Doncaster Belles can bounce back after sponsorship boost

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I HAVE often felt sorry for Doncaster Rovers Belles’ boss John Buckley during our frequent conversations in recent years in view of the fact that he was having to manage the club on a shoestring budget.

Belles may play at what is easily the best ground in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) but the lack of a major sponsor in recent years has meant that they were the poor relations in many other areas.

As Buckley told me last Tuesday it is only the success of the club’s junior policy - which has provided a number of exciting local prospects who have gone on to shine at first-team level - which has kept Belles among the game’s elite in recent years.

The three-year, six-figure sponsorship deal with Innovation Financial Services Limited, announced last week will enable Buckley to compete more successful in the transfer market.

Long gone are the days when players would travel hundreds of miles a week to both train and play for the Belles - for many years the most successful club in the domestic game - without financial reward.

Money is playing an ever-increasing role in the modern game - especially at WSL level.

Belles are unlikely to ever regain the level of dominance they long enjoyed, but the new investment should give them a better chance of the major honours which have eluded them for far too long.

I was surprised to learn that former Dons’ full-back Jamie Bloem would be in charge of the club’s Championship One game against North Wales Crusaders at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on Sunday.

The first I knew that the South African would be in charge was when I was stood on the edge of the pitch soaking up the sun and I saw him limbering up and he came across and shook my hand and asked how I was.

Bloem, some of you might recall, made history in the mid-90s when becoming the first British rugby league player to be found guilty of using an anabolic steroid and was banned for two years. Prior to being found guilty, Bloem had been in outstanding form and his ban proved a big blow to the Dons, who ended a traumatic season bottom of the table with huge debts.

Since quitting rugby league, Bloem has served several junior rugby union clubs well as a player-coach but is now hoping to make the grade a referee.

Former Doncaster Knights’ director of rugby, Clive Griffiths - now the head coach at Crusaders, half jokingly said he wasn’t happy with a former Doncaster player being in charge of the game. I’m not sure if he knew that Bloem was actually a former team-mate of Dons’ boss Tony Miller.

As I suspected would be the case, Bloem leaned more towards the home side early on and I don’t think that Griffiths, who I had a chat with before the game, can have any complaints about his impartiality.

I was quite impressed by Crusaders to say it is their first season - particularly in attack - though Griffiths won’t need me to tell him that they need to tighten up defensively near their own line.

Former centre Rob Cullen told me on Tuesday night that the now defunct Bridon Rugby Union Club, which later became Danum Phoenix, recently held a successful players’ reunion to mark the 20th anniversary of its demise.

More than 40 players attended including one who flew in from America.