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Lionesses lead backlash against club’s decision to axe girls’ and women’s teams

Lily Lucas, captain of Thornaby under 15s, lifting a trophy for the club (Family handout/PA)
Lily Lucas, captain of Thornaby under 15s, lifting a trophy for the club (Family handout/PA)

Lioness Beth Mead led the backlash against football officials who decided to axe their club’s female section, leaving 100 women and girls without a team.

The controversial decision by the committee of Teesside-based Thornaby FC at an emergency meeting on Sunday, where low staffing levels were cited, led to an outcry across sport and politics.

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.”

Beth Mead plays football for England against Sweden at Wembley
England’s Beth Mead has led the outcry about Thornaby’s committee’s decision to axe the female section (Nigel French/PA)

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 Football Association said it was “very disappointed” and a spokesperson said: “In recent years, we have seen unprecedented growth across the women’s and girls’ game in this country, and we are fully committed to ensuring all women and girls can access and play the game – whether that be in schools or in their local community.

“We are currently supporting North Riding County FA who are in contact with the club to see if a suitable resolution can be agreed.”

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

And the Tees Valley elected mayor, Ben Houchen, demanded the club do a U-turn.

He said: “I am outraged by Thornaby Football Club’s decision – what on earth are they thinking?

“The mindset belongs in the 1970s and is not what our local area is about.

“As we head into a summer of Euros, we should be trying to expand the game, not put barriers up.

“In recent years our Lionesses have inspired a whole generation of girls, and if my daughter wants to play football when she’s older, I expect for her to be treated the same and have the same opportunities as boys her age.

“Football is for everyone and I will be in touch with the club to tell them that this terrible decision needs reversing immediately.”

The 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 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.”

Despite the committee agreeing to axe the female section, club chairman Garry Morris came out against the decision.

In a statement on social media, he said: “I have made my feelings known to the board, have asked them to reconsider their decision, and also to consider their positions on the board as patrons and trustees of the football club.

“We are empowered by the fans of the club to make the right decisions for the future of the club, and all those who show their unwavering support to both the male and female teams of all age groups deserve better.

“I firmly believe this decision made yesterday does not do that, and will be making this clear to the remaining members of the board.”

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, who lives in Middlesbrough, added: “We were all sat watching Soccer Aid, women and men playing together at Chelsea’s ground, and yet there’s clubs making decisions like this.

“It’s crazy that they have done this to them.”

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.