DONCASTER ROVERS BELLES are looking to disprove the theory that long-term success must be funded by big money. Ricky Charlesworth reports.
In an era when women’s football in this country is fast becoming money-oriented, Doncaster Rovers Belles are a breath of fresh air.
As far as our long-term ambitions as a club are concerned, I think we’re in a really good place. We’re also full-time, which gives us an extra edge over those teams in our league who aren’t.Emma Coates
The Belles are a self-sufficient club, have a young squad littered with internationals and have a promising youth section from which to dip into.
A lot has happened since the controversial decision by the FA in 2013 to demote the club from Women’s Super League 1, the top flight of women’s football.
The decision to jettison the Belles from the top table and replace them with money-rich Manchester City was lambasted in many quarters.
The Belles did manage to regain their top-flight status but their stay was all too brief, lasting just one solitary season.
After relegation last term, following just one win all season, they find themselves back in WSL2.
But far from being despondent about the situation, Belles’ chief Emma Coates takes a positive slant on the club’s future.
Coates, who was appointed last June, is confident that the club is on an upward trajectory.
“As far as our long-term ambitions as a club are concerned, I think we’re in a really good place,” Coates told The Yorkshire Post.
“We’re also full-time, which gives us an extra edge over those teams in our league who aren’t.
“The players we’ve got are buying into what we’re doing, on and off the pitch.
“We learned a lot from last season and now we want to push on.”
The Belles ultimately want to get back to competing at the top of the English game.
The club has a proud history with two league titles and six FA Women’s Cup trophies in the trophy cabinet.
Belles are run independently but receive some funding from Doncaster Rovers, after a partnership was formed that allowed them the use of the Keepmoat Stadium.
Despite Belles’ comfortable financial position, Coates says that money talks and that the women’s game could well be at a crossroads in the near future. She said: “Obviously it’s very difficult to compete against the clubs that are just throwing money at it.
“We fully believe we can compete without the money but some clubs are struggling to keep up. The gulf is getting bigger and bigger.
“It will be interesting to see how the game is going to react.”
On the field, the Belles are taking part in the Spring Series which was created to bridge the gap between the 2016 season, which ran from March to September as a summer tournament, and the 2017–18 season which is planned to start this September.
The format follows that of the league season, although there are no promotions or relegations.
Games are predominantly being played to maintain player fitness until the season begins and to address the large gap between the campaigns.
Belles won their opening game 4-1 against London Bees before being on the end of a 7-0 hammering from Chelsea in the Women’s FA Cup.
Despite wanting to get back to winning ways as soon as possible, Coates admits a sense of frustration at the lopsided schedule which means her side do not play another fixture until mid-April.
She said: “We want to be putting minutes in the legs of players.
“But one good thing is that we can use the time off to prepare them physically.
“We’ve got a heavy schedule in April and May, so it will be good to see how the players cope and react to that busy period.”
Another bright spot for the club is the flurry of players whom Coates has seen head off on international duty.
A total of six of Coates’s players have been selected at youth and senior level for England (Under-19s Samantha Tierney and Mayumi Pacheco), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
She added: “I believe it will benefit us as a club, having players go away and play for their country.
“The experience will make them more rounded players.”