English top-flight club Notts County Ladies have folded, two days before their first match of the Spring Series.
Due to face Arsenal on Sunday, Notts’ players were told the Women’s Super League One club cannot stay afloat 15 minutes before Friday’s announcement.
Previously known as Lincoln Ladies before relocating in 2014, the squad included England’s Carly Telford, Laura Bassett, Jade Moore and Jo Potter.
Notts finished sixth in WSL 1 in 2016 after reaching the 2015 FA Cup final.
In March, a winding-up petition against the club was adjourned for a second time, giving Notts until 3 July to pay debts owed to HM Revenue and Customs.
Local businessman Alan Hardy purchased Notts County’s men’s and women’s clubs in December, aiming to clear debts owed to HMRC by both outfits.
A club statement said: “Alan Hardy has reluctantly admitted defeat in his bid to save Notts County Ladies Football Club after facing a near-£1m bill to keep the club afloat this season.
“The Notts County chairman and owner had hoped to restructure six-figure HMRC debts inherited from Ray Trew and fund ongoing projected losses this season of half a million pounds.
“Despite weeks of negotiations with lawyers, HMRC and the Football Association, Hardy has now called time on his plans to save the Ladies set-up.
“The club has today been officially withdrawn from the Women’s Super League and will play no matches in the Spring Series, including this Sunday’s away fixture at Arsenal.”
‘Jobless and homeless’
Reacting to the news, Notts and England goalkeeper Telford posted on Twitter: “CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT I HAVE JUST WITNESSED!!! NOTTS COUNTY LADIES NO LONGER EXISTS!!!”
Midfielder Danielle Buet added: “Thanks @Official_NCFC left jobless and homeless.”
Former Arsenal winger Rachel Yankey, who had a spell on loan with Notts in 2016, posted: “Totally gutted for the @Official_NCLFC players, staff and supporters. I hope the @PFA and @fa are doing everything they can to support them.”
An FA spokesperson said: “The FA is aware of the situation and is liaising with all involved parties.
“Our priority is the welfare of the players and we will work closely with them, the PFA and wider stakeholders to support them through this time.”
With the WSL transfer window having closed, it is not yet clear if any of the Notts squad will be able to sign for another English top-flight club this season.
“I am devastated that we cannot continue the Ladies project but the numbers simply do not stack up,” said Notts County chairman Hardy. “Continuing would have been little short of financial suicide.
“When I took over the club, HMRC and other creditors had in excess of £350,000 of unpaid liabilities. Additionally, I was extremely concerned that to operate Notts County Ladies for the current season was going to cost us…