Calverley United girls' football team devastated after losing Fulneck School pitch just weeks before season
One of the largest girls' football teams in Leeds has been left without a pitch to play on just weeks before the new season and is now desperately trying to find an alternative amid uncertainty over access to its previous facilities.
Calverley United's girls' team, which has around 150 players aged from under six to under 12, usually uses pitches at Fulneck School in Pudsey to play their home games every Saturday.
However, team director James Clayton said he had received an email "out of the blue" from the school to say they could no longer play there from September.
When he questioned this with the school, he claims they said it was because rival team Leeds Juniors Football Club had "made them an offer they couldn't refuse" that gave them exclusive use of the pitches.
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Leeds Juniors told the YEP that they "have no intention of preventing Calverley Girls' Team playing at Fulneck" and called for discussion between the clubs "to implement some changes that would benefit all parties going forward".
In the meantime, the Calverley team is desperately searching for a new pitch to play home matches on or risk dropping out of the league if no agreement can be reached with Leeds Juniors.
James said: "To send an email with five weeks' notice to find alternative pitches and no explanation as to why is ludicrous. This leaves us without suitable facilities for the girls teams next season.
"There are simply no available pitches in Leeds, let alone close to Calverley
"We can utilise playing pitches that our boys use but they don’t have any toilet facilities. As I’m sure you can imagine, not having toilets for girls is a major issue throughout the ages, but even more so at under 12.
"With the incredible focus and excitement around the growth of women’s football and England doing well in the Euros, for a school and boys' football club to put money and profits above girls' football as well as social and community responsibility is really upsetting."
Kirk Stevens, vice chairman of Leeds Juniors, said their ambitions as a club "had always been to enter into a long-term lease agreement with a partner that provides pitches, so we could expand and offer more opportunities for children and adults to play football."
He added: "We have been using Fulneck for around seven years and have always had a strong working relationship with the school. Therefore, conversations with regards to renting the facilities have been ongoing for some time.
"Unfortunately, due to the lack of pitches in the area, this last year presented us with additional challenges.
"Other local teams in the area, in addition to Calverley United, started to use the facilities for games and training. Over that period we had seen a huge increase in rubbish, dog fouling, and cigarette ends found on the fields.
"Furthermore, the lack of co-ordination to fixtures and pitch use caused games to be cancelled at the very last minute."
Kirk claimed the school had to close the grounds for two weeks due to the issue.
"As a club, we felt it was important to take more control over these factors", he said.
"Fulneck are entitled to rent their pitches to whoever they choose; we presented them with an opportunity that we could collaborate to overcome these issues, as well as fulfil our ambition of a long term lease agreement."
He said directional signage for the pitches - bought by Leeds Juniors and installed by Fulneck - featured the logos of the school, the club and Calverley United.
"This speaks volumes of our intentions," Kirk said.
"Unfortunately, as we are volunteers, parents and working full time, whilst planning for a new season, we have yet to provide this news internally to our club, let alone speak to the other clubs involved.
"As Calverley received the news prior to any conversation with us, assumptions were made that their girls team were no longer allowed to use these facilities. This could not be further from the truth.
"We as a club believe that football belongs to and should be enjoyed by anyone who wants to participate in it. We are very keen to open a dialogue with the club to resolve their misinterpretation of the situation."
Fulneck School has been contacted for comment.