Its now five days since supporters, protesting against the arbitrary ‘relegation’ of Doncaster Belles as part of the FAWSL’s planned restructure, had a number of items confiscated from them ahead of the FA Women’s Cup Final. Taken from the supporters by Keepmoat Stadium stewards were flyers about a planned minute’s bell-ringing and applause to create awareness of the issue, a petition on the issue, some shirts kindly donated by the Belles kit supplier Jako, bells and our banner (fuller details of which you can read in our previous post on the subject of the Belles). But the question has remained since, under who’s instruction were the items confiscated; Doncaster Rovers or the FA?
At the time the group were advised by the stewards who came out to take the items from them that they were acting on behalf of the FA. When Doncaster Free Press reporter Hayley Patterson questioned an FA spokesman on this during the game he stated “I can confirm one bell was confiscated and one banner that DRFC security deemed unsuitable, that is it,” suggesting that the FA laid the decision firmly on the stadium stewards. Those same stewards also asked supporters to make themselves available to be captured on CCTV, which they rightly declined, but under whose order was that? And when the items were returned to the supporters after the game the banner was not as, according to a steward it was being held ‘as evidence’ though he was not sure what of, or who by.
In the past week, since this incident we have been attempting to answer the question in the title of this piece, we have been in contact with the club, and also been privy to discussions between the Belles supporters involved on Sunday and the Football Supporters’ Federation. After quashing an initial rumour that the Belles themselves had asked that no protest be allowed to happen – a daft suggestions as the Belles could have made that request direct to the fans concerned, something which they would have complied with if asked – we were left with just two possible answers; the FA or Doncaster Rovers. And it would appear, somewhat disappointingly that the decisions were made by Doncaster Rovers.
Whether Rovers had been pressured into such decisions and actions by the FA is unclear, and not something either party is likely to state, but an email exchange I had with Doncaster Rovers Customer Services Manager Charles Swallow implies that it was Rovers who had decided to curtail any protest on the day. Mr Swallow I should add has been very open and communicative, and got back to me very efficiently, so I should point our my qualm here is not with him, just the message he has relayed.
Responding to my questions as to why the banner was taken, who by, and what it was being retained as evidence of, Mr Swallow stated;
The football club had agreed that we would not wish to spoil the enjoyment of the FA Cup Final for the Arsenal and Bristol Ladies and their fans, by having any distraction at the game in the form of a protest which was nothing to do with these respective teams. The FA had hired the venue from us for the purpose of providing an excellent occasion for these two clubs, and we had a duty of care to ensure that everything ran smoothly for the event. It was with this in mind that we prevented the banner from coming in to the stadium.
Sadly I only inquired in regards to the banner on my initial email – as that was the only aspect taken which was mine – so I can not give an ‘official’ reason for the removal of the flyers, petition, bells and shirts, but this reasoning alone is very disappointing.
Mr Swallow did also apologise to me for the banner being retained, making it known;
I cannot account for the banner not being returned after the game along with the other items. The reference to it being used as ‘evidence’ by a steward does not appear to be ‘official’, and I see no reason why this was mentioned.
So where does this leave us and the Belles? In the last year or so Doncaster Rovers, by working with and alongside the Viking Supporters Co-operative, have touted the applaudable notion of establishing of a ‘Sporting Club Doncaster’, a positive idea focussed on bringing together the Rovers, the Belles and the town’s other sports teams; the Rugby League ‘Dons’, the American Football Mustangs et al under a collective identity. This action, it is safe to say, falls well outside of that ideal.
I can understand how Doncaster Rovers were in a difficult position with this, being the host venue for the Women’s FA Cup Final, a useful source of revenue, and potential gateway to future staging of show-piece FA fixtures such as internationals and further finals. But it is now over a month since the initial FA announcement of the FAWSL restructure was made, and though we have seen support to our petition and our articles and our cause from a whole host of amateur sports teams, from respected figures in the women’s game, and highly-commendable news outlets too (chalk up CNN, and The New Statesman this week alone), Doncaster Rovers themselves have been disappointingly quiet.
Not speaking out in support of the Belles – I have seen no club statement since the initial announcement – is disappointing enough. The clubs share a town and a stadium and a purpose, to that end Rovers silence over the issues affecting the Belles is like a being spurned by a family member. But to actively prevent their supporters – who are also Rovers supporters too don’t forget – from making a stand for their team so as not to be a ‘distraction’ to fans of other teams, fans who for the most part share their sentiment, is simply inexcusable.
So, the ball for now remains in Rovers court. They have a chance to redeem themselves and realise that’ its not hard to criticise the hand that feeds you if its the right thing to do; I’m doing it right now, I’m Doncaster Rovers match commentator don’t forget. The Cup Final has been and gone, there is no-one around to distract. So please Doncaster Rovers, now you’ve failed us once, find your voice, and offer some support to the cause be it by statement or action. It’s time for the town’s most well-known football team, to back it’s most successful one. Will the Rovers back the Belles?
If you wish to lend your support to the cause it’s not too late and you can do so in two ways;