Leeds Ladies are the team which was borne from the ashes which Leeds United Chairman Massimo Cellino left behind after dissolving Leeds United Ladies.
The Leeds Ladies story – Part 1
The women’s branch of football at Leeds United has had somewhat of a colourful past and here I endeavour to explain where they came from and the trials and tribulations which have bestowed them. I will later go on to talk about the latest chapter of the small club with a big name.
Having formed in 1989 Leeds United Ladies had competed at the highest level of women’s football in England. The likes of Sue Smith played for Leeds for eight years and gained 93 England caps. Sue was a player of very high calibre winning international player of the year awards in 1999 and 2001. Current England International Steph Houghton also pulled on the white shirt of Leeds and helped Leeds to the 2010 FA Women’s Premier Cup. They had a good amount of success including being the only women’s team outside of London to finish in the top 4.
In 2005 Ken Bates, the then chairman of Leeds United decided that he would withdraw funding from the women’s team. With Leeds United in financial dire straits and having been relegated the previous year, the club tried to save as much money as possible which included the sale of the stadium and the Thorpe Arch training facility. The women’s team were also part of that cost saving exercise.
The team survived on sponsorship money until 2006 when Mr Bates also withdrew the team’s access to the Leeds United training facilities. Despite being FA Cup finalists for two seafasons running (losing out to Arsenal on both occasions) Leeds were facing an uncertain future. At the end of the 2008 season, Leeds Metropolitan University stepped in to fund the club and provide training. Part of that funding meant that Leeds also had to change their name to Leeds Carnegie to bring them in line with all other sporting clubs funded by the University. Leeds Carnegie competed in the top flight of women’s football and boasted seven England internationals in the team. The team finished a disappointing 6th in the league although they did enjoy cup success beating Everton 3-1 in the Women’s Premier League Cup.
In 2010 applications opened for the newly formed Women’s Super League, (known as the WSL) 16 clubs applied for just eight places in which Leeds were one of them. Part of the criteria to become a WSL club was that the club must be financially stable and have funding in place. Leeds Carnegie did not have that necessary financial status so the club approached Leeds United Foundation (the charitable arm of LUFC) and Leeds United to ask if they could step in. The decision was that it couldn’t so Leeds reluctantly had to withdraw their application. However, that same year Leeds United became a centre of excellence and brought Leeds Ladies Carnegie back into the foundation and reverted back to the name of Leeds United Ladies.
When the FA announced they were to introduce a second tier to the WSL in 2013, Leeds Utd Ladies launched a bid to join along with 32 other clubs. If they failed in this bid it would mean that the league they were currently playing in, the FA Premier League National division would cease to exist. So this bid was vital to the club. There now were 18 places up for grabs. They again looked to LUFC to guarantee backing to ensure they met the required criteria. With Massimo Cellino having been at the helm for a few months it was hoped that his ambitions also included having a successful women’s team. They were to be bitterly disappointed as again Leeds refused to commit to their future and provide the backing which was needed. Leeds were not successful and in the aftermath, Leeds United, namely Massimo Cellino withdrew not only funding and training but the right to call themselves Leeds United. The team was being disbanded.
Leeds had some very loyal supporters in and outside of LUFC who did not want to stand by and allow the great tradition of women’s football in Leeds die. Led by Gary Cooper who was the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust he began talks to negotiate a deal in which the women could still play football under the LUFC umbrella. Despite many offers from Gary Cooper including self-funding, Cellino still said no. Women’s football was not a part of his plans for the club and the end of the season saw the end of Leeds United Ladies.