Derry football team for dads trying to cope with losing a child
A football team for men bereaved through stillbirth or neonatal death has been set up in Londonderry as a coping mechanism for grief - the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
When Ronan Nelis and his wife Lyndsey lost their unborn daughter Isla last February 33 weeks into the pregnancy, he knew he would not be comfortable with regular counselling, but the idea of joining a football team appealed.
He is among the founding members of Sands United FC Maiden City and hopes to reach out to other men struggling with the grief of losing a child.
Speaking to this newspaper, Ronan said: "I'm not the kind of man who talks about his feelings, so the thought of going to meetings and sitting down and talking was very daunting.
"We lost our daughter Isla in February at 33 weeks, so everything is still very raw - she's the third child we've lost before birth.
"When I heard the idea of a football team of men who have been through our experience, that appealed and it has actually made such a difference.
"I have always loved football and have played all my life, so for me this was an easier avenue for me to go down to get the support I knew I needed."
Playing alongside Ronan is John Haire, who dedicated his first game to his son Charlie, who passed away 31 weeks into wife Claire's pregnancy seven months ago.
He said: "We lost Charlie, but his twin brother Bobby survived, so my emotions were all over the place. Even now it is a real roller coaster. I am so happy about Bobby, but then I feel guilty about wee Charlie up in his grave, so I go and see him.
"Having the football team has been an amazing help for me. Most of the men who play I didn't know, but there is a bond among us now that is special.
"We are a bunch of misfits, but we're all in the same boat and we know we can talk if we want to or not - it's up to the individual.
"We play every Thursday night at 9pm at the Bay Road pitches and anyone who wants to join us can just turn up - they will be made more than welcome."
The idea for the football team came from Melissa Crockett, a childbirth and pregnancy loss specialist midwife for the Western Trust, who explained: "I realised that society as a whole treated bereaved mothers and father differently.
"A lot of men don't talk about grief to their partners, family or support groups, but most men will kick a football around.
"I saw in the media about a football team in England that was set up solely as a unique way for dads to come together and create their own safe and supportive network.
"With this in mind, I approached my line manager and Sands NI (a stillbirth and neonatal death charity) to develop something similar here.
"I feel that the establishment of this team will have far-reaching ramifications on the physical, mental and emotional health of not only the bereaved dads themselves but their entire families."
Anyone interested in finding out more can contact the team on Facebook at Sands NI FC Maiden City