Free Press Focus: England star Sue Smith targets trophies with Doncaster Rovers Belles

Free Press reporter Hayley Paterson has a kick about with Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith.  Picture: Liz Mockler D1626LM
Free Press reporter Hayley Paterson has a kick about with Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith. Picture: Liz Mockler D1626LM

IT was one of those moments that I will never forget – reading the words ‘Sue Smith signs for Doncaster Belles’ received a jaw-dropping reaction from myself.

Growing up I played for the Belles, moving up their youth ranks.

Free Press reporter Hayley Paterson interviews Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith.  Picture: Liz Mockler D1629LM

Free Press reporter Hayley Paterson interviews Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith. Picture: Liz Mockler D1629LM

Every Saturday, the day before our games, the youth players would all be asked to sell Bovril and snacks from an on-site tuck shop at the club’s old Armthorpe Welfare stomping ground.

It might not sound too glamorous.

But it was a chance for me to watch in awe as the likes of Belles stars Karen Walker and Gill Coulthard ruled the roost back in the 1990s.

Reaching my teens, there was a new generation of talent bursting onto the scene - and Sue Smith was one of them.

Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith, with her new manager John Buckley.  Picture: Liz Mockler D1632LM

Doncaster Rovers Belles' new signing Sue Smith, with her new manager John Buckley. Picture: Liz Mockler D1632LM

An England international, BBC football pundit and known for her trademark hairstyles nearly as much as being a loyal player for Tranmere Rovers, Leeds and most recently Lincoln Ladies, Smith’s arrival has given the Belles a huge lift as they prepare for their second season in the FA Women’s Super League.

I was simply champing at the bit to interview Sue after finding out she had moved to my childhood club.

On the day of the interview, a rare opportunity to meet one of my footballing idols, I took a deep breath as I nervously walked into the Keepmoat Stadium.

Inside, Sue stood chatting to Belles boss John Buckley whose beaming smile was there for all to see - he knew what a coup it was to have the 32-year-old at the club.

Trying desperately to stop my hand from trembling as I shook hers, I watched on as Buckley showed Sue a trick he used to fool his opponents with in his wizard winger days.

Challenging Sue to do the same, she nailed the drag back and flick first time before casually sitting down and chatting to me.

My first question was simple. Why Doncaster?

“It had a bit of everything really,” said Smith.

“I have always got on really well with John (Buckley).

“He’d asked me to come to the Belles twice before but when he asked I knew then it wasn’t the right time for me.

“But this time around after hearing what John wanted to achieve at the club, I really liked the direction he was going in and the level of success they wanted.

“It’s not like me to leave a club after a season like I did with Lincoln and I loved my time there but I wanted to be a part of John’s success and help him take the club forward.”

Smith’s loyalty is apparent.

She tells me she commutes from her Liverpool home, driving one-and-a-half hours to Doncaster each day for pre-season training, friendlies and to help promote the club commercially.

There is a massive buzz around the club following her arrival before Christmas.

And Smith says she is intent on staying at the Belles for some time, planning to move to Doncaster or Sheffield in the near future.

Smith, who did not fail to disappoint with her trademark daring hairstyles, this time opting for a stylish quiff, says she feels like a mother to some of the players because of the breadth of young talent coming through the ranks.

“It’s a fantastic set-up that the players have here at the Keepmoat.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it for the first time - well, when I eventually saw it after getting lost on the way here,” she joked.

“I have been impressed with what I have seen so far.

It’s great to see so many young players being given the chance and they’re learning with some of the best facilities I’ve seen.”

With her 100th cap just around the corner for England, Sue is still very much an integral part of the international set-up.

When I met her she had just returned from international duty in La Manga, Spain, where she helped her country to a friendly win over Norway.

Her excitement was obvious as she told me about her hopes of featuring for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics - a squad Sue is currently on the ‘long list’ for.

“It is a massive year for women’s football, for the England team and for us as players,” said Sue, who made her international debut at the tender age of 17.

“I would love to play in the Olympics, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“It’s a case of waiting for news of whether or not I have made it.

“Hope (Powell - the England coach) has put me on the long list which will then get shortened down I think around March.

“But I’m not sure we’ll actually know about the final list until about ten days before the Olympics start so it’s an anxious wait.

“If I don’t make it into the squad, I’d love to do the football pundit side of things and cover the Olympics in some way.”

At that point Sue and I break off to grace the hallowed turf of the Keepmoat for a mini kick-about.

If I wasn’t nervous before, I certainly was now.

On our way to the pitch we chat about what the Women’s Super League has done for the game since its introduction in 2010.

“I think it’s been fantastic for the women’s game,” said Sue.

“It’s excellent that it has been recognised, and it’s about time!

“Now that the debut season has taken place, we’re hoping to have more and more people watch the games and come to the matches.

“Hopefully it can continue to grow.

“I would like to see more sponsors and people get behind women’s football because it is massive all over the country.

“There’s so many girls and women playing football so it would be great to see their hard work and love for the game rewarded.”

It’s at this very moment that I’m praying I don’t make a fool of myself as Sue lays the ball off to me.

Opting out of throwing in a trick, I take the safe option and tentatively roll it back to her and continue to speak to Sue about her Belles arrival.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute since I’ve joined Doncaster,” she said.

“I can’t wait to get my first Super League game underway in March.

“I’m just enjoying training and getting in the gym ready for the new season.

“I really do hope I can be a Belles player for a long time, it’s a great club and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

Finishing off the interview somehow managing to juggle both the ball and my interview technique - although I’m not sure which was worse - I ask John Buckley what it means to have Sue at the club.

“Sue is a superb signing,” he said.

“She custard pied me twice before when she turned down my offers of coming to the club but I’m absolutely delighted she’s here now.

“As well as her football, she’s brilliant for the team.

“What you see is what you get with her.

“She’s a big personality on and off the field and that can only be a great addition to the squad.”

n Belles start the new FAWSL season in April with a tough trip to Chelsea.

Arsenal are the first visitors to the Keepmoat a week later on April 15.