Aberdeen FC players and staff are donning their Santa hats to call around thousands of supporters to check on their welfare this Christmas.
The club and its charity arm, the AFC Community Trust (AFCCT), has created a 50-strong team of staff, players and club volunteers – including a host of first-team regulars and Dons legends – who will reach out to more than 5,000 isolated fans this festive period.
The squad first made calls at the height of the pandemic as part of the club’s Still Standing Free initiative, which also involved delivering food hampers to those self-isolating during lockdown.
They reached more than 15,000 supporters over the 16-week project, which also involved the Dons launching the mental health mobile phone app, Thrive.
Now they’ve reformed for a winter version of the campaign, named Calling Home for Christmas, aimed at lifting spirits across the north-east – especially among those who have been shielding or have experienced mental health issues.
AFCCT chief executive Liz Bowie said it had been a “tough period” for many fans and their families.
“That’s why we will be, once again, checking-in with as many as we can to bring some festive cheer,” she added.
Supporters and participants on the community trust’s programmes who are at particular risk of isolation over Christmas are first on the list to be contacted, with 1,200 calls logged already this month.
Fraser Burnett, one of the trust’s partner schools coaches and part of AFC’s calls team has made almost 50 calls to fans so far.
The 21-year-old, from Methlick, said: “We mainly have a chat about football, lockdown and how they have been doing as well.
“We’ve had a real mix of people to call, but I’ve spoken with mainly men and women in the fifties and upwards. For some of them they are lonely and isolated being stuck in their homes at this time. If we are the only voice they speak to that week we want to be motivating and encouraging.
“A lot of fans too say they’re missing not just coming to the football but the social side that goes with it as well… meeting up with pals beforehand, going to the pub or meeting to discuss the game over a drink afterwards. Our phone calls maybe give them that chance to speak about the games.”
Mr Burnett, who started volunteering with the club when he was 16 before getting a full-job there two years ago, added: “We’re a community club and we are we are doing this all this for the community and to help everyone.
“It’s hopefully providing some fans with the social aspect of the game they’re badly missing at this time of year.”