Comment: Don’t let the Belles toll...

Doncaster Rovers Belles celebrate Beth England's opener against Everton. Picture: Chris Brunskill via Getty Images.
Doncaster Rovers Belles celebrate Beth England's opener against Everton. Picture: Chris Brunskill via Getty Images.

When you think of women’s football - Doncaster Belles are the club that springs to mind.

They are the pioneers of the women’s game, founder members of the national league in 1991 and the ever-presents in the top flight.

However, next term the FA’s restructured Women’s Super League will see the Doncaster Rovers Belles relegated to the second tier. For what reason? Nobody really knows and the FAWSL won’t tell us (despite numerous requests).

You see, following an application process - which saw over 30 women’s clubs apply to be a part of the expanded 2014 two-divisioned WSL - Belles’ submission was deemed ‘not good enough’ by the powers that be who have in turn relegated them.

More crushing was that the announcement was made after Belles had played just 90 minutes of league football.

What kind of incentive is that to do well this year in a league they know they won’t be a part of in 2014?

I’ve got an idea, and call me crazy but, why not use promotion and relegation this season and let that decide who are ‘not good enough’ for the top tier? Radical, I know.

Adding fuel to the fire is that in their place next year will be Manchester City LFC - a side currently playing in the lower Women’s Premier League.

Now, I don’t want to make this a ‘my dad’s better than your dad contest’ between Belles and City because I’m sure the Lancashire club’s application was strong and congratulations must go to them.

But how can you ignore the mainstays of the women’s top flight? The club which has brought the women’s game forward dramatically and which boasts an unrivalled history?

Girl and women footballers have legends like Karen Walker, Gill Coulthard and club founder Sheila Edmunds to thank for the game now being on a bigger stage and heading in the right direction in terms of promotion.

However, the FAWSL decision really does question how the women’s game can be taken seriously after such a demoralising announcement like the one on April 26. An announcement done via a terse press release.

Since then, it’s been ‘no comment’ from them - you could say we’re getting ‘sweet FA’ from the FA - which is interesting really because in the next breath their PR firm for the FA Cup are telling us that we must promote Sunday’s final.

There’s a darker side to this application process I believe, like many others, and that is financial clout. After all, money talks.

Now, Belles might not be cash heavyweights like Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, but the club are in fact financially stable.

Yes, they could do with more money but they’re making the best of what they have. It’s not too shabby either with a Championship stadium in the Keepmoat, top drawer youth development and international players on their books - none more impressive than Sue Smith.

There’s no doubt about Belles players wanting to do well and it’s certainly not for the money. They do it because they feel pride when they put on that shirt and walk out on to their hallowed turf.

They do it because they want to repay the faith in their fans when they hear those bells ringing in all weathers.

They do it because they love football. Simple.

Saturday morning saw a protest inside the Frenchgate Centre against the FAWSL’s decision.

It was a protest which included mayor Ros Jones ringing her bell in support of the club, fan Tony Greenall and the ‘Belles Noisy Fans’.

There is also a petition going around fighting against Belles’ cut-throat demotion and it is one I fully support.

Thousands of signatures later - and countless retweets on Twitter including from the likes of Doncaster Rovers’ loanee Iain Hume and winger David Cotterill - it seems like it’s a cause you support too.

We’ve been reporting on this story since the announcement and finally it’s starting to pick up pace on a national scale.

Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling tweeted: “Belles first women’s team I ever heard of and ever present top flight since. Don’t care who funds City. Care about what’s right!”

But, as I discussed with the petition’s creator Glen Wilson - editor of the popularSTAND fanzine - whilst the signatures are fantastic and something to be proud of, what Belles need are bums on seats.

Saturday was a perfect chance for Doncaster to stand up and be counted against the FAWSL and support Belles in their home Continental Cup game against Everton - and a crowd of just 301 turned up.

Those attendance figures are simply not good enough.

I was there and cannot for a second fault those that showed their support. The players received an incredible boost from the stands - but it’s something they deserve every week.

As Wilson said: “Great to see some familiar faces there. But frankly the rest of the town has let their team down.”

So, come on, we need to get behind our pioneering women’s team and continue their incredible legacy.

Get those bells ringing at games and cheer on one of the most famous women’s football teams in the world.

The players certainly need you now more than ever. #supportthebelles

What do you think of the FA’s decision to relegate the Belles next season? Email: hayley.paterson@jpress.co.uk or tweet @HayleyP_11.

Sign the petition here: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/doncasterbelles.

See this week’s Doncaster Free Press for more on the Belles.