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Committee members step down amid row over axing of female football teams

Lily Lucas of Thornaby FC’s girls’ under 15s lifts a trophy. The club has been hit by a backlash after officials said it was axing its female section (Family handout/PA)
Lily Lucas of Thornaby FC’s girls’ under 15s lifts a trophy. The club has been hit by a backlash after officials said it was axing its female section (Family handout/PA)

Six committee members who voted to axe their football club’s female section – leaving 100 women and girls without a club – have stood down following an outcry, a local politician has said.

Lioness Beth Mead led the backlash against the decision by Teesside-based Thornaby FC, which followed an emergency meeting on Sunday evening.

The move was blamed on low staffing levels.

Arsenal striker Mead, who played at Middlesbrough’s Centre of Excellence growing up, said on social media: “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.”

The winner of 11 Paralympic golds, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson called the move “so sad”, while Spurs and Lionesses player Bethany England added: “This should not be happening.”

The FA was “very disappointed” and said its local branch, the North Riding County FA, was in contact with the club.

Parliamentary candidates for the new Middlesbrough and Thornaby East constituency also criticised the decision.

And Labour candidate Andy McDonald, formerly Middlesbrough’s MP until parliament was dissolved, said on Monday afternoon that “six board members responsible for the decision have now stepped down”.

He added: “I believe this is right.

“I have made contact with the remaining board members who want to retain the female teams and build a new diverse and wide-ranging board alongside representatives from the women’s team.

“I look forward to meeting with them in the coming days to provide any help or support I can offer in how we make progress from this point.”

Earlier, Tees Valley elected mayor Ben Houchen had demanded the club do a U-turn, saying he was “outraged” and that the “mindset belongs in the 1970s”.

After the club announced its decision, Thornaby’s women’s section said on Facebook it will lose its under 7s, 8s, 10s, 11s, 15s and women’s teams.

“This leaves over 100 girls without a club,” they said.

“We are all devastated to hear of the Thornaby FC decision and would like to thank the members of the club who voted to keep female football.”

Club chairman Garry Morris did not back the committee’s decision, and according to reports he and another official will remain at the club.

Abbey Lyle, the women’s team manager, said the side had enjoyed a successful season so that did not explain why the club would axe them.

She said: “We narrowly missed promotion and that’s in our first season. It’s nothing to do with our positioning, it’s more to do with – I hate to say it – but it’s more to do with gender because there’s no other reason for it.

“I can’t see any other reason other than that, unfortunately.”

Nikki Lucas, whose daughter Lily captains Thornaby’s successful under 15s team, said they had just won a tournament when they heard.

She said: “We were all absolutely devastated, shocked and really deflated.

“The girls had spent the whole day at a tournament in Chester-le-Street where they absolutely smashed it, lifted a trophy and then came home to this news.”

Mrs Lucas said parents held fundraising events for the girls’ teams through the season to cover the cost of entering tournaments, and their subs paid for kits and training gear.

Young players would be heartened by the support that the girls’ and women’s teams have received since the news broke, she said.

“It has been unbelievable, it has been quite emotional this morning, we knew people wouldn’t be happy, but we never imagined anything on this scale,” she said.

“The girls have seen the offers of help and it has boosted them up.

“It shows how much the women’s game has progressed.”

The under 15s finished runners up in their league, won two cups and have been invited to represent the Teesside area in a national tournament this summer.