Belles geared up for new Super League

Super girls: Players Maria Karlsson, Aine O'Gorman, and Kylla Sjoman with boss John Buckley.
Super girls: Players Maria Karlsson, Aine O'Gorman, and Kylla Sjoman with boss John Buckley.
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DONCASTER Rovers Belles are counting down the days to the start of the inaugural FA Women’s Super League campaign next month.

Belles, who kick off their campaign away at Lincoln on April 14, were one of the eight clubs awarded a two-year franchise almost a year ago.

There will be no relegation within the first two years, but under current plans, the league is set to grow to 12 clubs in 2014 with up to two clubs being relegated in 2013 and up to six promoted.

The FA are financially supporting each of the eight clubs over the next two seasons at a cost of £70,000 per year.

“Like the other clubs, we’ll have to match that £70,000 funding this year and next,” said Belles’ chairman Jonathan James at a press conference at the Keepmoat Stadium. “After that we’ll be expected to be self-supporting financially.

“The FA say it is about raising the game to a semi-professional level.

“The players won’t have full-time jobs in the sport, at least not in the first two or three years. But hopefully we’ll have the budget to be able to pay them a little bit of money and hopefully we can pay them some fuel expenses.”

Mr James admits that it is going to be tough to raise that amount of money in the current economic climate, but says he has no regrets about applying for Super League when several other National Division Premier League clubs opted to decide to wait and see how things develop over the next couple of years.

He told The Star: “With the Doncaster Rovers Belles’ brand, the Keepmoat Stadium - which will give us the best facilities in the league - we felt that the timing was right. And with the FA supporting the project, we went for it.”

Mr James says Belles will model match day on arrangements successfully implemented by Doncaster Rugby League Club, who just use the East Stand on match days. We are hoping to attract a similar sort of crowd,” said the Belles’ official.

“We had a game in the stadium, the second year it was open, against Leeds, and we had a crowd of 1,563, so we are capable of attracting those sort of crowds.

“But I don’t know whether there will be 100, 500 or more for our first game in the league against Chelsea on Sunday, April 24.”

The Belles’ chairman says the majority of the club’s home games will be played on a Sunday afternoon at 2pm, but due to this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Germany, which has already generated 54,000 ticket sales, some games will be in midweek.

Mr James is hoping that the tournament will give the game in this country a boost and help generate more interest and bigger gates.

Belles have struggled on average gates of between 200-300 at the Keepmoat Stadium’s No 2 pitch in recent years, but they find themselves in good company.

Even star-studded Arsenal, the most attractive team to watch, and the most successful, in the domestic game over the last decade, only average gates of a couple of hundred.

It is a similar story across the rest of the country.

The FA, who are keen to establish a viable semi-professional women’s league, and the eight founder members, are all hoping that the switch to an April-September season will result in a higher profile - particularly in June and July when there is no competitive men’s football.

Belles, who are also looking to put on pre-match attractions, have pitched ticket prices at reasonable £6 (adults) and £3 juniors, and will also offer family packages.

“They are exciting times for the club and the game,” said Mr James.

“We’ll be staging women’s football at the highest level and hopefully the people of South Yorkshire will come out and support us.

“The FA would like average crowds in year one of around 500.”

Six games will screened live by ESPN and there will be a regular Tuesday evening Match Of The Day-style highlights programme.

In addition to 14 league games, teams will compete in a Super League KO Cup and continue to play in the WFA Cup.

Belles beat Chelsea in their first competitive game since the end of last season in their recent fifth round tie in the capita - the club’s longest-serving player Vicky Exley scoring - and John Buckley’s side travel to Skelmersdale this weekend to face Liverpool in the quarter-finals.

“Normally it is the winners of the National Division Premier League and WFA Cup winners who qualify for Europe but because the new Super League hasn’t started, it will be the two WFA finalists this year,” said Mr James.

“To be just two games away from playing in Europe is absolutely crazy.”

Buckley, who is hoping to add at least one more player before the Lincoln game, is full of praise for the Ramada Hotel group which is putting up several of the club’s overseas signings as part of a sponsorship package.