The FA’s Betrayal Of Doncaster Rovers Belles

14 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   May 16, 2013  |     23

Last summer, the arrival of the Olympic games in London meant an unprecedented spike in interest in the women’s game in this country. Although Hope Powell’s team couldn’t get any further than the quarter-finals of the competition, crowds were healthy and there was considerable optimism that the interest might lead to increased interest in the FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL) when it restarted at the end of April. With little competition from the men’s game this summer and plans for expansion into a two division league with eighteen semi-professional clubs, perhaps this was an opportunity to catch up with the women’s game in other countries, such as Germany, where women’s football is considerably more developed and is all the healthier for it.

The Football Association’s handling of the expansion of the FAWSL, however, has already attracted widespread criticism and the story of how they are managing to make such a hash of it all is now threatening to overshadow that anything that the teams themselves could achieve on the pitch, with perhaps the most famous club name in the history of women’s football in this country being on its receiving end. In a short press release issued on the twenty-sixth of April, the FA confirmed that next season’s FAWSL will not be including Doncaster Rovers Belles, who will be relegated at the end of this season regardless of what happens on the pitch and replaced by Manchester City Ladies. The club that inspired the BBC television drama Playing The Field, that was the subject of the Pete Davies book “I Lost My Heart To The Belles” and has frequently been described as the most famous and recognisable names in women’s football in England, are, it seems, no longer wanted.

The place that Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC holds in the history of women’s football in this country is one that cannot be overstated. Founded as Belle Vue Belles in 1969, Doncaster Belles are the most storied club in women’s football in England. Six times winners of the FA Women’s Cup and twice winners of the FA Women’s Premier League National Division, the Belles were merged into Doncaster Rovers FC in 2003, in time for the formation of the FAWSL – of which the club was, naturally, one of the eleven founder members – two years later and, while the club hasn’t managed to recapture its glory days of the 1980s and 1990s – the club lost just one league match in the fifteen years between 1978 and 1993 – on the pitch, it has remained a proud member of the top division since then. Other clubs – most notably Arsenal LFC – have eclipsed the Belles on the pitch over the last decade, but this is a club that should, we might have expected, have a special place at the heart of the game.

Had the club been relegated from the division, of course, there would have been little arguing with. Past glories are no guarantee of success and the meritocracy is at the heart of the entire concept of league football. The FA’s decision, however, seems to have had little to do with events on the pitch. No explanation was given in the original press release – which was issued, with no apparent sense of irony, after just one match of this season’s FAWSL had been played – and those that have subsequently raised this with the Football Association seem to have been palmed off with identikit emails which make superficial references to “Financial and business management”,  “Commercial sustainability and marketing”, “Facilities” and “Players, support staff and youth development,” without offering any specifics relating to how the decision to relegate the Belles specifically was actually reached.

The identity of the club that will replace them next season offers a hint to the FA’s reasoning behind their decision to make such a bizarre and unfair decision. Manchester City LFC was founded in 1989, but this club has never played in the top division of women’s football in England, whilst last season was its first in the current second tier, the FA Women’s Premier League National Division, which ended in a mid-table finish. There is no footballing justification for allowing this club to leapfrog into the top division at anybody’s expense, an error of judgement which is compounded by the decision to make this news public at the very start of the season. The FA might have reached this decision and then delayed making it public until the end of this season, in case Manchester City managed to win the FAWPL. If the decision had still been made for non-sporting reasons, it wouldn’t have made it any less morally reprehensible, but it might at least have been prudent. As it is, the decisions made, the rationale given for them being made and the timing of them reeks of little but administrative incompetence.

This wasn’t the only way in which the FA has managed to blot its copybook over this expansion, either, with Lincoln Ladies FC having also been franchised, this time to Nottingham where they will start next season as Notts County LFC with the current Notts County LFC becoming “Notts County Ladies Development Football Club” from next season, whilst Nottingham Forest LFC, who were only relegated from the FAWPL at the end of last season, were denied entry into the FAWSL. When the FA allowed the transplanting of Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes eleven years ago, they at least had the partial fig leaf of having palmed off responsibility for having made the decision to an “independent three man commission.” They have no such excuse this time around.

Doncaster Rovers supporters, meanwhile, have been angered to action by this decision and a poll has been set up by the fanzine Popular Stand – whose articles on this subject have been invaluable in putting this comment together – which can be signed by clicking here, and perhaps there will be something positive to come from the debacle, if Rovers supporters get behind the Belles, as it has suggested that some, perhaps many, will at this weekend’s FAWSL home match against Everton. The Football Association should not be let off the hook over this matter, after all. Their arguments, about infrastructure and finances, are predictable and they are not entirely without merit, but the traditions of a sport are important, and this club is part of the tradition of women’s football in this country. To override that in favour of another club with deeper pockets sends out a very negative message about how they may run women’s football in this country in the future, though, and, at a time when the women’s club game stands at the possibility of greater interest than it has ever seen before, image is important to women’s football in England. If the Football Association choose to run it with the worship of mammon as its guiding principle, they may well find that crowds continue to be hard to come by.

Produced with the invaluable help of Popular Stand, whose two part series on this episode can be seen here and here.

You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • May 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Doncaster Belles - - Wrexham

    […] Doncaster Belles and here's 200% article The FA’s Betrayal Of Doncaster Rovers Belles | Twohundredpercent __________________ […]

  • May 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm


    Disgusting. Utterly disgusting.

  • May 16, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Popular STAND fanzine

    Many thanks for further highlighting this issue. One small point in regards to the Belles, as it should be noted that it was Doncaster Rovers Ladies (formed at the turn of the millennium) who were merged into Doncaster Belles’ set up in the mid 2000s, and not vice versa. Though they both wear red and white hoops, and are mutually supportive of one another, the Belles continue to operate fully independently of the Rovers men’s side, as they always have.

    Again, thanks for highlighting the issue and do please continue to do so.

  • May 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm


    While not in the least bit surprised, I’m pretty stoked up about this one. A dangerous precedent looks like being set here.

    The FA has completely lost touch not just with fans but, it seems, with the entire spirit of the game. And for my mind that makes them simply unfit to govern football in this country anymore.

  • May 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Ian Hadingham

    Brilliant post, as a supporter of a Premier League club, I am also bored of the dull predictability at the top, lets hope for some change.

    That American sport advocates and encourages regular change and success for all teams shows that one club, or a small handful is never a good thing in the long run.

  • May 18, 2013 at 9:47 am


    I’m not a fan of women’s football in general, personally I find it somewhat slow and not very entertaining (I loved the Pete Davies book about the Belles though). However this is appalling and a very dangerous precedent. How long before this sort of thing transfers to the men’s game. The FA get more shameful with every move. Just very very sad.

  • May 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Ron Ipstone

    The details of the process of applying for a FA WSL were announced back in October 2012.

    At that time it was made clear that the eight present incumbents of the WSL would not be automatic selections for WSL1.

    That would have been the time to make objections to the process devised by the FA but to my knowledge no one did.

    It was always the case that a stronger application would prevail over a weaker one whatever the past glories of the weaker applicant.

    The ‘independent panel’ had the power to determine how many clubs should be in WSL1. It could have resolved that there should be 10 clubs in WSL1 and 10 clubs in WSL2, or 9 and 11 or the 8 and 12 it decided upon. There was therefore room in WSL1 for both Donny and City. It may be the case that Donny’s bid was just not strong enough in the eyes of the panel.

  • May 20, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Madmicky F

    ” It may be the case that Donny’s bid was just not strong enough in the eyes of the panel.”

    Or it may just be the case that you are fucking cunt Ipstone.

  • May 20, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Mike Brown

    Ron Ipstone is jumping in feet first without engaging a brain cell or even doing any kind of research into the matter. He needs to look at the proposal by the FA, the criteria for the selection and then how the clubs compare within that criteria.

    I will start you off Mr Ipstone. The classification for the ground that the clubs play at. Doncaster Belles play at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster which is well above the class A specification for womens grounds as specified by the FA. It is certainly good enough for the FA to use as the venue for the Ladies FA Cup final taking place next weekend and is classed as the top ground on the Ladies football circuit.
    Compare this with the playing facilities of Manchester City Ladies, Wythenshaw FCs ground. I don’t think I need go further on which club has won this part of the selection. The same goes for all the other grounds which the FAWSL clubs use.
    Doncaster Belles win this one

    What about the next on the list, the club must play in the locality it is supposedly serving. The Keepmoat Stadium is in the centre of Doncaster, can’t get much closer than that! Doncaster Belles pass with flying colours. What about the applications of the other clubs? Mr Ipstone if you believe that Boreham Wood is in the middle of Arsenal then your mother should be keeping an eye on what you are posting on the internet. If you check the geographical location of the other FAWSL clubs and compare them to Doncaster Belles close proximity to the community it serves then the Belles are at the top of the list again.

    What about what matters, on pitch performances. Doncaster Belles have a rich history of success from the very beginnings of ladies football with numerous league and cup titles, between 1978 and 1993 the Belles lost 1 game, they have never finished the season at the bottom of the top tier of the game. Is that enough Mr Ipstone? If not then it will not take you long to find many more achievements the team have attained.
    Compare this to Manchester City Ladies. They have never been good enough to reach the top flight of the ladies game, this season is the first time they have ever reached the 2nd tier where they have struggled to reach mid table and the team above them are 11 points ahead of them and a game in hand. I ask myself “Do the other clubs in the top tier really want the quality of the league to be diluted by including such a team as this?” I wonder what the reception would be like to Accrington Stanley into the Premiership of the mens game if they did a swap with Manchester City because the FA thought it was a good idea?
    Another win for Doncaster Belles it seems.

    I have started the groundwork for you Mr Ipstone now go through the rest of the FAs criteria for selection for yourself and on the majority of the points Doncaster Belles win hands down.

    It has come to mind that you could be a member of the FA trying to put your case forward, you do fit the bill of an FA member with the lack of intelligence in your though processes and just accepting what a so called authority figure does.

  • May 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Ron Ipstone

    City Ladies are able to use all of the playing and training facilities of the mighty Manchester City Football Club. Most of their home matches take place at the Regional Athletics Arena which is right next door to the Etihad. In fact the RAA is closer to the centre of Manchester than the Etihad Stadium itself.

    On the past glories of the Donny Belles, I cannot comment except to say that in the eyes of the independent panel they would count for nought. It is the present and the future that count.

    Donny Belles owe their present position in the top flight to a similar procedure employed by the FA when the WSL was set up (applications in 2009 for season 2011). Donny was ‘elected’ to the WSL but Sunderland who finished above Donny in the 2009-10 WPL was not. In fact Donny, Bristol and Birmingham all finished below Sunderland and found themselves in the WSL, as did Liverpool who were one Division below the lady Black Cats.

    Until one actually sees what was in the respective bids of the two clubs one cannot comment upon which, in the eyes of the panel, would appear to be the stronger.

    With Manchester City Ladies having the vast resources of the blue colossus behind them, I have no doubt that they will knock the lady Gunners of their perch. Something which the Donny Belles who struggled in the past two seasons (second to last in both campaigns, I believe) look unlikely to achieve.

  • May 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

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  • May 29, 2013 at 9:36 am

    John Ainsworth

    Anybody with any knowledge and experience of the FA knows that the concept of fairness is not one that they are interested in. Money is king.

    Even allowing for that, their antics on this occasion beggar belief. Manchester City ladies have never demonstrated the ability to compete effectively at the top level, indeed they struggled to do so at the second level.So the new league will be weaker than it could be. To hell with quality … give us the money!

    So when the new league starts, with its impressively funded clubs and magnificent stadia, what will the hopes and aspirations of the players and fans be? To win the league, or a cup? Good, but if a club wins the league who is to say that the FA will not relegate them on the grounds of (for example) poor support, or geographical location? Or the quality of the pies?

    I recall that the FA excluded Sunderland originally because the FA’s map stopped at a line between Liverpool and Lincoln.

    When the current setup was designed Sunderland, then the 5th best side in the country were not judged by them good enough to be in an 8 team top flight. As a direct consequence of that, lots of their best players understandably left to play in that top flight, yet despite this, Sunderland still won the league below that they were forced into by the FA three times running.

    Any group other than the FA would be severely embarrassed by their subsequent success. For those who don’t know, they have won the second tier league three times and never been promoted.

    My message to these buffoons is that the key to their shirked responsibility is in the first word of their name. FOOTBALL. The word money does not appear in their name. Perhaps it should.

    And here is a phrase that they may like to accustom themselves to “Natural Justice.” The extent of their knowledge of this phrase is nicely described by their initials.

  • June 10, 2013 at 12:20 am

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  • December 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Ron Ipstone

    Now that the dust has settled on the inaugural season of the FA WSL we are in a better position to assess the actions of the FA panel which awarded a place in the premier division to the Man City ladies.

    Contrary to what John Ainsworth writing above feared, the blue ladies of Manchester were more than able to hold their own in the top flight. The final position showed them to be 5th on 19 points, compared to the Donny Belles run of three seasons of 7th in 2011, 7th in 2012 and 8th in 2013. In addition to the league the City ladies brought home the Continental Cup beating the lady Gunners in the final 1-0.

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