Tue, 27 Nov 2018
THE manager of Newbury Ladies FC has slammed West Berkshire councillors for showing a lack of interest in local women’s football.
Sue Hewett also remains sceptical over the local authority’s latest ambition to explore a new football facility in Newbury after it announced plans to refurbish Northcroft Leisure Centre last month.
The initiative, unveiled at the Newbury Vision conference on Monday, October 29, is part of a “joint approach” between the local authority and Newbury FC.
Both sides reportedly agree that the long-term home for football in Newbury will be in Northcroft, rather than the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE), which the council plans to redevelop.
But Miss Hewett has suggested the evolving alliance between the two bodies could compromise the needs of other football teams who play in the area – including her own.
Newbury Ladies FC falls under the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), which has been campaigning against the closure of the town’s football ground at Faraday Road.
In an open letter to the Newbury Weekly News, Miss Hewett wrote: “Can any of our elected representatives from West Berkshire Council please explain why they seem to hold such a narrow view as to believe that the only group of people to play football regularly in our town are the male adult football players of Newbury FC?
“Do they not know that so many women and girls play all forms of sport, including football, on a regular basis?
“Can they really be that sexist still in the year 2018 to think that football is only played by men?”
Formed in 2003, Newbury Ladies have never had a permanent home ground.
Up until recently, Miss Hewett’s team trained on just one third of a 3G pitch at Park House School every week.
But demand from other teams in the area to use the school’s pitches is so high that her squad can no longer train there – instead basing themselves at Donnington Recreation Ground, which has no floodlights.
The team have had to travel to Lambourn and Kintbury in recent years to host FA Cup fixtures, due to larger pitches the competition demands.
West Berkshire Council says the proposed regeneration of Northcroft Leisure Centre is intended to secure “the long-term home for football in Newbury”.
The NWN asked the council if the proposed redeveloped facility would include provision for other football groups in the area, namely Newbury FC’s direct female counterparts.
Speaking about the redevelopment, portfolio holder for culture and leisure Rick Jones said: “When we launched this proposal at the Vision conference, we gave a call to action to all groups to contact us if they were interested.
“Therefore, it will depend on who shows an interest and their specific needs.”
When asked if discussions similar to those between West Berkshire Council and Newbury FC should take place to try and accommodate women’s football in the town, the council said it would welcome discussions with football groups that “show an interest” in the Northcroft proposal.
But Miss Hewett has also questioned whether the proposal is viable, having already dismissed the suggestion of playing at Northcroft playing fields earlier this year.
At a meeting with Newbury Town Council on Monday, September 10, Miss Hewett said trying to find a permanent winter training venue was a “real headache” for the women’s game in the area, because Northcroft is susceptible to flooding.
The manager has since said the council’s proposed regeneration of Northcroft “doesn’t make any economic sense”.
Miss Hewett, who recently welcomed three new players from Mary Hare School to her squad, added: “We have been playing in the town for 15 years now but there are many, many other groups from different ages and backgrounds.
“Northcroft lies on an active flood plain. The ground is too unstable.”
West Berkshire Council has said that any future plans for the proposed redevelopment “will incorporate existing land conditions”.
It added: “However, the Northcroft site is not dissimilar to Faraday Road in that they both are situated next to the canal.”