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Independent Women? Not At Donny Belles

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Doncaster Belles have always prided themselves on their independent status. Unlike all the other clubs in the women's Premier League in England, in their 30-year existence they have never been linked to a men's team.
However the changing face of women's football is making its mark at Doncaster. Next season the Belles will join forces with Doncaster Rovers, the men's team. Anjana Gadgil talks to people at the club about why linking the teams is good for both the women's and the men's game.
The FA have agreed to a name change, and the women's club will now be known as Doncaster Rovers Belles. The two teams will share a ground as well as training and administrative facilities. However the negotiations have not been entirely smooth, as the original Rovers women's team voted 77-0 against merging with the more successful Belles, and as a result were forced to severe links with Doncaster Rovers.
There are mixed feelings within Doncaster Belles too about the changes. The club see it as a positive step. "If it is run properly then it is a very good move for both Doncaster Belles and Doncaster," said club secretary Nigel Hyde. "There will then be one centre of football for the town to focus on."
"I hope someday women's matches can take place before the men's in order to increase the size of the crowds," he added.
Julie Chipchase, the manager of the Belles, believes that both the Belles and the Rovers will benefit.
"The link will raise Rovers' profile as well as giving us a more professional edge," she said. "Both teams should attract a lot more coverage and therefore bigger crowds."
Looking at the results from the other big clubs, Chipchase said she can understand why the club took the decision it did. "There is more success if you are semi-professional, which we have been for a season and if you are joined to a men's club."
"Doncaster Rovers are building a new stadium and to enable us to take advantage of that new facility we need to be linked," she said.
"We may be able to attract new players as nowadays you have to be able to offer a whole package - top class training and a professional structure."
However Chipchase has reservations over the loss of independent status for the club. "We've always been known as the Belles," she explains. "And it's a name that we are proud of because thanks to shrewd operating, lottery funding and sponsorship, we have always run at a profit."
Karen Walker, the England captain and Belles' stalwart has been at the club for 18 years and says she will miss the Belles' name and independence.
"Most of the players won't be too concerned as they are just here to play football," she said. "Generally anything that improves the standard of football here is a good development and most of the girls will see it that way."
"But I feel a bit disappointed as we've been successful as an independent club, the only one in the Premier Division."
Walker shed some light on how Doncaster Belles have succeeded thus far, stressing that it was not just down to financial management. "The big difference between Doncaster Belles and the other successful clubs is that players don't leave Doncaster Belles.
"It's not like that at the other big clubs," she continued. "Fulham, Arsenal and Charlton are all London based and the players tend to switch around between them.
"There's a feeling here that we are representing the north."
Walker said that she feels sorry for the original Rover's women's team, but understands their decision to leave.
"It's difficult for them," she admits. "But at the same time I understand their position. With all respect to them, they are not as good a team as we are and very few of their players would have made it into our team."
"We'll definitely be challenging for the title next season," she said, "because with all the changes going on in Doncaster, we can only improve as a team."


Anjana Gadgil, May 2003

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