If Girls Want To Play Football You Can’t Just Not Let Them.

Photo: Chris Foxwell

I launched Since 71 in the summer of 2017 and in many ways, the women’s game is unrecognisable now. Since then we have investment filtering down through the pyramid, significant growth in attendances, increased media coverage and the Lionesses lifting the European Championships on home soil.

The rise has been rapid and there is so much to celebrate. However, it saddens me to see that in the short time since the season has ended, stories have come to light about the ongoing fight that many women’s and girl’s teams are enduring to receive the most basic support from their clubs, especially at the amateur or grassroots level.

When Thornaby FC’s all-male committee announced on Sunday that they had voted to remove its women’s and girls’ sections to sustain the future of the male first team, they probably didn’t expect the backlash it rightly received.

Arsenal and Lionesses’ Beth Mead and Paralympian Tanni Gray-Thompson took to social media to share their upset. Mead said, “Disgusted to see this decision, the women’s game is on the up but we still have committees making these horrible decisions. It’s not good enough, these young girls deserve better.”

Tornaby FC Women. Photo: Karen Rodham

Since the news went viral and at the time of writing the women’s team’s tweet had been seen by over 1.4 million users. The men’s team have taken down their social media accounts and the six board members who voted for the removal have since left the club.

Before his departure, the outgoing chief executive Trevor Wing said that the decision was made after “extensive discussions and deliberation with all stakeholders” and it had become “evident maintaining both the men’s and women’s first teams was financially unsustainable. Given the men’s team has been an established part of Thornaby FC since 2000, the difficult decision was made to prioritise its continuity.”

“If girls want to play football you can’t just not let them.”

Lily, Thornaby FC Girls

Good riddance I say. With club sponsors pulling their support the position of those voting for the removal was simply untenable.

The club shared today that it has appointed Alison McGee as the new chief executive officer. McGee is a director at Durata, a power infrastructure company, which has sponsored Thornaby FC Women for the last two seasons. The club is also looking to welcome back the women and girls teams and provide a platform for them to succeed.

Tornaby FC Women. Photo: Karen Rodham

What angered me the most was the message sent to the young girls in the youth set-up. I genuinely thought that theirs would be the generation that could participate without prejudice or misogyny but clearly, I was being naive.

The women’s first team had a successful 2023/24 season which saw them finish third in the North East Regional Women’s Football League North. Hopefully, this can bring the community together and the team can go from strength to strength moving forward.

Further up the pyramid in the FA Women’s National League, we’ve seen Bridgwater United go public to explain some of the issues going on over recent months. Many would have been forgiven for not knowing anything about it due to the professionalism and commitment of their volunteers.

Within their statement, they explain, “At the end of February 2024, the three Directors of Tony McCarthy, Mike Kushner and Adam Murry, who co-owned Bridgwater Utd Women FC, decided to move the club in a different direction. With Adam Murry stepping down, he pursued further interests in the men’s club, along with other assets, including the Bridgwater Community Sports Trust, the Fairfax Park Stadium and the acquired land at Bristol Road.

“A sale was made of these remaining assets to a new owner, and at the time of the official cessation details which were filed on Companies House in March, it then became apparent to the Directors of Tony and Mike at Bridgwater Utd Women FC, that many aspects of the sale were not accurate and were in fact misleading.

Effectively and as a result of this they were then made ‘homeless’ with no pitch to play on, with the removal of all agreed access to Fairfax Park, with a third of all home matches still left to play last season.

With the support of the FA and access to their educational partner’s facilities, they were able to complete their season and finish a respectable mid-table in the National League Division One South West.

Given the history of this club as a former Women’s Super League team under the banner of Yeovil Town, it saddens me to see how far the club has fallen. Just over two years ago the team were playing host to Manchester United, with the Red Devils coming away with a hard-fought 2-0 victory. If that couldn’t inspire those on the board of the club’s potential then nothing will.

A source has told me that the men’s board have “no respect for the women’s team” and they were never made to feel welcome within the club structure.

I would love to see this group reintegrated into Yeovil Town’s set-up to complement their recently relaunched women’s teams. I don’t know whether it would be realistic or not but the sooner the team can cut ties completely the better.

One team who successfully has cut their ties this summer is Eastleigh, the Hampshire-based team will again compete in the Southern Region Women’s Football League next season but under the badge of Sholing FC.

They will be joined by the girls and boys from the Spitfires youth section.

Eastleigh LFC (blue) in action against Moneyfields in the Hampshire FA Cup. Photo: Paul Paxford

A source from the team told me that the club’s committee are motivated by money and has no interest in the welfare of the women’s team. Not the first time I have heard this accusation over the years. The Spitfires are known to have refused requests from the women to host matches at the club’s home, the Silverlake Stadium, including during their Adobe Women’s FA Cup run.

Given their new supportive environment, Sholing can look forward to a brighter future while Eastleigh are left scrambling to recruit a whole youth set up but given their reputation locally, this is going to be a real struggle.

Another club who are looking at a hefty rebuild are MK Dons Women. After the departure of highly regarded manager Charlie Bill, a mass exodus of the playing squad followed with twenty-nine players leaving, largely due to the club’s failure to invest in the women’s team. While clubs around them pay players a wage many at Dons have to settle for expenses. This isn’t greed, this is players knowing their worth and knowing what resources could be available if those running the club supported the team.

MK Dons Women’s defender Hannah Warren (2) dejected at the end of the Adobe Women’s FA Cup Third Round against Birmingham City at Stadium MK

I fully expect to see many of this group follow Bill to Real Bedford, with the tier four side appearing to show much more ambition and belief in their women’s team.

The Dons finished last season marooned in sixth place, nine points behind Oxford United and eleven ahead of Cheltenham Town. Given the right investment, the forthcoming season should have been something to look forward to, with Dons seeking to close the gap and break into the promotion chasers. Instead, the club are likely to be involved in a relegation battle.

While nothing has been confirmed publicly, Wolverhampton Wanderers are believed to be scrapping the reserves team for the upcoming season, while their colleagues in the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier, Stourbridge, West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest all scrapped their reserves teams. Not a great look for the women’s game right now, especially for those with Premier League backing.

The common theme here is money and perhaps I should be more sympathetic to the pressures of trying to run a football club during a cost of living crisis but respect costs nothing and too often that is what is lacking. As I write there will no doubt be other clubs in a similar position and hopefully as the game continues to grow and those holding teams back will be eradicated from football full stop.

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