Well, here we are… On the cusp of 2022 after a year which followed probably one of the toughest years of many people’s lives. I think at this stage of the pandemic so many of us have lost someone we know or know of and I just want to add to the condolences if you’re one of those people who have lost a loved one during the last year to COVID or anything else. My thoughts are with you.
There’s no doubt that at TDFC we’ve faced some big challenges in the last year. From company finances, to ongoing restrictions which curtailed many of the project ideas we had, through to the challenges of supporting our community during a period of uncertainty, pressure and ultimately fear. It’s been tough to move forward but move forward we have. Because for me, that’s the mindset I’ve always had, when you want to make something happen and there’s a barrier in the way, you don’t run away from it, you find a way to leap over it and that’s how we’ve approached 2021. We’ve tried our best to adapt and overcome the challenges we’ve been faced with. It’s not been easy, but nothing worth doing in life is made easy for us.
So, we’ve given it a good go.
With the start of 2021 in the UK being a period of lockdown, much of the support we could offer was via our online tools. So, we maxed this out as much as we could. We had great engagement in the Men’s whatsapp group which continues to be an incredible resource for support, awareness and troubleshooting around type 1 Diabetes. This year we’ve had discussions on the impact of vaccines on our Diabetes, the effect of COVID on our condition and how long it may have impacted on people, all the way through to the performances of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal (too often a conversation in my opinion!). It’s incredible to see and as the founder who envisaged this idea in 2017, to see how we’re able to help so many people in this way is mind blowing sometimes. We’ve changed lives and we continue to influence the way the healthcare system views peer support, and for this I’m always grateful. Our community, our vision and our direction.
In amongst that vision has always been to shed a spotlight on the incredible people involved in football living with Diabetes. Storytelling is one of the greatest gifts that we all have available to us and the power a story can have, if told in the right way, can be profound. We’ve told stories on our social media, through our blog and in the media before but we felt with the growth of podcasts, it was time to start telling stories using this popular medium. So, during the early part of 2021, myself and peachy launched The Diabetes Dugout to do just that. We’ve interviewed people from the community, told stories from people involved in professional football and most importantly shed a light on our condition which educates others. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope those who have tuned in to the episodes have done too (I even got to speak with the legend that is Gary Mabbutt MBE!) … It’s a resource now that we will always be able utilise and if you haven’t checked it out, search for The Diabetes Dugout on spotify or apple podcasts or head to www.thediabetesfootballcommunity.com/the-diabetes-dugout
As the early part of 2021 turned into spring and summer, the impact of the vaccine was felt widely across the UK with life returning to something which looked a little bit more like our previous normal. This allowed myself and the teams to get back to playing. We opted to bring the UK Men’s team back together but outdoors throughout the summer to maximise the safety of the players. It proved to be really well received and the guys welcomed the sessions back with open arms. We had a number of new attendees who had found our work during the pandemic who came to experience the environment we create for the first time. The below podcast link outlines how that session played out, so make sure you go and check that out because I think it really demonstrates what it’s all about:
Whilst myself, I got to make my comeback to playing competitive Futsal after the pandemic and after my post-concussion syndrome. I was back playing for Birmingham Futsal club in the National Futsal series, where for the first time in the sport’s history in England, games were being shown on TV through FreeSports and then live on BT Sports later in the year. The sport finally had the coverage it deserved, and it was great to be back doing what I do. I even got to get on the court alongside an Aston Villa legend in Stiliyan Petrov who I’d grown up watching as a teenager at Villa Park.
Another group which also got back playing this year was our TDFC London team. They were back on the Futsal court and just like the wider men’s team, their numbers had grown during the pandemic. Honestly, this group has given me so much pride this year with the way they’ve come together as their own community as well as how they’ve performed on the court. They’re enjoying themselves, supporting each other and they’ve even managed to feature on Channel News Asia TV too (video below)! They’re an incredible example of the TDFC ethos spreading and expanding. This hub idea is something I hope to see more growth around in 2022 and beyond as we reach more corners of the UK and beyond.
But alongside this growth in the men’s groups, we’ve seen the development of the Women’s project for the first time in TDFC history. We now have a great group of Female leaders shaping the strategy & direction of the TDFC Womens project as we head into 2022. The team now have their first date in the diary for a meet up in Worcester on March 12th (Yes right next to International Women’s Day!) to really push this and keep an eye out for the girls appearing on social media in 2022 as they look to grow the awareness of the project. We have to also thank the incredible team at HerGameToo who we partnered with to support this project and they’ve since provided us with really generous donations to help the girls get going! So, a huge thank you to everyone at HerGameToo and to Caz and Amy specifically who I’ve spoken to. You’re doing an incredible job!
Alongside the success of creating the women’s project, I also had the chance to celebrate The People’s Award at the QIC Diabetes awards. The award was given to me as an individual but for me it’s all about the way the community came together during the pandemic to provide the guidance, moral support and positivity we all needed to get us through a challenging time whilst living with Diabetes. I’m just the fortunate one who created this idea but the voices within our project and community win awards like this, not me. Nevertheless, as a project it was wonderful to be recognised in an awards ceremony designed to celebrate the excellent care provided by healthcare professionals in the Diabetes sector, so for us it was brilliant to raise awareness of our project to more and more of the professionals up and down the country who work tirelessly to make our lives easier. Check out the result of the award below and one of the pictures… It was also pretty cool to meet the voice of Strictly Come Dancing Mr Alan Dedicoat.
Awards help us with awareness, and I can’t deny that, however they’re not something I dwell on too much. I’ve always had this saying coached into me since I was as a kid “you’re only as good as your last game.” Obviously, this relates to my Football background but it’s true of life too, we’re only as good as we are right now in the moment, what we’ve achieved or done has already been written and what’s to come is now our focus. This always helps me to get me focussed on what’s next. In 2021, I’ve had a couple of great opportunities on behalf of TDFC to help position ourselves to influence “What’s next” for the overall Diabetes Community. Firstly, I was invited to become part of a steering group to help expand peer support across England with NHS England at the heart of leading it, with the vision of those of us with the condition very much helping to steer the ship. TDFC is recognised and commended widely by those in healthcare teams up and down the country, so it was really exciting for us to be invited to be involved in pathing the way for wider adoption of peer support in the healthcare structure and treatment pathways of the future for people with Diabetes. This project is just gathering momentum so keep an eye out on developments in this area in the next few months. Whilst this project has been gaining traction, I’ve also been working away with Professor Gyozo Molnar from the University of Worcester on the first academic publication related to my research on The Diabetes Football Community ( If you haven’t come across the research before check out the blog post by clicking here). We’ve now submitted our first draft to the editors and will await amendments in preparation for final submissions & publication later in 2022/ early 2023. Another important step having our community’s example being utilised within academia to inform the next generation of researchers and policy makers within the healthcare industry regarding the impact of peer support.
But as always…. We’re a long way from being finished.
To begin 2022, we have the exciting launch of The Diabetes Awareness education program for schools, aimed at kids aged between 5-11. Our hope is that this will raise awareness of the condition, whilst encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and understanding the differences between the 2 main types of diabetes. An awareness program to help make Diabetes a bigger, more understood conversation for the next generation, as we attempt to tackle the longstanding stigma and stereotypes many of us have faced over many years with the condition. It’s an exciting development and if you want to find out more or point your schools in the direction of it head to www.ajbactiveminds.co.uk
Below are some pictures from our recent trip to Everton in the community to promote the work and to talk about future links for the programme.
This isn’t our only foray into education & resources for 2022 as we’re hoping to develop further resources and CPD opportunities for those involved in football, so watch this space! Ideas will be progressing in the early part of 2022 and as always if you want to help or support us please do get in touch.
Whilst on the participation front, we’ll be delivering futsal sessions for our men’s and women’s teams in 2022 and I hope for the first time we will be doing something for a kids participation day (I’ve said this a lot but the pandemic did put pay to this idea for a while!)…. Who knows, we may even manage to participate in DiaEuro 2022 if the pandemic allows us a safe time to do so….But as always we have lots of ideas to focus on.
As usual though, we’re going for it. We don’t sit back and wait for things to happen at TDFC, we strive for positive change and that’s what will be doing in 2022. But, we can’t do this alone and these efforts aren’t always the easiest to fund or find a way to deliver, so if you could help us financially to continue to do what we do, please head to our donate page: www.thediabetesfootballcommunity.com/donate or head over to our patreon page to subscribe to exclusive content www.patreon.com/thediabetesfootballcommunity
However before I finish, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to the incredible TDFC team behind the scenes…. You all know who you are but a special mention to the man who helps keep us on the straight and narrow, my fellow podcast host, director and really good friend Jon Peach who’s made a huge difference to me in the last year since stepping onto the board. Thank you mate!
But most importantly to me, I wanted to end this blog with the views of our community… So I reached out to them on WhatsApp and I simply said to them finish this sentence:
Being part of TDFC in 2021 has been…..
“Informative, really helpful and great knowing I’m not alone. Great Football banter too.”
“An arm of support I didn’t really know I needed until times got hard. Support, guidance and laughs.”
“The most supportive and helpful tool I have used to help manage my T1D since first being diagnosed, whilst also feeling part of a special with a great bunch of lads.”
“A useful source of information and humour, at a time where both have been hard to find elsewhere.”
“A great source of comfort and knowledge in a subject that’s lacking in information in the public domain.”
“Really great and useful. Helped me through some struggles and getting to know people in the same situation.”
“A big eye opener into how good of a community we have. The support has been amazing and being a part of TDFC is something I highly recommend people get involved with.”
“Inspiring and encouraging! It’s amazing to be connected to so many people who understand what I go through every day, and all through football.”
“Like being part of a family, I’ve enjoyed bringing diabetes and football together to raise awareness and inspire others.”
“A great experience allowing me to connect with other girls within football living with type 1 whilst working on inspiring others. Can’t wait for what the next year will bring.”
“So far brief! But for the short time I’ve been part of TDFC, it has been great knowing there’s a whole group of people who share your passion and understand the difficulties of diabetes. Having that support system is incredible and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in 2022.”
“The continuation of a fantastic support network for all things diabetes and football (could even change that to sport!)”
And their responses continue to show me why we do what we do. Happy New year everyone here’s to another year of changing the perception of Diabetes.