Sent Her Forward exclusive
Brighton’s Super League hopes have been plunged into chaos after three key players left in the fallout following the sackings of head coach James Marrs, his assistant Lee Hayes and now the head of the club’s entire women and girls section, Tracy Doe.
Defender Deanna Cooper and top goalscorer Charlotte Gurr left after Marrs was sacked last week for alleged disciplinary breaches, and captain Jay Blackie’s contract has been cancelled, leaving the team to prepare for their crucial play-off match without the heart of the squad that got them there.
Marrs was sacked after a disciplinary hearing into allegations about his conduct and Doe – his boss – was dismissed yesterday after a similar disciplinary process.
Hayes, who was employed on a part-time basis, had his contract terminated as a result of a separate incident.
The club will not reveal the nature of the allegations against Marrs and Doe but have stressed there was no suggestion of any criminal action by either of them.
Sent Her Forward understands that Brighton and Hove Albion, under whose ultimate authority the women’s team operate, suspended the pair and began an investigation after complaints, believed to be from a squad member, were made to Sussex FA and passed on to the club.
The suspensions, which were imposed around the time the team clinched the Premier League Southern title, rocked the club to the core, and amid the confusion that ensued, with Hayes also being told he was no longer wanted, several players initially did not train as they tried to come to terms with the dramatic events.
Academy chief George Parris is in interim charge, but his preparations for the play-off, against the yet-to-be-decided winners of the league’s northern division, have been devastated by the exit of three of the team’s star players.
The trio have so far declined to comment, but Sent Her Forward understands they left last week, a few days after Marrs’ departure.
The club have declined to elaborate on the reasons for cancelling Blackie’s contract but confirmed all three had left.
Brighton have an immensely strong squad and have plenty of players who can step into the breach for the showdown for the Super League on May 29.
The trio have been exceptional this season but are not the only players who have stood out in Brighton’s impressive campaign.
But the psychological impact of losing the management team who guided them to the title, plus their captain, key defender and leading goalscorer, is harder to quantify.
More crucial still could be the loss of Doe, who ran the entire female side of the club, overseeing everything from the youth set-up – including the running of the Centre of Excellence and academy – to the first team and development squad.
Her multiple role could prove even more difficult to fill than Marrs’ as the team gears up for a possible tilt at élite-level football.
Only on Friday, the FA announced that Brighton had been awarded one of the licences to operate one of its new Regional Talent Clubs, which replace centres of excellence as the means of channelling youth players through the élite system.
The club were granted a top-tier licence, qualifying for the maximum available FA grant – a status based not only on facilities but on their personnel in place – and the achievements of Marrs, Doe and Hayes – and what they have built at Brighton – may well have had an influence on the FA’s decision.
A Brighton and Hove Albion spokesman said the club could not comment further while it was possible the figures involved might appeal against their dismissals, but they made clear in their statements after both sackings that the decisions were not taken lightly.
They said: “The club followed FA guidelines and UK employment law procedures in conducting the investigation and subsequent disciplinary hearing.”
Given the value of all those involved to the club’s women’s set-up and the prize at stake in the play-off game – not to mention the potential distraction to the men’s side, who are on the verge of a place in the Premier League – it is inconceivable that the club would have made their decisions without being confident they had done everything by the book.