Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino was facing a mounting backlash today as the fall-out continued from Lucy Ward’s employment tribunal victory over the Elland Road club.
Ms Ward won a claim on Wednesday for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination following her sacking as welfare and education officer at United’s acclaimed Thorp Arch academy.
The tribunal panel also said it believed that Cellino had made sexist comments about the place of women in football.
United last night issued a statement saying he “categorically denies” making the remarks. Earlier yesterday, one fans’ group said the case had dragged the name of the club through the gutter and urged the controversial Italian businessman to sell up.
Ms Ward, who is in a relationship with former United head coach Neil Redfearn, released a statement on Twitter and said she had been “overwhelmed” by the messages of support she had received since the ruling.
In the statement, which has been awarded hundreds of ‘likes’ by other users of the social media site, she said: “This result is for all my friends and colleagues who also had to leave the club through no choice of their own and who weren’t in a position, for whatever reason, to fight. You know who you are.”
The Yorkshire Evening Post understands that Ms Ward’s lawyers were yesterday set to ask the Football Association to look into the findings of the tribunal.
Wednesday’s verdict was welcomed by the Women In Football group, which hailed Ms Ward as “talented, dedicated and passionate” and said she had been “sadly mistreated”.
The Time To Go Massimo fans’ group, which has staged a series of protests against Cellino’s running of United, put out a strongly-worded response to the result.
The group said: “[This] is yet another in a long line of events that drags the great name of Leeds United through the gutter.
“We implore Massimo Cellino to end this farce and sell the club to one of the more credible groups interested in purchasing Leeds United, and to sell it to them at market value.”
Leeds Ladies FC chairman Gary Cooper said: “It’s a sad situation and you have to wonder what all the girls and women out there who have season tickets think about it.
“I have four daughters so you could say I’ve a vested interest in this but a club like Leeds United needs to have an owner who believes in parity and equality.”
The tribunal heard a claim that Cellino once said to Mr Cooper that “football is no place for women” and “they should be in the bedroom or beauticians”.
Mr Cooper yesterday told the YEP that the comments were made at a meeting that took place in May 2014 when he was chairman of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust.
But in last night’s statement United said: “At an employment tribunal this week regarding a former Leeds United employee, the tribunal chairman wilfully chose to publish to the attending press hearsay evidence of an alleged conversation between Mr Cellino and a third party, in which sexist remarks were alleged to have been made by Mr Cellino.
“Mr Cellino was not in court, nor was he a party in the case.
“However, Mr Cellino categorically denies making the statement, which has since dominated the media coverage of the hearing, and would like to make it clear that such a statement does not represent his views of women in football whatsoever.”
Ms Ward argued at the tribunal that her sacking last year happened because Cellino was planning to get rid of Neil Redfearn and believed they “came as a pair”.
A further hearing is likely to be held in June to consider a financial settlement in relation to the case.
Meanwhile, United fans have been continuing to give online reaction to the result.
Writing on the YEP website, Steelydan said: “If it was at all possible he should be sued for ruining the image of Leeds United. He’s brought shame upon this club in one way or another.”
Tiff of St Josephs said: “Cellino NOW needs to PUT UP OR SHUT UP. He NOW needs to prove himself and put enough funds into the club for us to have a good enough team to be challenging for promotion next season. If he doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the money, then he needs to sell up and move on.”
Davidgretton wrote: “Point is if no-one wants to buy us at a fair asking price (and they don’t cause the last few years have proved that) if it was your money would you just sell the club at a big loss?”
Damian Barrett said: “The fans and club deserve better.”
Ak10 posted: “Just wanting Cellino out is one thing and Cellino may well want to go but finding a deal that allows him to go will be another thing altogether.”