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Girls’ teams risk folding as town council kicks football off The Leys

Witney Town Council has denied it is ‘banning women’s football’ by preventing girls playing on The Leys.

Witney Vikings says for six years it has been developing female-only teams and since the Lionesses won the Euros, interest has been soaring.

Now the town council says the ground at The Leys, where the girls’ teams are based, cannot be used as it is ‘compacted’ and needs repair work.

They can’t find another ground which means these teams are going to fall apart, say clubs.

They also point out that the town council allows HGVs and trailers for Witney Feast and Witney Music Festival to park on The Leys, potentially causing worse damage.

Chair of Witney Vikings Steve Bott said: “Witney Vikings has 36 teams. That’s 500 boys of which 200 are girls. We have the largest group of girls-only football teams in Oxfordshire.

“Since the Lionesses my phone has been ringing off the hook.

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“All our girls’ teams play at The Leys. Witney Feast is there now. If you go there today it’s full of juggernauts and fairground rides.

“Usually they re-mark it as soon as possible and we get to play on it from October until the end of April. Now they’ve said it’s unavailable until the end of the year. The girls have nowhere to play or train.

“By suddenly taking away four mini pitches at The Leys, nine teams – or 45 boys and 90 girls – have no home pitch currently. That’s 135 kids we have to say sorry, you can’t play football.”

He added: “They blame us, they say we’ve compacted the soil by playing over the summer. Bunkum. It’s just a few kids on a summer’s evening. The town council are wrecking the Leys with Witney Feast and should make it available as soon as possible.”

Football coaches are also concerned the town council said the same thing when men’s football was kicked off the adjoining pitch a few years ago.

Mr Bott said: “Half used to be a football pitch for many, many years. But a few years ago they decided they did not want to keep maintaining it. They used the same language.”

And he said a cricket pitch which was used by Witney Swifts “for years and years” met a similar fate.

However, Mr Bott said, the wider issue is the lack of pitches in the town.

“There are a lot of amateur football teams – there are two or three playing every Saturday. They now have to find grounds out in the villages or fold completely,” he said.

“We should have had a third space years ago but the town council and WODC have been procrastinating.

“Tower Hill and Witney Vikings have years’ worth of building teams but the facilities are on hold. We haven’t got a plan or strategy.”

Witney Town Council said it already accommodated 51 football teams but demand has increased by a further 25 per cent this season.

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“Our officers work hard to make as many pitches available as possible with the resources we have at our disposal,” it said. “Many are already over-used and this can result in long term damage.”

It said one side of the Leys was decommissioned for football three years ago following a report by sports turf consultants which was shared with teams.

“This means we could not allow football to be played for safety reasons. No referee would allow play on a pitch which fails this test which means that the pitch poses a genuine risk to players, and we are equally sure that our teams would not want their children to play on one.”

OxfordMail:

“This side of the Leys has now failed the same test as the other side and needs urgent attention to bring it back to a safe and playable condition,” it said, adding both junior teams had been kept informed.

It added the Town Council carries out expensive and vital remedial work at the end of every season and asks that teams to do not use them for training.

“Because the effects of the remedial work were disrupted, by continued use beyond the season, the pitches are now unplayable until after Christmas at the earliest. Autumn is the only other suitable time to try to reinstate the pitches through decompaction and reseeding.”

It said the Town Council has been working extremely hard behind the scenes to try to secure additional pitches.

“All the existing pitches are oversubscribed with football being the dominant sport, having sole use of the Artificial Turf Pitch and regular use of all of the Town Council’s grass pitches.

“We know that other hugely successful sports sides, such as Witney’s hockey teams, are struggling to retain their use of pitches in the town too.”

Football on the Leys has coexisted successfully with the fair for hundreds of years, it added.

West Oxfordshire District Council was contacted for comment.

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