'Mentally, it's been really hard' - Belles captain opens up on second successive curtailment

Two lost years. That’s the verdict of Doncaster Rovers Belles club captain Sophie Scargill after league football below the top two divisions was curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 4:12 pm
Sophie Scargill, Doncaster Rovers Belles' club captain, in action in a pre-season friendly in August. Photo: Heather King/Club Doncaster

The Football Association Women’s Board has ended the league seasons for tiers three to six with immediate effect, declaring them incomplete. It is the second season they have done so.

The FA cited the many ‘operational issues’ that made completing the season unviable, given no football at that level had been played since January 4. Understandable, given the current climate, but no less damaging to the players and clubs that make a part-time living out of competitive women’s football.

Indeed, the consequences are far-reaching for clubs and employees, bringing an early end to playing careers and affecting the mental health of the players themselves.

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“When I read the news, my first reaction was I just felt deflated,” said Scargill.

“It’s now two seasons where everything we’ve done is pointless, none of our results count towards anything. It really feels like a waste, that it was all for nothing.”

Belles were second in FAWNL Division One Midlands - the fourth tier of the pyramid - when women’s football below the Super League and Championship was temporarily shut down for a second time in early January, when the third national lockdown was enforced.

The challenge for Scargill has been as much a mental one as it is physical.

“Mentally, it’s been really hard,” she says.

“Even the decision that was made a couple of days ago, we didn’t know when that decision was going to be coming out.

“It’s really difficult for some of the girls to keep motivated. I’ve set myself a running challenge to have something to aim for but I still get asked how do you run when there’s nothing there to run for?

“I live on my own as well, so just to be back at football is so good for my mental health, to be around people. We all just want to get back playing.

“I’m trying to look at it positively and use it to get better. Yes, we have lost two years but there’s no point me sitting here thinking it’s two years lost, what’s the point? Surely next season we’re going to go a full season.

“The mentality we should all take is that there’s nothing we can do about it, let’s just regroup and go again next season.”

Training resumes for Belles in April when lockdown restrictions ease and the hope is all teams can organise friendlies in the absence of competitive fixtures.

Going forward, the concern is that such disruption does not damage participation in women’s football, either attracting new players or retaining current ones.

Scargill added: “I’m worried because the amount of girls that drop out of football anyway is quite alarming. They reach an age where real life kicks in - college, full-time job - and it just gets difficult. And I understand that.

“Hopefully, people have got the mindset of wanting to prove people wrong, that they want to continue playing.

“But it is worrying. It does feel like we’re being left behind.”