The last time Doncaster Belles were playing their football in FAWSL 1 it was 2013 and the club was in a sorry state. Demoted to the second division
after one game, suffering heavy defeat after heavy defeat and for all intents and purposes a club on its knees unloved and uncared for. Fast forward
3 years and the contrast couldn’t be starker. The Belles are most definitely back and not just here to make up the numbers.
Doncaster Belles are one of the most famous names in Woman’s football in England with a history and tradition that can only be rivaled in the game
by Arsenal and although the season is only a week old, there are signs that the good times could be just around the corner. After relegation in
2013 the club has slowly rebuilt in the second division. In 2014, with only one promotion spot available, they finished runners up to Sunderland
and in 2015 as the league’s expanded, under the leadership of head coach Glen Harris, they finished 2 points behind Champions Reading in a thrilling
title race and reclaimed their place in FAWSL 1.
Upon promotion the work preparing for life back in the big time began immediately. The club announced that for the first time it would be offering
full time contracts with 10 players being offering terms. Off the field chairwomen Faye Lygo unveiled ambitious plans for “Project Phoenix" A training
base specifically for female players; not only for the Belles first team, but also for female players in the area to give them a place to develop.
Reconnecting the club with the local community is a big thing for the club and tapping into local talent that has served the club so well in the
The work off the field has mirrored the work on it. The Belles have made a number of high profile signings. Jess Sigworth has returned from Notts County,
Carla Humphrey has joined on a season long loan from Arsenal along with Katrin Omarsdottir from Liverpool, but the two signings that really stood
out were Becky Easton and Natasha Dowie again from Liverpool. Both had won back to back championships at Liverpool with Dowie being the club’s
top scorer during that time.
“I fitted in straight away” Dowie said talking about her move “The staff have been really friendly and this club has always had a family feel to it...Training
has been intense, it’s been hard and it’s the fittest I have ever felt. We aren’t going to be going into any game saying we can’t win it because
we believe we can”.
Although Doncaster now have 10 full time professionals the rest of the squad are part time. Goalkeeper Nic Hobbs is a fire fighter and captain Leandra
Little is a PE teacher to give a couple of examples. Quite a few other members are studying full time at universities. So is this a problem when
organising training sessions and pre match planning? Not so according to manager Glen Harris “It’s not been too bad, in an ideal world we want
them all in full time to help with recovery, but the way the likes of Nic and Leandra prepare themselves and be the best they can be being part
time athletes while holding down high pressure jobs, is a huge testimony to them and where they want to be in the football world...They are a pleasure
to work with because they want to be the best they can be”.
So who does Harris see as the sides to beat this year? “It will be a very very competitive league, there are obviously teams that have good resources
and facilitates behind them, but if you look at the squads across the leagues they are very even and competitive and I wouldn’t want to call who’s
going to be in the top 4 and who’s going to be in the bottom”.
Watching the Belles train you get the feeling this is a happy relaxed squad. As we watching them the banter was flying around although it didn’t detract
from the serious stuff going on. The pace of training and the technical skills on show were further evidence of the progress of the game in England
and the benefits of full time training.
Doncaster may have lost their first league game of the season to Chelsea 4-1 but there were plenty of positives to come out of it. Firstly the crowd;
over 1,100 fans attended the match on a cold Thursday night which is even more impressive given the fact it was on television and at the start
of a bank holiday weekend. The Belles competed with Chelsea for much of the game however set pieces were to prove their downfall. As Harris put
it after the game “Chelsea have been 2 years in the making, we (Doncaster) are two months”.
Having spent time around the staff and players over the past week the enthusiasm for what the club is working to achieve is clear for all to see. It
shall certainly be an exciting season for the Belles.