Doncaster Belles: ‘I had to leave the club I loved’ - John Buckley

John Buckley.
John Buckley.

Former Belles boss John Buckley has broken his silence over the reasons for his departure - claiming his hand was forced when the board appointed a director of football behind his back.

After a decade in charge the ex- Rovers winger exited the club on the same day Belles ended their 22-year reign in the top flight.

Belles Manager John Buckley. Picture: Clint Hughes - The FA/The FA via Getty Images.

Belles Manager John Buckley. Picture: Clint Hughes - The FA/The FA via Getty Images.

Until now Buckley has not spoken about why he decided to leave the club but he told the Free Press this week he felt his position had became untenable.

He said: “Alan Smart [Belles’ then vice chairman] and Carl Lygo [board member] came on to the pitch after the final game for a chat.

“During the conversation they said they had appointed a director of football which, until then, I knew nothing about.

“My instant reaction was ‘count me out’.

Sue Smith with manager John Buckley (r) and then-assistant manager Paul Green. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sue Smith with manager John Buckley (r) and then-assistant manager Paul Green. Picture: Andrew Roe

“I didn’t like the way they had appointed someone without me knowing.

“They’d gone behind my back and that was a massive disappointment.

“I didn’t feel like I could continue knowing they had done that.

“They could’ve told me about it before and I would have stepped aside.

“That isn’t the issue at all - it was the way it was done.”

Belles later announced former manager Julie Chipchase as their new director of football to work behind the scenes and develop their younger players.

Gordon Staniforth was later employed as Buckley’s successor.

“It was the right decision for me to leave,” said Buckley, now a coach at Balby Academy, who also reports on Rovers matches for Opta.

“I don’t have any issues with Julie Chipchase or Gordon Staniforth. I want them to come in and do a good job because I still want to see the team winning.

“There’s no animosity there - but there is towards Alan Smart [then Belles vice-chairman] because he didn’t speak to me about it.

“We were friends and I felt like he went behind my back. I won’t engage with him again.”

He added: “I understand people saying ‘you never won anything’ but I don’t think there would be anyone in the league that has developed as many young players as us.

“We brought through Kasia Lipka, Millie Bright, Beth England, Jess Sigsworth and others from kids and helped them become top players.”

Financially the Belles were poles apart from their fellow Women’s Super League rivals, which meant staff even had to dip into their own pockets to keep the club running.

And their lack of financial clout was compounded last year were they were controversially demoted into the newly-formed WSL2 following a much criticised FA application process.

Despite his tenure coming to an end Buckley has fond memories of his time with the Belles, including an FA Women’s Cup final spot in 2003, strong league finishes and several Sheffield & Hallamshire Cup wins.

He was also proud of signing top England internationals such as Sue Smith and Rachel Williams.

“I will miss the players more than anything,” he said.

“I just loved working with them and it was great to see someone you’d developed as a player go on and play international football,” he said.

• On behalf of the Belles board, chairman Teresa Aitken said: “We are sad to hear that John is unhappy. We had reached an agreement with John that we thought met his concerns.

“We did not ask him to resign but will always remain grateful to John for all he has done for the club.

“We now have a new manager and new challenges. The new board is looking forward to the season ahead and is aiming for promotion back to where we belong. We have a great squad and are looking forward to the future.”