Friday night, May 11th saw the culmination of arguably AFC Unity’s best-ever season as a football club – with the the best-ever Awards Night at the Showroom in the heart of Sheffield!
AFC Unity Manager Jay Baker drew a line under past challenges as a start-up independent women’s football team and declared the 2017/18 season the most harmonious ever, having merged two teams into one and successfully developed the squad both on an individual basis and also as a team.
In a season where “player power” was implemented – the right people involved as players leading to their input and decision-making via the newly-introduced Team Meetings – it should be no surprise that it was a player, and not a co-founder, manager, director or sponsor, who led the organisation of the event: Jaimee Reeve, who arranged the venue and meals, table layouts, music playlist featuring players’ own adopted songs, and even took the photographs you see here!
On the night, Rachel Rodgers made history by becoming the first ever AFC Unity player to be endorsed by both teammates and manager alike on the same Awards Night, in just her second season with the club.
The manager’s award, the Hope Over Fear Award, was presented to Rachel for becoming the best all-round player as well as the ideal ambassador and role model as an AFC Unity player, while for much of the same rationale, Rodgers gained the most votes to take the players’ award, the Unity Award, presented by special guest Shanie Donohue, who won the award in 2015/16. The consensus of opinion from both manager and players on ‘the ideal Unity player’ was seen as another reflection of the harmony in the club.
The 2016/17 winner of the Unity Award, and 2015/16 winner of the Hope Over Fear Award, Jodean Wadsworth, added to her increasing collection of Unity accolades by winning the most supporters’ votes for player of the season to win the returning Collective Award, kindly presented by card-carrying AFC Unity Ultras member, Russell Jackson. This award made Jo officially far and away the most decorated player in AFC Unity history – having won recognition from her manager, her teammates, and now supporters, over three years.
The Breakout Award (last year known as the Takeoff Award) was presented to Rebecca Gay for her significant improvement in her second season in the first team, taking her game to another level and even captaining the squad in Unity’s last game of the season – leading the team to a stylish 3-2 home win over Worsbrough Bridge Athletic. Manager Jay Baker praised Becky’s incredible learning curve, “coachability,” tenacity and passion while playing for the Unity badge.
From a shortlist of six players, AFC Unity’s chairwoman Anna Cordwell presented the Integrity Award to Corinne Heritage in her second season for representing and standing up for the Unity ethos, promoting Unity throughout the women’s football community, and helping to lead on Unity’s football projects such as Solidarity Soccer and the Create Space initiative that influenced it, not to mention the AFC Unity Jets, where she began as a player-coach.
The Solidarity Award has traditionally been given to non-playing personnel for long-standing contributions to AFC Unity, but this year it was presented to Jodie Spillings as she takes a break from playing following an impressive four seasons as a Red Star, staying positive and committed while coping with the ups and downs of both the team and herself as a player (with, yes, plenty of teammates’ jokes about her falling over!)
Every single player was presented with a Red Star Award for their own unique contributions to the team in the 2017/18 season.
AFC Unity manager Jay Baker also thanked directors, physios, first aiders, fans, friends and family members who support the players and the club so much, and reinforced his recognition of this past season as ‘Unity’s most harmonious season ever,’ while focusing on having the squad gel and knit together and the process of that rather than the results (in a season which still managed to garner 17 points for Unity, an increase on the previous season’s meagre 6 points!) Baker called his team ‘the envy of the league,’ with other clubs winning far more matches yet failing to retain the same positivity and harmony enjoyed at AFC Unity. Baker even used the FA’s own guidelines of measuring success to track Unity’s own success, citing last year’s Awards Night announcements as being delivered on, while promising more exciting developments and unveiling the designs for a new-and-improved kit, which went down a storm with players. He also promised to build on the strong foundation set this past season.
Players – via last season’s Hope Over Fear Award winner Sophie Smith – also thanked Baker himself for his management of the team through the 2017/18 season, presenting him with a very generous gift, which took him by surprise!
Importantly, everyone at AFC Unity wishes to express major gratitude to Jaimee Reeve for all the hard work in making the 2017/18 season Awards Night such a fantastic success!