ConnectSport is supporting the ‘Love Football Zone’ at the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester on September 4-6. The Zone aims to celebrate and highlight initiatives which use the power of football to benefit society, and will feature Premier League Communities, the EFL Trust, UEFA and many charities and club foundations. In this article Andrew Shanahan, an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur, talks about ‘MAN v FAT Football’ which he founded in 2014 and will feature at the Love Football Zone. The project’s aim is to support men around the world who want to lose weight and get healthier through a series of FA-endorsed football leagues. The leagues have helped more than 4,000 men to lose over 50 tonnes in weight across the UK. Sport England are now funding the leagues so that they can reach and support even more men across the country.
“MAN v FAT Football takes something men hate (losing weight) and disguises it as something men love (football). It was formed largely in response to my experiences of the diet industry at large. For whatever reason, the industry offers little or nothing for what could ostensibly be considered 50% of its potential market, i.e. the 67% of men who are overweight and obese in this country.
“I bravely (foolishly) decided that not only would I conduct my own research into getting myself in shape but that I would also provide what the diet industry had failed to: a weight loss programme tailored exclusively to men.
“We launched a crowdfunding campaign that hit 102% of its target and drew support from Jamie Oliver, the British Dietetic Association, the National Obesity Forum and the Food and Drink Federation. Far from having to work at reaching our audience, the MAN v FAT website had tens of thousands of users in its first month alone.
“The missing piece was meetings. I knew that routine and support were key components of weight loss success and they at least were things you could get from attending regular meetings. But I didn’t want to see groups of men idling about draughty town halls up and down the country, buying low calorie biscuits and discussing overeating. I wanted the meetings to be fun, engaging and memorable.
“One group activity I knew thousands of men looked forward to each week was 5-a-side. Football was the perfect fit for MAN v FAT, not only because it’s a great way to start getting active again, but because of the scoring system. It dawned on me that if men could be provided with a reward for weight loss they actually felt passionate about, and would strive for, the motivation would be high. The obvious answer was to give bonus goals as a reward for weight loss. All the teams want to win the league, or at least the next match, so they need to work together to keep each other on track all week.
“That’s why MAN v FAT Football is so successful, because being part of a team that meets each week gives you not only the routine and support of a regular meeting, but also the accountability; the rest of your team needs you to lose weight each week and you don’t want to let them down.
“The first MAN v FAT Football league was launched in Solihull and, as far as I’m aware, it’s the most successful weight management programme that has ever been done for men.
“Normally, the success of a weight management programme according to NICE (the organisers of these things) hinges on 30% of people on the scheme losing 5% of their body weight. We got 62% of our players who lost 5%, and some 95% of them lost weight as a whole.
“As of now we have launched more than 30 leagues across the UK and our members have lost a combined total of over 50 tonnes. We’re now endorsed by the FA and I couldn’t be prouder.
“The vast majority of our leagues are funded by a membership fee, but that inaugural league and many others since have been funded either in part or in full by local authority health initiatives and football club foundation trusts.
“My ultimate ambition is to get the kind of nationwide funding that would see me able to bring MAN v FAT Football to all the men who need it. Every day I receive stories from football fans, fathers and husbands who are crying out for MAN v FAT Football to come to their town and it crushes me every time to say that we don’t have the resources to bring it to them soon. I’ve no doubt the need is there, but getting approval for funding from some councils and trusts is like getting the ball past the Chelsea defence – not impossible, but with many infuriating obstacles.
“Still, the interest in MAN v FAT Football is huge, at home and away. We’ll continue to bring the leagues to the parts of the UK that want them, because the guys who are ready to make a change in their lives are prepared to fund their own leagues. We’ve got our sights set on the international market and we’ll be making some headway in that direction soon.”