With the 2019/20 season not able to be completed because of COVID-19, we decided to have our end-of-season Awards Night on the 1st of May online instead. Whilst the results have officially been expunged, this season has been one that we all wanted to celebrate, reflect on and remember. Last June, we met as a team as part of pre-season and created a 2020 Vision as a catalyst for change throughout the football club so that better results can then harness better social impact in the community. Starting with our shock 0-1 win away to then-unbeaten division leaders Millmoor Juniors Reserves on the 8th of December, the team had an unbeaten league run of 6 games, up to and including the last game on the 8th of March, with the 2020 Vision starting to be realised.
Alongside the first team, volunteer first aider Jenna Bacon and several Solidarity Soccer participants attended the Awards Night that took place via Zoom. After introductions from all attending regarding their involvement with the club, Head Coach Jay Baker provided a reflection on the season and presented the first awards of the night: Red Star Awards.
Red Star Awards recognise first team players for different individual traits that they have brought to the team this season. This year, first team player No.11 Becky Gay also organised Attribute Awards as part of this, with the winners of the following attributes voted on by the team:
Hardest Trainer: No.1 Hannah Lamb and No.6 Sarah Peck
Smiliest/Happiest Player: No.2 Sarah Choonara
Twinkle Toes: No.3 Jane Watkinson
Bravest Player: No.29 Kristina Rankine
Leadership: No.37 Rachel Rodgers
Following this was the Solidarity Soccer award to recognise outstanding achievement by a regular Solidarity Soccer attendee, which this year was awarded to regular participant Kizzy Jaycock who has attended a total of 49 Solidarity Soccer sessions so far and is always looking to provide support to other attendees, helping create a safe and inclusive space. Kizzy has also supported the team at our 11-a-side games this season, which has been fantastic and much appreciated.
We then moved onto the ‘silly awards’ organised by No.41 Amy Brown and nominated by first team players, with the winners as follows:
Clumsiest Player: No.24 Jodie Spillings (for a second year running!)
Best miss…training and game: No.1 Hannah Lamb
Club Comedian: No.16 Lizzie Smith and No.41 Amy Brown
Wackiest goal celebration: Head Coach Jay Baker (if anyone has been at a game when we have scored, you will know why Jay won this…)
Cleanest Boots: No.27 Michelle Garrigan (justice after being robbed of the award last year!)
Following this was the presentation of the Ambassador Award by former first team player and also a regular Solidarity Soccer attendee/Ambassador, Corinne Heritage. The Ambassador Award is picked by Solidarity Soccer participants based on which Ambassador they would like to acknowledge in terms of the help and support they have given attendees of Solidarity Soccer. For the second year running Hannah Lamb was the winner of this award, with Hannah attending a total of 82 U-Mix Centre Solidarity Soccer sessions so far. Hannah is always one of the first to greet new attendees, runs the warm-up most weeks and makes sure that all attending understand the exercises taking place, with Hannah crucial to helping create the safe, supportive and inclusive space at Solidarity Soccer. Hannah is also leading on – with fellow first team player No.45 Katie Mishner – important changes to the Solidarity Soccer programme to ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for women, trans and non-binary people. Hannah is now looking at becoming the Solidarity Soccer Secretary as a member of the Board.
We then moved onto the Integrity Award, which is for a first team player involved in the club, based on its vision, values, and mission, overtly standing up for and defending these, showing a dedication and commitment to setting an example to others – with the shortlist proposed by and voted on by the team, and with the award presented by first team player and Director No.8 Sophie Smith. There was a shortlist of four players proposed by members of the team, which included: No.1 Hannah Lamb; No.2 Sarah Choonara; No.5 Jaimee Reeve (last year’s Integrity Award winner!); and, No.27 Michelle Garrigan. For her ongoing commitment and passion for social justice, Sarah Choonara was the winner of this year’s Integrity Award with the players acknowledging Sarah’s leadership on the #UnityForAll campaign, representing the club at numerous events furthering social justice and how much support and resources she has provided her teammates – especially in terms of workers’ rights – which she continues to do during these difficult times. Sarah is now becoming a Director of the Board and will lead on everything to do with the AFC Unity Ultras.
After a break, Jay presented the Solidarity Award for outstanding achievements by any (usually non-playing) club personnel who have demonstrated dedication and a long-standing commitment to the club. This year’s winner is Jenna Bacon who has provided first aid for the club (and other teams several times when needed too!) over the last 3 years and will sadly be moving on when football resumes. Jenna has been invaluable for the players and also for Jay as a Head Coach, going above and beyond anything we could have ever expected with regular dialogue and support for injured players beyond game times. Jenna is irreplaceable and we are all so thankful for all she has done for the club.
We then moved onto the Collective Award which is selected primarily by Ultras (secondarily by other supporters) as being the fan favourite this season. This award was presented by Corinne Heritage, who has attended several games this season herself, and was awarded to No.3 Jane Watkinson. Jane has had a difficult previous 3 years with injuries, which included getting injured in this pre-season and not playing until December, but on returning Jane featured in all the remaining games of the season scoring 6 goals in 7 appearances and providing 2 assists.
Following this was the Breakout Award, picked by the Head Coach, for the player that responded to the coaching during the season and notably developed as a player technically, tactically, socially, psychologically and physically, on and off the pitch, in line with the club’s ethos. The winner of this award was No.17 Kirsten Vizor, with Jay explaining how Kirsten is a student of the game, always asking questions about the first team Training Guide, tactics and the club’s footballing philosophy, becoming absolutely crucial as our defensive central midfielder in the team’s formation, approach and style of play, and providing technical brilliance in terms of breaking up attacks and starting our own, alongside perfect passing.
Sophie Smith then presented the Unity Award, for the first team player voted on by their teammates on the night, confidentially chosen, in reference to ability, attendance, and attitude, and how they have represented the club and their team on and off the pitch. Winning her second award of the night was Kirsten Vizor, with the team overwhelmingly choosing Kirsten as their players’ player reflecting the crucial role Kirsten has in the team. Kirsten has appeared 16 times this season (in all but one game), scoring 1 goal, providing 2 assists and also being a regular captain providing invaluable support to her teammates. This is also the third year in a row where the Head Coach and players have agreed on recognising the achievements of a player. Kirsten is also now the Co-Secretary of the club as a member of the Board.
Finally, Head Coach Jay Baker presented the Hope Over Fear Award for best player of the season, for a first team player who has turned negatives into positives and adhered to, trusted in, and enacted the Head Coach’s vision, AFC Unity’s football philosophy, and acted as a role model, inspiration, and positive influence on the team as a whole. The winner of this award is No.5 Jaimee Reeve. This was Jaimee’s fourth season with the club, with Jaimee progressing from Unity’s former second team – the AFC Unity Jets – into the first team and becoming an essential player, being able to play as part of a back three and also as a wing-back. Jay spoke of Jaimee’s uncanny ability to always be in the right place at the right time, how her honesty in communication with Jay is crucial for him and the team, as shown by how Jaimee is a regular captain. Jay said that Jaimee has become a giant figure in AFC Unity, including being a Director for the last two years and recently becoming the Chair of the club. Jaimee appeared 14 times this season, providing 1 assist, and was always one of the first to lead on making sometimes difficult but important decisions where needed. Alongside all this, Jaimee has led on the Football for Food campaign creating a strong connection with the S2 Foodbank and taking donations from players at home games to the food bank on a regular basis.
We know that the future is very uncertain. Importantly though, we want to do as much as we can as a club to help people during these difficult times. As part of this, we are connecting with the Sheffield TUC CV19 Council of Action, who are an alliance of Sheffield trade unions, faith organisations and community groups, coordinating demands on government bodies and employers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes players taking part in related actions to further workers’ rights and raise awareness of the need for mass testing and protective equipment for all key workers alongside recording and distributing a video regarding these issues. With subs stopped for the time being, some players have decided to keep up their monthly standing orders to the club so this can then be donated to the Sheffield Foodbank Network alongside players organising food bank collections outside their homes to do what they can as part of #FootballForFood (read here for more on this). The team have also been supporting each other via mutual aid on our team Telegram chat, there are also plans for online training sessions of some kind (such as tactics focus) via Zoom to take place alongside plans for running online events/activities with Solidarity Soccer participants. We are also looking to support local businesses as a club where we can, including via obtaining custom-made awards for this year’s winners. We want to keep doing what we can as a club and we welcome any suggestions regarding this.
Thank you for reading this! From all at AFC Unity, we hope you are well and stay safe. In solidarity. #InUnity