If there’s one thing that Doncaster Rovers Belles could have been excused for lacking in 2013, they should have it in abundance when the new season kicks off in the summer.
After having the rug pulled from beneath them just 90 minutes into last year’s FAWSL, when the Football Association inexplicably announced Doncaster would be relegated for reasons of the red tape variety, Belles’ small but incredibly dedicated squad would have been excused for throwing in the towel from almost the word go.
In one fell swoop the FA killed the season there and then with their cunningly-timed statement (released as Doncaster minds were focused on the trip to Griffin Park), outlining that the Belles would play outside of the top flight for the first time in their history in 2014.
It was a story that sent ripples of discontent through the world of football.
It left a really bad taste.
And it left John Buckley’s side with little more than personal pride to play for, as they went head-to-head with the game’s elite for the final time for at least 18 months.
What followed on the pitch was very much a continuation of the season before.
Belles tried hard, really hard, but they lacked the quality and craft to trouble the cream of the Super League.
Battling draws at Everton and Lincoln briefly offered some hope but crushing home defeats to Arsenal (0-6) and Liverpool (0-9) summed up a forgettable season.
Belles, somewhat ironically, although sadly not unexpectedly, finished bottom of the table with just six points and nine goals to their credit.
If only the FA had done the decent thing and relegated the side with the fewest points, instead of the one with the least money, Doncaster would have no reason to feel hard done by.
But instead they head into next season’s new FAWSL2 with the added incentive of flying in the face of the game’s administrative body and bouncing back to the top flight at the first time of asking - subject to FA ratification of course.
They will do so with a new manager at the helm. Gordon Staniforth has been charged with the task of re-tuning the Belles and, like his predecessor, he’ll have to do it with a very tight budget.
If he can hold onto a spine of Leandra Little, Sue Smith, Kasia Lipka and Auckley lass Jess Sigsworth, Doncaster shouldn’t be too far away from that promotion spot. But no one at Belles should underestimate the size of the task ahead of them this year.
For one thing, Belles have lost that winning habit.
And they will not only face teams, like Sunderland and Watford, who know how to win. They will come up against clubs riding on the crest of a wave after being granted a Super League licence, clubs like Durham and Yeovil ecstatic to just be on the same pitch as the mighty Belles.
Complacency can’t be allowed to creep in. But the Belles certainly should not lack motivation.