Opinion: Doncaster Belles’ new beginnings

Doncaster Rovers Belles. The last team picture from an eventful season.   Picture: Malcolm Billingham
Doncaster Rovers Belles. The last team picture from an eventful season. Picture: Malcolm Billingham

Last month marked the end of an era as well as the dawn of a new beginning for Doncaster Rovers Belles - without boss John Buckley.

Belles brought the curtain down on 22 years of top flight football on September 29, going down 3-0 to Birmingham.

The ever-presents in the top tier also announced they would be parting company with Buckley, who had been at the helm for the past ten years.

The restructure will see former Belles chief Julie Chipchase return to the club in a new position of director of football.

With investment coming into the club in the shape of BPP University and a new board, change was always likely. It was just really a question of when and what would happen.

For me personally, as an ex-Belles junior, I’m excited to see what the changes will bring.

I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘Chippy’ can bring to the table. Being an ex-Belles player manager and FA coach highly regarded in her field, she has all the credentials you would want to drive a club forward.

The investors have promised more money, more opportunities for players both on and off the field. They are also keen to solidify a link between the first team and the junior set-up.

It would be great to see more former Belles return, I hear club president Sheila Edmunds will have more involvement.

This all sounds very positive and ticks the boxes to fire the club back into FAWSL1 (as long as they will meet certain ‘FA critera’, of course).

It’s paramount Belles keep hold of their good squad of players too.

But I must admit, I still feel for ‘Bucky’.

John is a man who cared deeply about the Belles and put his heart into everything he did for the club.

Some may not have liked his style or the way he did things but I always admired his honesty. He was maybe a little too honest at times.

He was always one to pick out what the team did and did not do well - and he’d assure the press he’d be telling the players exactly the same thing whether they liked it or not.

I’d see him in the town centre sporting his Belles tracksuit and going around businesses trying to drum up sponsorship and bring more money into the club.

I’m not saying he was the only one at Belles who did this because he wasn’t, but he certainly did everything he could to give the club a chance of competing at the highest level.

The problem was, while Buckley was working on a shoestring budget, teams like Liverpool - who won the FAWSL this year - brought in the big investment, forged links with their men’s team and built brand new squads early doors.

There was no way Belles could compete realistically.

‘Relegation’ after one league game put the writing on the wall for Buckley and the Belles this season - there was no way back for them.

The side battled to the death but no amount of motivation could save the club, they just had to play for pride.

Next year the famous Belles face life in a new-look FAWSL2. With that, ultimately, comes a new beginning.