DONCASTER Rovers Belles have released long-serving midfielder Vicky Exley.
Former England international Exley, 36, spent the best part of two decades at the Belles after joining as a teenager from Sheffield Wednesday.
She forged a reputation as one of the game’s most prolific box-to-box midfielders - and scored Doncaster’s first ever Super League goal at Lincoln last year.
Boss John Buckley told the Free Press that the decision to release Exley was one of the hardest he has ever had to make.
Buckley said: “Vicky has been a great servant to the club.
“When she was younger there were times when she virtually carried this team on her shoulders.
“I just felt that she has reached a stage where her legs can’t do what her brain wants her to do.
“It’s probably one of the hardest decisions I’ll ever have to make - and she’ll probably hate me for it.
“But I felt it’s in the best interests of the club moving forward.”
Exley, who joined Doncaster aged 19, scooped the Sports Personality of the Year gong at last year’s Doncaster Sports Awards after scoring 25 goals in just 29 games in Belles’ final season in the Premier League.
The Belles’ longest serving player was a regular in the midfield engine room last term as the club finished seventh out of eight in the inaugural FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL).
Doncaster continued their preparations for FAWSL season two with a 5-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday.
Julie-Ann Russell, Aine O’Gorman, Millie Bright and Sue Smith all found the net.
Buckley said: “In patches of the game we did okay but we’ve still got a lot to work on.
“We’re playing catch up a little bit after the bad weather in recent weeks but we’re hoping to arrange a few more games for the girls to get some more minutes under their belts.”
Buckley has added Australian centre back Tanya Oxtoby to his squad and is hopeful of adding another Aussie defender over the next few days.
Oxtoby, 29, was captain at Perth Glory where Belles midfielder Katie Holtham spent the winter playing.
Belles have had their Super League licence extended until 2013, the Football Association has confirmed.
The FA are exploring the possibility of launching a second tier FAWSL in 2014.