Rob and his wife Charlotte’s third child Niamh was stillborn, days before her due date in They were helped through their loss by the stillbirth charity Sands, but at one meeting, Rob counted 24 women and just three men.
Realising that grieving dads were finding it difficult to reach out for help, he organised a charity football match to raise funds for Sands, but also giving men an opportunity to come together and talk about their loss.
Rob said: “There was no pressure to talk about our children but gradually, we all found ourselves opening up and talking about our own experiences.”
The one-off game, featuring bereaved fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers, raised £6,000, but the emotional benefit for the players was even more significant. And so Sands United was born, and entered into a local league in Northampton.
But Rob’s impact has spread far wider. Inspired by his example, there are now more than 30 Sands United teams across Britain. Each team’s kit is embroidered with the names of the babies they have lost, and hundreds of men, and their families, have been empowered to open up about their loss, and support each other through sport.
Oliver Earby, 27, who lost daughter Minnie, said: “Men don’t talk about it down the pub. But once you open up you realise you are not the only one going through it.” And Jake Bull, whose daughter Olivia lived for just an hour, said: “It has really helped me open up. The club has given me my confidence back.”
Peter Byrom of Sands, and a friend of Rob and Charlotte, said: “It’s very inspiring how they have turned one of the darkest experiences a couple can go through into something so positive in memory of Niamh.
“Rob is a very humble person, in his words he simply opened a door which many other men have been able to walk through and get the support they did not realise was there.”