Doncaster Rovers Belles 'Donny Belles', almost 40 years old and named after the former Belle Vue Stadium, are in a crisis right now. Next Sunday they play away to Arsenal Ladies, but may go out of business the next day.
Some of you may remember the delightful book 'I lost my Heart to the Belles, written in 1997 by Pete Davies, when they were the most famous name in English women's soccer. They added Rovers to their name when they joined the men's team at the new Keepmoat Stadium, but have been overtaken by other womens clubs in the FA Women's Premier League. If you look at the squad announced this week by Hope Powell, coach of the England team, in consists of players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Leeds and Everton.
Doncaster is the birthplace of legendary Kevin Keegan who went on from working as an apprentice at Peglers Engineering to Scunthorpe United, Liverpool, Hamburg HSV and fame and fortune. Belles budget is around $130,000 a year and they run a big youth scheme, but they have recently lost their major sponsor after 4 years. The FA in London does a great job in promoting the women's game with their web site and promotion and cheap tickets for England matches, youth internationals and FA Cup and FA League Cup Finals. Last Sunday I went to watch Leeds United play Arsenal, who had beaten them twice in the last 3 seasons at the Womens FA Cup Final. The last two such finals, at Nottingham Forest's City Ground had attracted a TV audience and a crowd of 22,000 each time.
By the time I reached Tadcaster Albion's ground Arsenal were 4-1 up on Leeds and finished worthy 6-1 winners. A player from each side had already seen red including Kelly Smith of Arsenal, England's most famous player. The game time had been changed from regular 2.00pm to 1.00pm at the last minute(not for the first time). Despite the famous and attractive opposition, only 100 or so fans showed up. The Yorkshire Post gives lots of space to the club, recently renamed Leeds Carnegie Ladies after Leeds United not only 'dumped them' but allegedly wanted $40,000 a season to 'use' their name and crest. Arsenal had arrived the night before on their luxurious bus and stayed at the nearby Hilton in York, while many other clubs go and return the same day in a self drive minibus.
Arsenal Ladies coach and founder Vic Akers is worried that the new USA Women's Professional League, scheduled to start up in summer 2009 is targeting at least four of his players including Kelly Smith, who spent 4 years at college and then as a pro in the ill fated W-USA League that lasted only 3 seasons. The FA in London is proposing a new Women's Super League to run in the summer of 2010 with only 8 teams, which would give the players a proper income. Arsenal, Chelsea, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester City, Everton, Blackburn Rovers would seem the probable eight, leaving out such clubs as Fulham, Charlton, Cardiff, Nottingham, Leicester, Liverpool etc.and others in the North-East and the South Coast.