A football club that serves hundreds of youngsters is facing closure after thieves stole £3,000 of equipment – including 140 brand new balls.
Burglars also took hundreds of pairs of club-branded socks during the raid on Middleton Park Football Club.
Much of the kit had been paid for out of money raised by the club’s young players.
There are now rumours that the brazen thieves are trying to sell the balls on the local estate.
Secretary Wayne Dixon, who has run the club since its inception ten years ago, said: “It could be the end of the club. We run on a really tight budget anyway and we can’t afford losses like this.
“We were saving up for the balls for a year. I’m devastated to be honest.”
The club, based on Cranmore Drive, offers football sessions for children as young as 18 months and has junior teams up to under-16 level as well as four senior teams.
The thieves broke in at some point over last weekend and smashed through internal doors – including a locked toilet cubicle where some of the kit was being kept – before escaping.
“There have been rumours of people buying balls off a guy with a black bag on the estate,” Mr Dixon said.
“It’s hard to take when you are trying to do something good. I spend a lot of hours volunteering to keep the club going.”
Sgt Paul Denison, from the local neighbourhood policing team, said: “The theft has left the organisers and in particular the kids understandably devastated and we ask your help in trying to track down the offenders.
“This kind of offence hits at the heart of the community. Middleton Park FC has helped many youngsters over the years and being a small club it cannot afford hits like this and is in danger of folding.”
Youngsters from the club were bag-packing at Asda in Middleton today to try to raise money.
Anyone with information should call Sgt Denison via 101.