'The smiles vanished from their faces': Fury as girls' football club 'loses' training pitch to boys' club

29 September 2023, 23:04

The move has left the girls' club 'immensely disappointed'.
The move has left the girls' club 'immensely disappointed'. Picture: Vicky Park Rangers

By Jenny Medlicott and Charlotte Lynch

Locals have been left outraged after a girls’ football club had their pitch contract terminated and re-allocated to a boys’ club.

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Vicky Park Rangers FC, a girls’ football club based in east London for girls between 6 and 16, was awarded a contract with the 3G Astro pitch at Stepney Green earlier this month.

Club members were left delighted upon hearing the news of their allocation of training space by Tower Hamlets council after years of struggling to secure training facilities for midweek sessions.

But it today emerged that the club allegedly lost its contract for the pitch, which was supposed to last from September 2023 until August 2026, and has been awarded to a boys’ casual team instead.

The council said the problem emerged from a processing error awarding the girls the wrong slot, and claimed an "offer of a different time slot on the same pitch" was turned down.

The decision has left the girls who play for the club and their parents ‘immensely disappointed’, as one parent said it was “another realisation they’re always playing second fiddle to a boy’s or men’s team”.

Taner Baycanli, the Vicky Park Rangers’ club chairman, told LBC: “We had some girls that were in tears – 15-year-old girls in tears. Loads of them were questioning why we didn’t have the pitch.”

He accused the council of taking a “backwards step” in offering girls equal opportunities in sport.

The girls' club arrived to find another boys' club using the pitch.
The girls' club arrived to find another boys' club using the pitch. Picture: Vicky Park Rangers

Ed Phillips, whose 12 and 15-year-old daughters play for the club, told LBC of his eldest daughter: “She’d turned up the week before, met a new coach – a really great female coach – and was really excited for the season ahead.

“This has been a constant battle. She started playing seven years ago and we’ve battled over the course of seven seasons. At weekends they’re still playing on pitches that aren’t as good as the boys’.”

He said the team that had taken over wasn’t a league team and was made up of adult men. He likened it to a “kick about for the lads.”

“It’s frankly unacceptable – we are constantly telling our daughters: ‘things are changing, don’t worry, things are dealt with evenly’. These sorts of events make people lose faith – you think: what’s the point?”

Baycanli said 60 girls turned up to the pitch on Thursday September 21 to find a team of 16 boys playing there.

He added: “As a 12, 13, 14-year-old, you’ve just been told you don’t have the pitch, and you can see boys are now on your pitch and they’re only using a quarter of it – and there’s 16 of them to the 60 of you – you aren’t going to feel justified about that.”

The club said it has struggled to find facilities for midweek training sessions for years.
The club said it has struggled to find facilities for midweek training sessions for years. Picture: Vicky Park Rangers

“When we got the pitches, I was over the moon. It gave us that security that we could offer those sessions to those girls. It’s going to have a bigger impact in the long-run.”

When asked if he believed the boys’ team had been prioritised because of their gender, Taner said: “I would like to believe that isn’t the case, but in terms of [the council’s] justification and their answers I don’t believe they’re being honest – it doesn’t add up.

Responding to the claims today, a spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council said: “We fully support and encourage women’s participation in sport in Tower Hamlets, and while our offer of a different time slot on the same pitch, and our offer of a slot at nearby council-run Leisure Centre at the same cost were both turned down by the club, we continue to try to find a solution that works for everyone.

“To help manage the high demand for astro-pitch hire, applications for its use are scored against a set criteria.

“In this case, a processing error meant that Vicky Park Rangers were originally given a slot which was intended for another group and this was corrected as soon as possible.

“We understand and apologise for the upset and disruption caused to Vicky Park Rangers and we understand that people may be concerned over the handling of this pitch hire.

“We will continue to work with Vicky Park Rangers to find a solution.”

The club chairman said it felt like a 'backwards step'.
The club chairman said it felt like a 'backwards step'. Picture: Vicky Park Rangers

Vicky Park Rangers announced a statement on social media on Thursday, the club said: “For a number of years the club has found it difficult to secure training facilities for midweek training sessions. The club was therefore delighted to be successful in the allocation for the 3G Astro pitch at Stepney Green.

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“This was a fair application process run by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to award slots to use the pitches on criteria such as the number of Tower Hamlets residents, whether the club provides women and girls’ football and the club’s achievements over the last 5 years.

“The Club entered into a contract with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for it to use the Astro pitch each Thursday between between 6pm and 8pm, from September 2023 until August 2026.

“After the girls started to train, the Council terminated the Club’s use of the Astro Pitch with no notice. The Council has now allowed the Club’s slot to a men’s team who were unsuccessful in the outcome of the application.

“On 23 September 2023 the girls arrived at the Astro Pitch to train but were locked out by the council... who allocated a casual boys’ team the facility. This team does not compete in any FA affiliated league and only used 1/3 of the pitch.

“The consequence is that the girls have nowhere to train midweek…The Club considers that the Council has breached the contract it entered with the Club.”

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