Doncaster Belles: ‘We’ve been fair’ - FA

FA's Kelly Simmons
FA's Kelly Simmons

The FA’s Kelly Simmons insists they made ‘fair and honest’ decisions for the FAWSL expansion which saw the Belles demoted.

Director of the National Game and Women’s Football Simmons met exclusively with the Free Press at Wembley Stadium to discuss why the Belles suffered their controversial drop to the new FAWSL2.

According to Simmons, the Belles were primarily not offered a FA WSL1 license because they failed to meet minimum facility requirements – they only have third call on the Keepmoat Stadium – alongside commercial and marketing strategies issues.

The announcement was met with worldwide attention, protests were held and nearly 10,000 people signed a petition against the FA’s decision, which was further criticised because Manchester City LFC - who finished fourth in the Women’s Premier League - would replace Belles in next year’s WSL1.

Simmons told the Free Press the FA’s decision was not financially driven.

“The only financial criteria the clubs have to meet, as a minimum, is to match our club development grant which in the WSL is £70,000.

“All the clubs met that, nobody failed in terms of not being able to generate that money,” she said.

“It’s been portrayed in the media as a financial decision and I think that’s why there has been such an uproar.

“Ultimately it’s about the FA being in a big partnership with the clubs – because they were all consulted throughout the creation of the WSL – and having an agreed set of criteria standards against the license and clubs needing to meet that.

“I think it’s a really dangerous precedent if we relaxed any of that criteria. So the decision was predominantly about facilities and the concerns outlined in the bid, it wasn’t about finances.”

She added: “The Belles have got a fantastic history. I’ve known many great people over the years involved in that club who have made fantastic contributions to the women’s game. But it comes back to (the fact that) we set out the criteria which is fundamental to drive the women’s game forward and unfortunately they couldn’t meet it.”

Simmons said with live FA WSL games on BT Sport and a highlights show on the BBC, the FA have to “lock down” fixtures for regular television coverage and that teams must have first or second priority on home facilities.

“There were at least two additional requests to Doncaster Belles for further information on facilities (during the process) because we were concerned they didn’t meet the criteria. Castle Park rugby ground was suggested as a possible alternative but I think it says in the appeal document there wasn’t any detail around how that could be.”

When asked why the WSL could not be two leagues of ten, rather than eight in the first tier and 10 in the second, Simmons said: “From being in development for over 20 years, speaking to coaches like Hope Powell (England boss) and the other national coaches and talking to other clubs, people felt the game wasn’t ready yet to expand in terms of the player pool out there so that’s the primary reason why we chose eight.

“Also, we’re trying to drive a league that will move from an amateur sport to semi-professional to a professional league, so broadcast is absolutely fundamental.”

Simmons also snubbed the suggestion the independent appeal panel was not ‘independent’.

She said barrister Craig Moore, who chaired the Belles’ appeal, was an independent QC not on the FA payroll and that it was the same process used “across all of football”.

Asked whether she feared the WSL would always be remembered in 2013 as the year Belles were relegated, Simmons said: “We’ve made what I think are completely fair and honest decisions based on the bids.

She added: “I think there will be a real excitement about WSL2 - that starts in March and it’s about moving on and making sure the WSL is a success.”

Doncaster Belles are next in action against Arsenal on Wednesday at the Keepmoat Stadium, kick-off 7.45pm.