Thornaby boss says decision to axe female section ‘more to do with gender’

Beth Mead, Bethany England and Tanni Grey-Thompson have hit out at the decision.

Thornaby is a football club based in Stockton in County Durham
Thornaby is a football club based in Stockton in County Durham (Jane Barlow/PA)

Thornaby Women manager Abbey Lyle believes gender is a factor in the club’s decision to withdraw their ‘entire female section’.

Thornaby FC, based in Stockton in County Durham, announced on Sunday that following an emergency meeting the decision was taken to axe all of the club’s female teams, which range from youth squads through to senior level.

A further statement was published by club chairman Garry Morris on social media, asking the board to “reconsider” their decision.

Lyle completed her first season in charge of the women’s senior side, where they finished third in the North East Regional Women’s Football League – tier six of the football pyramid.

“We’ve had the most successful season, it was mine and Claire’s (Streeter) first season in charge. We’ve pulled players from all over the north east really to come and play for us,” Lyle told PA news agency.

“We really sold them Thornaby, they’re a community club and people travel far to come and play for this club.

“We’ve had a great season, we got to a cup final at the Riverside. Granted we got beaten, but we were playing a team that’s competing against the likes of Middlesbrough, York, Leeds, we’re at the Riverside, we sold 800 tickets.

“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.”

Lyle found out about the news on Saturday night and Thornaby Women’s social-media pages announced the axing the following day, adding that “over 100 girls” would be left without a club.

“I think they’re absolutely floored,” Lyle said.

“It ranges between the ages, the children, the really young ones, they’ll recover from it because they’re young enough not to be affected by all the social media and their parents will take them to another club and hopefully that club will support them.

“But as you gradually get up the ages, the under-15s are a really good team, they’ve won everything in sight this season, same as the under-18s. They’re young and they see social media.

“The women, it’s different, we’re all friends at the women. A lot of them do it for mental health, we’ve got firewomen, paramedics, policewomen, they do it to get away from life.

“They come and see their friends, have a laugh, play sport. It’s affected everyone differently and we’ve had to approach it differently to every age group I suppose.”

The withdrawal has attracted criticism from all corners of the sporting world, with 11-time Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson labelling the decision on X as “so sad”.

Lionesses duo and Euro 2022 winners Beth Mead and Bethany England were also critical. Mead spent six years as a youth player at Middlesbrough’s Centre of Excellence and believes Thornaby’s young players “deserve better”.

“Disgusted to see this decision, the women’s game is on the up but we still have committees making these horrible decisions,” the Arsenal forward posted on X.

“It’s not good enough, these young girls deserve better. I’d love to send the team a signed England shirt to keep them inspired.

“If I can help with anything do reach out, us women need to stick together, Thornaby FC Women. #football4all.”

Tottenham forward England said on X: “Saddened and disgusted to be reading this. The fight for women to keep their place at the table is a never ending battle.

“This should not be happening, these women and girls deserve better! My thoughts go out to everyone involved at the club, players, staff and volunteers.”

Thornaby have also received an outpouring of support from other grassroots clubs on social media and Lyle admits the response has been “amazing”.

“Seeing the likes of Beth Mead, Bethany England, Tanni-Grey Thompson, all of these people I’m lost for words,” she said.

“We grew up playing against the likes of Beth Mead and some of our girls played with her. For her to help, reach out and share her support just shows we’re a community and we stick together.

“It’s about the community as a whole and the messages are insane, it’s amazing. I don’t want six people to put a dampener on how far women’s football has come because it’s come a massive way.

“We can’t thank England Women enough for what they’ve done and all the teams in the north east, your likes of Sunderland, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough making their step up, it’s class.

“I love every minute of it and I can’t thank them enough.”

The Football Association said it was “very disappointed” by the decision that had been taken and a spokesperson for the national governing body 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.”