Players have spoken of their ‘heartbreak’ and ‘devastation’ after Oxford United Women were refused a place in the restructured Women’s Super League.
The club had applied to the Football Association to continue in the second tier, which will be an 11-team full-time division from next season, but a statement confirmed they have been offered a place in a different division.
This is likely to be in the third tier – the new Women’s National League.
There has been a mass exodus of players and manager Andy Cook departed the club earlier this month.
Goalkeeper Demi Lambourne said she was ‘heartbroken’ after leaving the club after seven years.
She said: “Not only have I seen Oxford United Women grow over the years but I’ve grown as a player and as a person in my time at the club.
“It’s such a shame for the bid not to have been accepted for WSL but I’ll be forever grateful for the last seven years the club has invested in me.”
Skipper Lauren Haynes added: “This is truly and utterly devastating to not be accepted into the WSL.
“I love this club and hope long-term good things will come good.”
The U’s made a bright start to the 2017/18 season but endured a difficult campaign and ended eighth on the back of a torrid run of nine defeats in 10.
Shot stopper Lucy Thomas said she “couldn’t be more disappointed” by the club’s rejection.
She added: “Oxford United has been such a massive part of my life for the last six years and it’s been an absolute privilege to play for the club.”
Despite the setback, United are determined to maintain a women’s team.
Managing director Niall McWilliams said: “It is a major commitment to run a competitive team in the WSL but both Tiger and Darryl Eales have been brilliantly supportive and continue to support a women’s side at the club.
“It is disappointing not to be in the WSL but at the same time it gives us a great opportunity to take stock, find our place at a level where we can truly compete, and work hard to build a successful women’s team.”
Oxford United insisted they are ‘fully committed’ to the development of the women’s game and will keep fans updated of plans.