West Ham United became the second Premier League club in a week to lose their captain when Stacey Little and almost half the team walked out after a clash with manager Marc Nurse.
Little left West Ham last night following the sacking of vice-captain Kerry Stimson over a disciplinary issue – and the pair were immediately followed by four other West Ham players – Emma Sherwood, Kelley Blanchflower, Lily Mellors and Kayleigh Xhidas.
The storm centres on discontent with the new manager, who took over from club cult hero Julian Dicks in the summer.
With the club second from bottom, with only one win from five league games, Sunday’s defeat to C&K Basildon in the League Cup appeared to be the tipping point.
Little was suspended for what she described as “having an opinion as captain” and Stimson landed in hot water after a “blazing row” with her manager, during which, she told Hammers Chat, she kicked a ball at him – something she said she subsequently regretted.
The manager held a meeting this evening to announce his decision to release a number of players. A detailed statement will be made tomorrow.
— West Ham Ladies (@westhamladies) October 6, 2015
The captain’s departure came last night during a team meeting called to attempt to sort out the problems.
Others followed her, although the club still retains a squad of 30 or so players – including those Nurse has brought in – notably India international goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan and Italian Giulia Ferrandi, who scored on her debut, also against Basildon – a game in which she was also sent off.
Most of the players who have left are Hammers’ “big names”, who have formed the core of the side in recent seasons.
Little in particular is a talismanic figure – not only an immensely talented defender, who can also play in midfield, but an enthusiastic ambassador for the club, whose popularity has been reflected in a one-sided outpouring of support for the players and criticism of the club, and in particular, Nurse.
She told Sent Her Forward: “The support that I have had has been absolutely phenomenal. I didn’t ever think it would explode like that and I’d have so much support behind me. I don’t think I’ve had one negative comment towards me.
“And it’s not just the West Ham fans. It’s women’s football fans. I don’t think [the club] realised how much support not just me, but all the girls who walked [would have]. Everybody’s backed us the whole way.”
Little said the row that finally triggered the walkout – explored in minute detail on everything from fans’ websites to the BBC and Guardian – was the latest in a series based on player concerns about tactics and the team’s poor run of results.
“We haven’t been happy for months, and it came to a head yesterday. For me, the only solution for us to carry on and for Marc to do the decent thing and leave.
“He didn’t, so we went.”
She denied that players ganged up on Nurse, saying: “What would we get out of that? We’ve lost playing for the club that we all love and care about.”
|Kelley Blanchflower||6 (+1 sub)||0||26||9|
|Lily Mellors||4||0||15 (+6)||4|
|Emma Sherwood||6||2||24 (+2)||6|
|Kerry Stimson||7||1||10 (+1)||0|
|* Source: FA Full-Time|
West Ham initially tweeted a brief comment, which even then has been challenged by some of the players involved.
We walked!!! We did not get released!!! https://t.co/JE4Ub7Cy6s
— Stacey Little (@StaceyLittle) October 6, 2015
They said: “The club wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the FA Respect Code of Ethics. The club will put adherence to the FA Respect code before all other considerations. No player shall be exempt from this code in any forum.
“The club also asks its fans to similarly adhere to the code and to remember to treat others with respect at all times.”
While clearly different circumstances, the dramatic events have echoes of Charley Wilson’s departure from Portsmouth last week, along with the club’s goalkeeper Sadie Blakely.
Pompey have declined to go into details behind the “release” of Wilson, the captain, and Blakely, whom she married in the summer, prompting similar criticism of the club and manager Perry Northeast on social media – though not on the scale apparent at West Ham.
But club chairman Mick Williams has stressed to Sent Her Forward that the board and coaches are behind the manager.
He said he had also received a “handful” of e-mails which, while not abusive, had been critical of the club’s decision to let the long-serving pair go.
‘Freedom, passion and commitment’
Williams updated the club’s code of conduct after becoming chairman last season, but he refused to say whether Wilson and Blakely had breached it.
“This is an internal matter that relates to the well-being of the team, both currently and going forward,” he said. “It is a football management decision, which the board fully backs.“
He added: “This is obviously upsetting for everybody. I’m a relatively new chairman to the club and I don’t want to see this sort of thing happen. But what we have had to do has been in the interests of the well-being of the team and for the good of the club.”
Both Northeast and Williams have praised the reaction of the other players, who had a Premier League match less than 24 hours after Blakely and Wilson were sacked – a game they won 1-0.
Williams said he felt they played with a freedom, passion and commitment not always in evidence this season. “It would have been upsetting for the girls, as well, and they’ve responded magnificently,” he said.
Northeast said the decision to offload the stalwarts was the hardest he had had to make in football, and the consequent reaction on social media has hardly helped.
But the club have made it clear that they back him and his fellow coaches and insist there is no dissent about the decision among the players.
Williams added: “The fact of the matter is that Sadie and Charley are no longer part of the manager’s plans, and his coaches and the directors of the club support the decision to release them. Should another club come in for them, we will help in whatever way possible to ensure a smooth transition.”
Like Little, Wilson, 30, was popular among fans, having been at the club since the age of nine. After her departure with Blakely, she said she was “hurt and heartbroken” but comforted by the degree of support she had received from the public.
She indicated on social media that she would be making a statement later.
* Updated on October 7 2015 to include West Ham United’s statement via Twitter.