String of welfare complaints from parents at Man City girls’ academy prompts FA probe

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Parents have raised concerns about the treatment of their children at Manchester City’s Girls’ Academy over the past three years, an i investigation can today reveal.

i has also found that the Football Association investigated individual complaints around a year ago and told parents it would monitor the Girls’ Academy.

Parents have revealed how girls have been left distraught and in a fragile state, with families fearing for their well-being and mental health. The mother of one girl told i that she was afraid her daughter “would do something drastic” due to the “stress and anxiety” she suffered because of the manner in which she was released by Manchester City, one of the richest clubs in the world, in 2021.

In internal emails between FA officials dealing with complaints, staff from the governing body shared private concerns that Manchester City had provided information that “directly conflicted with the information and evidence provided” by parents and players during annual evaluations.

Parents believe they or their daughters have not been offered enough support after being released and are not confident in the FA’s ability to ensure other players avoid the same experience in the future.

“Knowing there were two footballers – a male and a female – who had played at Manchester City’s academy and had taken their own lives added to the stress and the worry, having to closely monitor my daughter fearful she would do something drastic,” one mother, Emma Entwistle, told i. “I was genuinely worried what she might do. She stopped eating, wouldn’t come out of her bedroom, just wanted to be by herself. She closed herself off from the world.”

Jeremy Wisten, who joined Manchester City at the age of 13, was 18 years old when, in 2020, he took his own life. An inquest was later told he did not feel he had the “right support” from the club after an injury. At the inquest, Manchester City’s academy director Jason Wilcox said the club’s processes had been reviewed after Wisten’s death and that a “parent portal” and player exit surveys had been introduced.

Zoe Tynan joined Manchester City’s academy in 2015 and had signed for Fylde Ladies shortly before she died in August 2016. At an inquest later that year, coroner Anita Bhardwaj concluded she had taken her own life. No criticism was made of the clubs by the coroner in reaching her conclusion.

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Parents have also raised questions over the FA’s handling of issues at the academy, after the governing body told families that critical complaints have to be made in two separate seasons before a licence will be revoked or lowered, resulting in reduced funding. Manchester City’s Girls’ Academy is currently Tier One – the highest of the three ratings. Yet when two parents lodged separate yet similar complaints in two year groups, the FA considered them in the same timeframe.

At least two separate parents complained about the handling of their daughters’ release during the 2019/20 season, citing poor communication and timing. At least one parent, who spoke to i on condition of anonymity, further raised those concerns with the FA.

The following season, however, another set of parents complained to Manchester City about the way their daughter was treated and the club appointed lawyers to investigate.

Entwistle added: “What they do for a boy in football, it’s so far behind with girls. The FA are meant to be there to ensure reviews take place, that pathways and protocols are followed, that a girl’s journey shouldn’t end in such a horrific way. That’s what’s so frustrating.

“The FA are praising themselves for how far women’s football has come after England won Euro 2022 — they’re so far away from the reality of what happens to girls in academies.”

Prior to the FA investigating Entwistle’s complaints, internal emails from June last year, leaked to i, show FA officials suggesting Manchester City could be in breach of its licence “based on the absence of various policies and procedures as well as player reviews”, adding “this would directly conflict with the information and evidence provided… during the clubs [sic] annual EV (evaluation)”.

Another FA official says that “Manchester City told me that in the Academy… all players received their reviews but this is not reflected in player and parental feedback”. Another email states that “we know there are issues”.

A further FA email admits “its [sic] not good for the families and players involved but the pressure for better is good for the whole sport. I am confident this and incidents like this create positive change”. It adds that “a complaints policy is not required as part of the Academy criteria. Something to build and add potentially.”

In emails a month later [July 2021], parents who have submitted complaints about Manchester City are described as “the group of angry parents”.

The nature and timing of her daughter’s exit from the club is what upset Entwistle most. She claims Manchester City told her daughter to take trials to see if she would be kept on for another year around the time of her GCSE exams, causing disruption to her education, and believes the club had already decided to let her go.

In a letter, seen by i, Manchester City strongly denied that the decision had already been made to release Entwistle’s daughter, although they conceded that communication had been poor and apologised.

Entwistle was also told that the club would review the timings of its trials and re-trials.

In the letter the club said it was “very sorry” that Entwistle’s daughter “experienced stress and upset” and that “we acknowledge that at times the club could have communicated better” and “is determined to improve its practices and procedures going forward”.

The club maintain that any offer of a trial to an academy player is made in good faith and that the player has a genuine opportunity to progress to the next age group. It is also thought that Covid-19 meant face-to-face meetings with players and parents could not be carried out and that disrupted the flow of information to parents.

Entwistle told i she felt “abandoned”. “Manchester City took nine years of [my daughter’s] life, she did everything they asked, and when it came down to it she was cast aside,” she said. “It’s a failing process.

“The impact and damage it had, seeing such a well-rounded, outgoing, confident individual completely shattered into pieces. And not only from a football perspective. They damaged her education, it affected her whole life.

“To see the worry, stress and anxiety it caused my daughter. The change in her as a person. The worry – it was horrible. As a parent I felt completely helpless and didn’t know what to do next and how to help and support her.

“The aftercare the club provided was that my daughter had to reach out to them. She wasn’t in a state to do that.”

After then escalating her grievances to the FA, which investigated her claims, Entwistle was told that the governing body would monitor the Manchester City Girls’ Academy to ensure it improved. Manchester City insists that any investigations were not academy-wide and concerned individual complaints only. The FA did not deny investigations had been carried out but the governing body insisted it is not currently investigating or monitoring Manchester City’s Girls’ Academy.

However, parents who have spoken to i were left dissatisfied that the FA did not take stronger action at the time and have called for the club’s licence to be revoked.

“My daughter had given over half her life committed and dedicated to the club,” Entwistle said. “Every girl who goes through an academy needs their education as a fallback in case they don’t make it. What makes this a scandal above anything else is that no consideration is given to enable any girl in a football academy to ensure they have a future, whether inside or outside of football.

“They didn’t allow my daughter — and I’m sure it will happen again — to protect herself at such a critical time in her life to ensure she had a future outside of football. That’s so wrong.

“She was in the generation most affected by Covid. They didn’t get to go to school. They did online learning. Manchester City should have made sure, even more so at this particular point in time, that everything had been considered to protect these young girls. And they didn’t do it.”

She added: “The FA aren’t equipped to deal with it — their policies and practices are flawed. I would never, ever want another parent to go through what we went through, feeling completely helpless and put in a situation where we didn’t know what to do for our daughter.”

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A Manchester City spokesperson told i: “Manchester City takes its responsibilities and duty of care very seriously and ensures that each child in the academy has access to a wide range of support, both from a welfare and football development perspective.

“On an annual basis, the academy conducts a thorough review of its players based on their performance over the course of the season. Following this, a number are selected to progress to their next age group based on their footballing ability.

“The club offers support to all of the academy players who do not progress to their next age group to identify potential development pathways in education and football. This has resulted in scholarships being secured for former academy players in the United States, as well as football trials at other clubs in England.”

The FA said it was not in a position to comment on individual clubs.

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