bane of women’s football at that club)

The natural order of things preferred by the traditionalists of football was soon restored anyway. The aforementioned league official at the time saw nothing wrong with teams battering us heavily from time to time, including a record 17-0 defeat. The clique of players who left us to join more traditional teams, sure enough, cheered every single goal they put past us, including in high-scoring games where their aim became a challenge to see how many different defensive players they could set up to get on the scoresheet.

And three years later, Sheffield Wednesday Development hosted us again. This time, they defeated us. The result? 13-1. Unlike us, they kept to their principles and celebrated every single goal, right to the end. So did every other team that beat us heavily last season. In one heavy defeat for us, an opposing supporter shouted “Yeah, up yours, Unity!” as we conceded a goal. As per the natural order, I stood there and took it as the abuse was thrown and the goals flew in, one after another. We all did.

Given the natural order of things – the privileged sense of entitlement from bigger clubs or teams with a traditional, army camp approach – it’s not looking likely, but you can bet I’ll enjoy it a lot more if I ever get the chance to coach Unity to a high-scoring victory. Why should I be punished for another team’s shortcomings and failures? Our failures have nothing to do with failing to recruit or retain players, wasting money, dodgy brown paper packets of cash by unincorporated association football clubs, or chastising or berating players subjected to punishments for mistakes. No, our failures, if you can even call them such, are trying so terribly hard to be something so very different: we’re not football for the sake of football; we’re about social justice, we’re about people and not profit, and we’re about promoting women’s football in a way that stands on its own merit, with no connection to a men’s team at all in any way. We wanted to empower women, and tackle sexism.

There’s enough sexism in soccer as it is, from bottom to the very top. Officials often condemn foul language more than actual fouls in the football because they believe women should act much different to the men; they should be seen as “lady-like.” It’s in the culture: we still see women’s teams called “ladies'” teams, where there are no “gentlemen’s” teams. It’s absurd. Sports sites treat women’s football like an add-on or an afterthought with sub-headers under “football” as though by “football” you’re already only just talking about the men’s game. They don’t do that with tennis – it’s either men’s tennis, or women’s tennis; not “tennis” and then the special little thing called “women’s tennis.” And don’t give me that nonsense that men are better, have a bigger following and so are paid more, because in the United States, the women are more famous, more successful, and just quite simply better in every way in world soccer, and have still been subjected to worse facilities, worse travel arrangements, and worse food.

The USA national women’s team – captained by Megan Rapinoe, who stood in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and others – has actually stood up and made a legal challenge to the governing bodies to attain equal pay. Essentially the American antidote to Trumpism, these women have been far more positive role models than some of the more Trump-esque drug-fuelled, sex pest behaviour of the men whose names we see on shirts in stores for ridiculous amounts of money. Neymar even openly supports the current fascist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

The USA national women’s team act like a true collective: strong women, they have each other’s backs, they root for each other from the sidelines, and they stand up for one another. With the lawsuit and related sexism, it’s easy to imagine it must feel like them against the whole world. They have to try harder and be even better to earn their way.

No surprise then, when last night in the World Cup where goal difference is so absolutely crucial (not to mention sponsorship deals), the USA put thirteen goals past Thailand, and celebrated every single one, together, as a team. It was a warning shot to everyone else in the competition that they were aiming to retain their world title. Today’s subsequent response has been one of immense criticism, buoyed by the corporate media, that it was supposedly unsporting to celebrate their own success; that it was perhaps disrespectful to Thailand. I don’t understand this. Firstly, as mentioned, goal difference matters; it would have been far more obnoxious and overconfident to assume they wouldn’t need to secure their lead in the standings, not least if they’d played keep-ball and passed the ball around their opponents, which would have been perceived as humiliating them and toying with them. Secondly, again as mentioned, they are against the whole world – they want to win and they want to be dominant, not just for their own legal case and their own profile on the global sporting stage, but ultimately to open those doors for more sponsorship deals that then send a message of their financial worth. Ultimately, this isn’t AFC Unity we’re talking about here, where players pay to play – the USA team all know that this is their job, and the better they do, the more they should be paid. That’s the whole point.

And that brings me to my desire to see money taken out of football completely. I’ll address that next time in this column. Thanks for reading.

The views expressed in “Up the Left Wing” are those of Jay Baker and do not necessarily reflect those of AFC Unity or any of its personnel or players

Unity’s Player Pact Creates a “2020 Vision”

As one of AFC Unity’s many sponsors, Sheffield’s ethical independent opticians EYEYE kindly provided use of their city centre space for the launch of the 2020 Vision last night, June 10th, 2019.

Having just retained from the previous season every player who was able to stay on, AFC Unity has reached its most harmonious environment yet despite the toughest season of its history, and this has enabled the realisation of “player power” long talked about as a key aim since Unity’s founding by Jay Baker and Jane Watkinson in 2014.

A bold vision for where AFC Unity needs to be by 2020, the creation of the 2020 Vision is a catalyst for change throughout the football club so that better results can then harness better social impact in the community.

The squad provided their input and ideas to help refine the proposals put forth by former Manager Jay Baker, now redefined as a Head Coach for the purposes of being a facilitator simply helping the team realise its own objectives. Coming out of the discussions were themes of an increase in friendly competition, commitment, and intensity, with a focus on taking Unity to the next level on the pitch so that more can be done off the field, too. The club’s funds and profile are to be boosted too, through greater ownership from the players themselves, given Unity’s status as an independent women’s football club while also being legally registered not-for-profit subjected to submission of annual accounts. The players are to have greater rights and responsibilities as well within the club.

The team’s agreement created a “Player Pact” that will actually be drafted up and signed at the squad’s first on-the-ball training session next week.

Following the event, Jay said: “It’s ironic that it took our worst season to finally bring together the most harmonious squad we’ve ever had, but this has meant we’ve been able to therefore truly open up the football club to ‘player power’ where the team itself has a working document, and – as Head Coach – I’m just here to ensure we enact that. With this approach, and by being a multi-award winning, legally registered not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with a cult following, AFC Unity continues to push to the front when it comes to being a cutting-edge, dynamic, forward-thinking, democratic, and accountable football club empowering the women who play for the first team!”

Co-founder, secretary, and No. 3 Jane Watkinson added: “I’m excited by the collective approach to helping the club reach a new level on the pitch, which we know we can do, while this also helps with increased awareness of social justice campaigns.”

Winner of the 2017/18 Unity Award, the 2017/18 Hope Over Fear Award, and the 2018/19 Collective Award, No.37 Rachel Rodgers stated: “These are positive ideas for moving forward and being a creative and exciting footballing side.”

2017/18 Solidarity Award winner No.24 Jodie Spillings said: “It’s good – it will make everyone work for that spot on a Sunday.” No.33 Lisa Gray added: “We can be a force to be reckoned with next season!”

Now in his sixth season coaching the side, Jay concluded: “We’re different to any other football club anywhere, and I think that dynamism is what attracts players. For weeks, even months now we’ve had at least one different player reach out to us every single day about playing for the first team – it’s incredible – but we currently already have twenty-three players, and one excellent triallist, leaving one spot left to be carefully awarded. Our squad has been stronger than any in previous years I’ve coached – and you need that given how rapidly the quality of this league has increased – but we’ve never had the commitment or consistency that we’re aiming to apply now, with just a superb inspirational group of strong women, and my aim is to deliver for them going towards 2020 so they can truly realise their immense potential.”

Everyone at AFC Unity wishes to once again express thanks to EYEYE for affording us utilisation of their fantastic space for this event and we urge you all to take advantage of their high quality service and products on offer!

Football for Food is the SHCFA’s Grassroots Project of the Year

We are proud to be recipients of the Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA’s (SHCFA) 2019 Grassroots Project of the Year Award for our Football for Food campaign, which is part of SHCFA’s 2019 Grassroots Awards.

We have run a Football for Food campaign since 2015, which has involved AFC Unity as a club encouraging players, management and supporters from both teams alongside the general public to come to our home games not only to watch a good game of grassroots football but also to bring donations of food that we then distribute to local Sheffield food banks, especially Fir Vale, Parson Cross, Firth Park, S20 and more recently S2.

The campaign is also about raising awareness of the extent of food poverty, the reasons for why more and more people are going to food banks to not only help increase the donations but also tackle any misconceptions and stigma for why food banks exist. So far we have collected 1193 kilograms of food.


This last season we have developed a close connection with the S2 food bank, who are near to our home ground, which we will be continuing next season with our regular home game food collections. We have also done specific campaign collections on Period Poverty, raising awareness of the issues related to this as well.

Thank you to everyone that took part in our Football for Food campaign last season, and a special thanks to our Integrity Award winner Jaimee Reeve who took a key role in leading the campaign.

Commenting on the award, Jaimee said “the generosity of AFC Unity players, manager, supporters and opposition players has allowed the Football for Food campaign to support those in need in the community. The FA award is fantastic recognition of the positive good AFC Unity does.”

The SHCFA stated regarding the Awards: “we received over 130 nominations across this years categories with some fantastic entries included. A selected awards panel reviewed all the nominations before eventually agreeing our local winners. All our winners have all also been nominated for The FA National Grassroots Awards which have yet to be selected. It was great to see so many nominations entered for this years awards and it really highlights the great work that goes on across the county within local grassroots football. The Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA Grassroots Awards Evening will take place in October with date TBC.”