The decline and relegation of Doncaster Belles

Date: 9th October 2013 at 2:20 pm
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doncasterHaving played football for Birmingham City Ladies in the eighties, I admit to having a soft spot for Doncaster Belles, who dominated women’s football during this period.

Although there was no Premier division at this time, they were well respected and feared throughout women’s football.  Therefore, I was extremely saddened to see them relegated recently, at the end of the current season.

Doncaster Belles were founded in 1969 as Belle Vue Belles and became Doncaster Belles in 1971.

From 1972 the Belles played three seasons in the Sheffield League and then, following the league’s demise, joined the Nottinghamshire League which they dominated for the next decade.  The Belles went on to win the Nottinghamshire League a total of 11 times.

The club then joined the new North East League following reorganization and won this league in both seasons of its existence.

Following this they joined the new National Division, which consisted of 8 teams, in 1991.  Doncaster Belles won this division in its inaugural year with a 100% record.  The next season the league was expanded to 10 teams and newly promoted Arsenal took the crown, inflicting only the Belle’s second defeat in 15 years in the process.

Doncaster regained the Premier Division title in 1994 after needing to win 3 of their last 4 games.  This proved to be their last trophy as the following year Croydon won the league, eroding the Belle’s 13 point league.

In 1983 the Belles reached the WFA Cup final for the first time and won the trophy by beating St Helens 3-2.  They went on to reach the next 3 finals only to lose on each occasion.

From 1983 to 1994 Doncaster Belles won the FA Women’s Cup a total of 6 times and achieved a League and FA Cup double on 2 occasions.  With a total trophy haul of 15 League titles and 6 WFA Cups, the club was a force to be reckoned with.

However, despite appearing in cup finals since, Doncaster Belles have failed to add to their trophy cabinet and are in somewhat of a decline by their standards.

In 2002 Doncaster Belles turned semi professional and in 2003 the club merged with their male counterparts and became Doncaster Rovers Belles and now play at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster.  In 2008-09 the Belles finished 4th and lost in the WFA Cup Final 5-0 to Arsenal.

Doncaster Rovers Belles became one of the 8 founding teams in the current Women’s Super League in 2011.  However, after finishing second from bottom in their first 2 seasons in the WSL, the FA, somewhat controversially, decided that they will drop down to the new FA WSL 2 from 2014 and will be replaced by Manchester City.  This was decided after only one game of the season, thereby relegating the Belles after only 90 minutes of football.

Unfortunately, Doncaster Belles ended their current campaign recently by finishing in bottom place in the league.  The decision to relegate the club has been seen as somewhat controversial and the boss of a rival club deemed: “The FA decision to drop Doncaster Rovers Belles into the second tier of women’s football for next season is ‘morally scandalous’” (BBC sport).

Arsenal’s general manager Vic Akers said “Donny have the support of the league’s current clubs’ and he also commented: “If you’re talking about relegation then you should talk about promotion and Manchester City didn’t win the league (the level below), they finished 4th.  Sunderland won it for the third year in a row and yet they will be in the WSL’s 2nd Division next year” (BBC sport).

It was against my team, Birmingham City on the 29th September, that Doncaster Rovers Belles ended their 22 year unbroken time in the top flight of women’s football with a 3-0 defeat at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster.  It was a game that they needed to win to avoid bottom spot.

I for one will be sad to see them drop down from the WSL and wish Doncaster Rovers Belles all the best for next season and hopefully a swift return to the top flight of women’s football once again.

What are your thoughts? Let us know or tweet us @LaFootyettes.

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