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“We couldn’t get on the pitch – there were loads of men playing. The girls were so disappointed.”

15TH MAY 2024


Close up image of the girl during her football training

A sunny Thursday in September should have been an ordinary day for Vicky Park Rangers FC. But when the girls turned up for training, they found that the pitch had already been taken. “It had been given to a casual men’s team,” says coach Taner Baycanli.

“The day before, we’d got an email saying some teams were being moved around and that we’d be losing our session. We thought we’d have one more week before that happened – but we couldn’t get on the pitch.” The Vicky Park Ranger’s story inspired our next instalment of Kick On with Starling – this time we’re campaigning to stop the kick off

A group of six girls.
Vicky Park Rangers FC was given little warning and no explanation for losing their pitch

Creating opportunities for girls in East London

Taner, 32, started the girls’ club in 2018 “because there were no opportunities in the local area for girls to play football in the same way boys could.” He’s since grown the team from 30 to 160 girls, with alumni going on to play at academies run by Arsenal, West Ham and Crystal Palace. “We’re one of the grassroots clubs training the players of tomorrow.”

The pitch provider’s decision to give away the club’s Thursday night training session left 50 girls with nowhere to train. “There was no explanation and the alternative option, a Saturday morning, was no use to us. I’ve been a P.E. teacher and a football coach in this area of east London for years and I know that there are no alternative pitches with floodlights. The pitch we’d applied for – and signed a three year contract for – was our only option.”

Unable to train, Taner asked his players to gather round. “I didn’t know what to say to them. I couldn’t say ‘It will get resolved’ because I didn’t know if it would. All I could do was make sure they understood we were going to fight for them.”

Pushing for answers

The following week, Taner, his fellow coaches, his players and their parents turned up at the pitch to protest. “We hadn’t got much response when we’d asked why we’d had the pitch taken away from us. We told them that we either needed the pitch back or a proper explanation. Not knowing what had happened just wasn’t fair.

“We’d made big steps to improve the quality of girls’ football by growing the club. We’d used the pitch for years, so finding that it had been given to a casual men’s team was a big setback. I don’t think they were deliberately choosing to give the pitches to men over girls – but to an 11 or 12-year-old, that’s how it looked.”

The sad truth is that Vicky Park Rangers FC is not alone in its experience. According to our survey of 2,000 players and 1,100 coaches, more than half of women’s football players (56%) have booked a football pitch, only to have it reallocated to a men’s team. Nearly a third of women players (28%) say it happens frequently and half (51%) believe that pitch providers have treated them unfairly.

A girl sitting on the grass tying the laces of a football shoe.
Vicky Park Rangers FC trains 160 girls in East London

It was exactly this feeling of injustice that drove Vicky Park Rangers FC to launch a public campaign and demand better treatment. “The story blew up. Every news company wanted to talk to us,” says Taner.

Pulling together as a team

Bombarded by bad press, the organisation in charge of pitch allocations became a lot more responsive. “They told us they’d made a mistake when allocating pitches and had missed out a certain group, which is why they changed the schedule. But it was their mistake, not ours, and we were the ones losing out. Mistakes can be made but how you rectify them is very important.”

Collage of two images. The image on the left shows a girl kicking the ball up. The image on the right shows a portrait of a girl with the ball in her hands.
The Vicky Park Rangers story was picked up by dozens of newspapers

With the help of a few players’ parents, who worked as solicitors, the club prepared to take legal action. They had a signed contract, no alternative floodlit pitch to use, and several big matches coming up.

“The pitch provider wanted us to stop doing interviews while they reviewed what had happened, but we weren’t going to do that. We told them we’d keep doing the interviews until we had a resolution.”

Vicky Park Rangers FC were reallocated the pitch last thing on a Friday evening, ahead of a weekend filled with yet more press interviews.

Fighting for equal pitch access

Taner and his team’s fight for their pitch highlighted a key issue within girls’ and women’s football: unequal pitch access. And our research shows that their experience is not a one-off. That’s why we’ve created our Pitch Pack, which is full of resources to help teams fight for equal pitch access by contacting local communities, government, press and pitch providers. The pack is available to download for free through Kick On with Starling.

“Starling’s Pitch Pack is based on the collective experience of professional and grassroots players across the country,” says Jill Scott, former football player and current Starling Bank ambassador.

Taner Baycanli (standing, left), Beth Mead MBE and Jill Scott (standing, centre), and Vicky Park Rangers players
Taner Baycanli (standing, left), Beth Mead MBE and Jill Scott (standing, centre), and Vicky Park Rangers players

Footballer and Starling ambassador Beth Mead MBE has also supported the campaign: “We need to develop the pipeline of female football talent. But we can’t if women and girls don’t feel supported and valued in the sport. That starts with equal pitch access.”

To access our Pitch Pack and to apply for a free kit, please visit So far, we’ve provided 5,000 free football kits to women and girls, all playing for grassroots teams like Vicky Park Rangers FC.