Hadfield Athletic AFC are underlining the vital part football plays as a pillar of the community by running initiatives that highlight cancer awareness, mental health awareness, raising money for the NHS, and helping its local foodbank.
The club, affiliated with the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL since 2016, played the previous four seasons as Hollingworth AFC and enjoyed a league triumph and four cup finals in that time.
But this season saw change as Hadfield Athletic was born, thanks to the efforts of Stuart Whiteman, club Chairman, Secretary and Assistant Manager Alex Boardman, Treasurer Matt Armstrong, and first team coach, James Elliott.
The same group of players who enjoyed success at Hollingworth joined the new venture at Hadfield and before Covid-19 halted the season, the club were red hot favourites to take the Division 2 title in their debut campaign; at the time the season was ended, Hadfield were second in the league, one point behind Dukinfield Athletic AFC who had played five more games. No team had won more or lost fewer, and the club’s goal difference was by far and away the division’s best.
A league and cup double was in the club’s sights.
Yet, although it is bitterly disappointing for the players and management, it almost pales into insignificance when the club’s charitable ventures are considered – very much Hadfield’s most important work.
The colour of the club’s playing shirts this season are bright pink and bright blue. Both were designed specifically to increase awareness of breast cancer and prostate cancer respectively.
What started as a throwaway remark from the Chairman became something meaningful, and as Stuart said: “I’m sure it has made people more aware. Even the opposition teams we have played have noticed our shirts.”
Such awareness is vital when you consider the official figures. According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK – it accounted for 15% of new cases in 2017 and in that same year, there were 54,700 new cases recorded. It is the most common form of cancer in females.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males, with more than 48,000 new cases recorded in 2017. Between 2005 and 2017, there were more than 130 cases recorded each day on average.
Stuart said: “The kits were my idea because we know a few people who have sadly died of the diseases.”
The initiative has already raised £500 through shirt sales, which will go to a cancer charity, yet to be decided by the committee. And Hadfield are still selling the shirts through their Facebook page. They are priced at £25, complete with any name printed on the back, and the first team will also sign it.
Next season, the club’s charitable endeavours will see players don white shirts to highlight the mental health charity, Mind.
As Stuart said, sport and charity will come hand-in-hand.
“The value is this will be a football club but always with a charity side to it.”
This ethos, and the desire to help others is apparent with the plans to make sure the elderly and vulnerable are part of the sporting community.
This season, the football club established a part venture with Hadfield Cricket Club, sharing clubhouse facilities. There is a neighbouring retirement home and before the season ended, Stuart had planned to give the elderly living there a chance to watch Hadfield Athletic, and spend time with the team afterwards.
This idea was set to become a regular occurrence before the effects of Covid-19 became apparent.
It speaks for the club’s inclusive nature and care for its community that this is set to be a regular event next season. In the process, it will help those who are lonely and give them a regular outing. This is also important for continued good mental health.
Stuart explained: “What we were going to do is take those interested in football to the game. Afterwards, we’d take them back to the local pub, buy them a beer and drop them home, but unfortunately the coronavirus has got in the way.
“It’s something we’ll do next season, offering those who are home alone the chance to join in. It gets them out of the house for a few hours and hopefully gives them something to look forward to.
“it’s an aspect of our values, supporting charities, and making people aware of opportunities, and that they are not alone. There will be somebody out there thinking ‘what am I going to do on Saturday?’ This will be something to look forward to.”
Fundraising for the local community is a vital part of Hadfield’s work; in the 2019 summer holidays, the club raised £500 to help the local foodbank, Bellies not Bins, stay open during the school holidays. The initiative was led by first team manager, James Elliott, and Stuart Whiteman.
Whilst in lockdown, the club’s players have raised in the region of £400 by shaving their heads, with the money going to the NHS and Hadfield Athletic.
And in the future, the club plans a major fundraising event that will see money donated to the NHS.
The importance of work by frontline NHS workers has never been more apparent, and Hadfield will do their bit by raising money.
Stuart said: “When it is safe to do so, we are going to host a huge fundraiser, invite our football team, all parents, all the cricket lads, and anybody living in the area who wants to come along.
“There will be a bar, barbecue, bouncy castle, face painting, and we’re splitting the money three ways – the football club, cricket club, and the final third will go to the NHS.”
While football comes and goes, the spirit teams like Hadfield create in the areas they serve will endure.