This October is Black History Month, the theme of which this year is 'Proud to Be', with black people throughout the United Kingdom being invited to share what they are proud of about themselves, their history and their achievements.
At Southampton Football Club, we have been speaking to some of our very own staff members, who are sharing the stories of their own journeys into sport, with the hope this can inspire more black people to consider and pursue a career in football.
Our latest colleague to feature is Abz Ntiri-Akuffo, Casual Sport Therapist and Casual Girls & Women’s Player Care Officer...
Tell us about your journey and how you go into your position now?
When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a vet. You see, I loved animals and wanted to work with them every single day. Unfortunately, that dream didn’t quite go to plan following my A-Level results, but I must give credit to my family who helped me realise a new career; combining my love of sport and my caring nature.
I attended the University of Bedfordshire to study Sports Therapy, a degree I had never really heard about. Four years later and I graduated. Whilst I was looking for different Sports Therapy positions in sports clubs, I stumbled into working in education.
A large part of my journey is working in education; mainly alternative education which I’ve got to admit I kind of fell into it, but enjoyed it from the moment I started; Working with vulnerable young people that may have been excluded, branded as naughty or difficult, and those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, including young people with learning difficulties. I loved this job and it helped me build a great awareness of safeguarding, welfare and wellbeing, and, overall, a greater understanding of using different strategies to use when supporting young people.
In 2015, I managed to gain a role in the Hampshire FA Girl’s Centre of Excellence as a Sports Therapy intern. I spent a year and a half as an intern before the programme became Southampton FC Girls’ RTC and I came into the role as a Sports Therapist. Whilst working evenings and weekends for the Hampshire FA Girl’s Centre of Excellence, I also worked Monday to Friday in an alternative education provision.
I then decided to complete a masters in Sports Therapy in 2017 and worked part-time in the alternative education provision, working evenings and weekends for Southampton FC RTC and the Women’s team. I’m not going to lie, it was probably one of the most exhausting but enjoyable times looking back at it now, but that was a very long year at the time. I moved to Southampton in 2018 and worked in a mainstream school in more of an unqualified teacher role. Then in the summer of 2019 I stepped into my current role as Player Care Officer alongside my Sports Therapist role.
Tell us about your current role?
I currently have two casual roles here at the club, both supporting the Girls & Women’s teams. My main day-to-day role is as a Player Care Officer supporting players from the Under-11s through to the Women’s first team, and my other casual role is as a Sports Therapist, mainly for the RTC and the RTC Academy.
As a Player Care Officer my role is a combination of supporting players off pitch, looking after their wellbeing and welfare, as well as coordinating the players and parents’ workshops. There is admin and planning that does take up quite a lot of my time, but I’m able to make sure I spend time equally between the squads.
In my Sports Therapist role it can vary from covering training sessions; supporting players complete their rehab programmes and providing pitch-side first aid, to doing pitch-side cover on matchdays. No training session or match is ever the same and there are times where I may be really busy with running onto the pitch to help a player, or helping multiple players complete their rehab programmes, to times where its quiet (I hate to say the word and jinx myself!) and all the players are back fit and on the pitch.
Which part of your current role do you enjoy the most?
That’s a really hard question because there are so many aspects of my roles that I enjoy. I’m probably quite lucky in the fact that there is quite a bit of crossover between my roles, being a Player Care Officer and a Sports Therapist. But, if I had to narrow it down, I would say one of the most enjoyable aspects of both roles is being with people; listening to their stories and building relationships that can last. Another part of my role that I enjoy is being able to be that supporting factor throughout a player’s journey. Whether that be a sounding board for players to vent their frustrations to helping them to get back on the pitch after a tough time. It’s just amazing to be part of their journey helping them to succeed in whatever they put their mind to.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or someone looking to follow in similar footsteps?
The biggest bit of advice I would give my younger self is to trust your gut, but also realise that your voice doesn’t need to be the loudest in order to be heard. I say trust your gut because there have been times when I have questioned myself, or the decisions I’ve made, and your gut knows you better than you know yourself sometimes. For anyone that wanted to follow in similar footsteps I would say that it’s important to really listen and take in what is said, remembering that there are words, but there is also music underpinning it. Lastly, always be ready to learn and develop yourself at whatever stage or occasion you find yourself in.
As part of Black History month, we are exploring 2021’s theme ‘Proud to be’ – what is your proudest moment to date? Both career wise and personal life?
I would say the proudest moment in my career to date is being able to use my experiences from education, sports therapy and life experiences to build a curriculum of workshops for each age group to follow.
When I look at my personal life, there’s probably not a single moment that I would class to be my proudest, but rather a culmination of a few moments. I would say that one example is being able to use my voice to discuss my experiences of living with sickle cell, to support training exercises for registrars and encourage discussions between hospital teams and departments to ensure that there is a good system of care for sickle cell admissions at my current hospital. Another huge one for me is completing both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees; as throughout them both I was in and out of hospital due to sickle cell crises.