When the Lygos came in to support them the Belles were at a crossroads. Money was coming into the game to underpin upstart women’s clubs elsewhere (most notably Manchester City) and the country’s most famous and longest-established women’s football club was in serious danger of folding.
With a great fanfare it was announced that full time contracts were being offered to the players and a large property was acquired in Misson which, we were informed, would be turned into a centre of excellence at a cost of several million pounds.
The first thing that struck me about these plans was that the group of players being offered full time contracts were unlikely to be good enough to compete with the leading teams of the day.
Nevertheless the Belles, having been unceremoniously dumped from the top flight of the women’s game in favour of Manchester City, had an outstanding season and won promotion to the recently-formed WSL1 largely on the back of the goals scored by Courtney Sweetman-Kirk who was well supported by Beth England and Sue Smith.
However the new campaign got off to a disastrous start when first England was tempted away by Chelsea (who had previously signed another important member of the team, Millie Bright) and then Sweetman-Kirk suffered a season-ending injury.
To compound these problems Sue Smith’s father died and she went into deep mourning. Jess Sigsworth was re-signed from Notts County Ladies but she too suffered a serious injury which kept her out for the remainder of the season.
As no significant new signings had been made in preparation for the increased challenges ahead in the top flight, and as, apparently no attempt was made to bring in replacements for those who were unavailable, the Belles embarked on the new season without a recognised senior striker in the squad.
Unsurprisingly they completely failed to compete, losing every game except the last of the season.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was wondering what was going on behind the scenes.
Almost out of the blue the Women’s Super League have decided to abandon merit as the criterion for promotion and relegation between the two levels of their league in favour of what is amounting to a franchise system with money being the qualifying factor.
The Belles’ management soon announced that due to their inability and/or unwillingness to meet the financial criteria of the revamped WSL1 they would not be applying for a licence.
That decision is perfectly understandable but it means that for the foreseeable future the top flight of the women’s domestic game will operate without the most famous and longest-established club in the land.
Thanks to Paul Goodwin’s interview we also now learn that the club are operating on a part-time basis and the grandiose and laudable plans for the centre of excellence have been consigned indefinitely to the back burner.
Faye Lygo also makes a low key reference to the need for support from local businesses.
It is difficult from the outside to get an accurate impression of what is happening with the club set-up but changes of attitude seem to be afoot.
There seems to be some backtracking from an earlier approach of having an all-female club.
The inexperienced young manager, Emma Coates, was poached by the Women’s FA which was a considerable feather in the caps of Emma herself and the Belles for their development programme. Very commendably the club has appointed a very experienced manager from the men’s game in Neil Redfearn.
Also in the interview there is a nod towards Club Doncaster.
If the Belles are to realise their stated ambition of a place in the revamped WSL1 they are going to need all the help they can get.
They will be forever grateful to Carl and Faye Lygo for their timely intervention to effectively save the club from potential oblivion.
However there is clearly a limit to how far their support can take the club.
The first step in this should be full integration within Club Doncaster.
That potentially offers the best route to accessing the sponsorship needed to enable the club to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.
And while we are at it how about a reversion to the previous name Doncaster Belles?
John Molloy, name and address supplied
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