FA ‘unfair’ to demoted Belles

Doncaster Rovers Belles have strong roots in the community
Doncaster Rovers Belles have strong roots in the community
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Women’s football has rarely hit the national headlines in this country since it was de-outlawed painfully late in the 1970s.

In 2009, the Football Association aimed to place the women’s game into the national consciousness when they set about creating the Women’s Super League (FAWSL).

Though the sport continued to grow in an impressive manner, the FAWSL failed to make much of a mark on the landscape over its first two seasons.

In 2013, when the FA began to formulate the expansion of the league, bringing in much loved promotion and relegation, women’s football found itself in the rare position of attracting mainstream attention.

And it was all because of Doncaster Rovers Belles, the grand old dame of the game.

Unfortunately for the PR loving governing body, the stories being written and the comments being made were not positive ones.

It is the view of many that the Belles have been wronged. And wronged in a way that shames the FA.

It all began when the FA decided to create Women’s Super League Two and invited applications from existing FAWSL clubs and outsiders to be a part of the new two tier system.

Applications would be judged on four main factors: financial and business management; commercial sustainability and marketing; facilities; players, support staff and youth development.

Around 30 clubs applied. Only 18 would be successful.

The top flight would remain an eight team division. But the Belles would not be among those eight teams, instead being consigned to life outside the pinnacle of the English women’s game for the first time since a national league was created.

Taking their place in WSL1 would be Manchester City, a club who finished fourth in the Women’s Premier League, 20 points off champions Sunderland who like the Belles would find themselves in WSL2.

Another new name will also appear in WSL1 next season - Notts County. But this is not a new club, it is in fact this season’s Lincoln City Ladies with the ‘franchise’ transplanted into Nottinghamshire at the end of the current season.

Such decisions raised all manner of questions about how much weight the FA put on mere finances.

There is no hiding the fact that the Belles are not cash rich, certainly in comparison with most of their FAWSL rivals. But they are a very strong community club, embedded in the town they represent which is something some of their rivals cannot claim.

The decision to announce the effective demotion of the Belles after one game of the current FAWSL season raised even more questions about the way the FA do their business.

Unfortunately, the FA have not answered any questions and will not.

The Belles have lodged an appeal giving the FA an out when it comes to discussing their decisions.

While the Belles have remained diplomatically quiet on the issue, save for a few expressions of their disappointment, a far more vocal opposition has emerged.

Supporters of the club have united and risen to fight the corner of the club with the most storied history in the game. Lawyers have offered their services to discover whether the FA have acted in accordance with their rules and the law. Major figures in the women’s game have stated their dismay at the decisions.

It is not just the history of the Belles that the objectors feel has been slighted, it is the fabric of the game in this country.

In their attempt to add the true sporting element of promotion and relegation to what has been a closed shop for its initial two seasons, the FA has ignored true sport when it comes to the Belles.

In the minds of the protesters, the club has been relegated by committee rather than by merit. It is difficult to argue with such reasoning.

The FA will make their final judgement later this month and the Belles fate will be sealed.

Until then, silence.