Redfearn aims to ensure Doncaster Belles are ready for return to elite

IN CHARGE: Former Leeds manager Neil Redfearn has led Doncaster Belles to the top - but without hope of promotion. Picture: Tony Johnson.
IN CHARGE: Former Leeds manager Neil Redfearn has led Doncaster Belles to the top - but without hope of promotion. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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IT IS a surreal position to be sitting top of the league but without any prospect of promotion.

Doncaster Rovers Belles are currently top of Women’s Super League 2 (WSL2).

Belles, coached by former Leeds United manager Neil Redfearn, are not only top of the standings but also have the best attack and stingiest defence, dropping a mere seven points this season.

Despite being a shoo-in for top spot, Redfearn’s side will not be celebrating elevation when the season ends later this month.

Welcome to the complicated structure that is women’s football in England.

This is the way things work in the WSL at present, with pounds and pence seemingly preferred over points and goals.

To make it more competitive and more equal, it needs to be more of a level playing field, which I think it is getting towards.

Neil Redfearn

It is a system that means Brighton and Hove Albion’s women will be playing in the top tier next season, regardless of where they finish, having already been assured of a licence.

This warped way of restructuring can understandably question the integrity of such a league.

To make matters more confusing, there is yet another rebranding next season that will see the top flight renamed the Women’s Super League, while WSL2 will be known as the Women’s Championship.

The Belles have had their fair share of run-ins with the FA, most notably in 2013 when they were controversially demoted from the top flight and replaced by Manchester City.

It would be easy to cast envious glances towards City, who last week contested a Champions League semi-final.

For Redfearn, he is only focused on improving the club one step at a time and believes the Belles will be at the front of the queue when promotion and relegation return – whenever that may be.

“Our philosophy is that at some point the landscape has got to change,” Redfearn told The Yorkshire Post.

“Unlike Brighton and others, we haven’t got the backing of a men’s team yet. But if you strive to do well then you will get promoted somewhere down the line.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we’re ready for when that does happen and I’d have thought that will be sooner rather than later.

“The FA have tried to make the top tier an elite division but in doing so they’ve made it about the money.

“It should be about developing women at an elite level regardless of the money.

“What you find is the bigger clubs like Man City and Arsenal have got the funding and can afford to go over and above the funding. To make it more competitive and more equal, it needs to be more of a level playing field, which I think it is getting towards.”

Tonight, Doncaster make the short journey to Dronfield to take on Sheffield FC Ladies.

Unlike the Belles, Sheffield are a relatively young club, formed in 2003. Six league titles in eight years saw them land in WSL2 and they are enjoying their second season at this level.

Manager Zoe Johnson says that the women’s game is getting stronger but it can be testing for sides like Sheffield to keep up the pace.

“It’s a massive challenge,” she said. “It’s only going to get stronger and stronger.

“Clubs at the top (WSL) have got to be full-time and have to have the budgets. The clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City, that have the backing, can do that.

“We’re moving in the right direction but we’ve not got massive amounts of money to just get who we want.”

Next season could actually see three Yorkshire clubs compete in the Women’s Championship.

Sheffield United Ladies are also vying for a spot in the second tier and will move two levels up the pyramid if they receive the green light.

The FA will reveal the line-up for next season at the end of May.