Football and funerals. Not an obvious combination. But funeral arranger and mum of three Sharon Milburn manages to fit both into her hectic schedule. We find out how this remarkable lady is bringing far much more than a respected funeral service to her local community in Toxteth…
It’s a drizzly Saturday morning and Sharon Milburn is on the side-lines at a local Under 15s football match. So far, so normal. She may well be a typical ‘football mum,’ ferrying her three footy-obsessed children across Liverpool, but Sharon has more than a vested interest in this particular game, as assistant manager of the team!
“We set up our own football club in April 2015 – Prescot Rangers JFC,” explains fledgling funeral arranger Sharon. “We’ve now got four teams playing for us, have just set up a development squad, and we’re FA charter standard already,” she beams.
Football is in Sharon’s blood. A lifelong Liverpool supporter and season ticket holder, she recently completed her FA Coaching Badge Level 1. “I turned up on a course with 24 men and me and loved it,” she laughs.
Her children certainly take after their mum. Sharon’s eldest boy is a promising young referee, her middle son is an avid footballer, and her daughter could well be a future star in the women’s game.
So what makes her give up her time to teach kids how to play the beautiful game?
“I watched our Under 6 development squad the other day, some of them are toddlers. They were like bees round a honeypot. It’s so lovely and makes me smile.
“I also run Rainbows which is essentially a ‘baby’ Brownies! Everyone needs a release and that’s how I get mine. Seeing things through the eyes of kids makes you realise what life’s about.”
Sharon obviously lives life to the full so how did she get into a job that deals with death on a daily basis?
“Co-op Funeralcare sponsored one of our teams’ kits. We had their link on our website and out of curiosity I clicked on careers. I was a Weight Watchers leader in the community and was ready for a change. I couldn’t believe it when I saw there was a vacancy in Toxteth. It was meant to be.”
But her interest in working with bereaved families was sparked nearly 12 years earlier when arranging her mum’s funeral. “The support I got from Therese in Garston was incredible. She was absolutely brilliant and picked up on the fact that even though my brother was sat there nodding at everything she said, she knew he couldn’t cope. She took him outside to have a chat and I thought: ‘I’d love to do that. I want to be able to support people’. That moment has stuck with me.”
Since November Sharon has been thrown in at the deep end with one of her first funerals at the newly opened Toxteth branch a baby who tragically died of cot death over the Christmas period.
“It’s hard but I’m keen to learn. Because I’m new I’ll be going out on funerals so that I can understand the other roles of Funeralcare colleagues and explain to families exactly what happens on the day.”
Sharon is under no illusion that it may take a bit of time for the community to understand exactly what the new Toxteth branch, a former iconic bank on the corner in the heart of the town, can offer the local community. But along with Funeral Director Pauline McAvoy she’s determined to put it on the local map.
“When Pauline paged the hearse down the road for our first funeral, I wanted to see the reaction of the community,” she says. “There was so much respect. It was old school. People stood still and bowed their heads. You don’t get that in a lot of areas. That respect is there in the community so if we build those relationships, people will come in.”
And community is central to Sharon’s life. The crematoriums used by Toxteth Funeralcare both happen to be near the city’s two iconic football grounds: Goodison and Anfield. Daily you’ll hear ‘You’ll never walk alone’ playing as someone lays their loved one to rest.
“This is my vocation and football is my life,” says Sharon. “It sounds stupid but Anfield is a very spiritual place. Like another church.”
Maybe football and funerals have more in common than we think.