Belles have a ball

Stephen Brenkley expects the dominant women of Doncaster to triumph once more
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FORM, if not necessarily precedent, dictates that by this evening yet another trophy will take up residence in the Doncaster Belles' cabinet. The Yorkshire side are top of the league, where they have spent much of the five seasons of their existence, and they are clear favourites to win the women's league cup final against Wembley at Barnet.

It is possible that they might have preferred Barnet at Wembley, but the twin towers are not yet ready to be breached by female footballers. Neither venue nor opposition should deter the Belles, who, with Arsenal, have dominated the English game in the brief period since it was properly structured. Both clubs have won two doubles.

Somewhat surprisingly, the league cup has eluded the Yorkshire side. They threatened to win it two years ago, having secured the league and WFA Cup, but the final was delayed until the November of the following season, by which time they were in transition, had injuries to key players and one of their number failed to arrive for the match. They lost 4-0 to Arsenal.

Gill Coultard has been instrumental in all the Belles' triumphs. She will be in midfield this afternoon, as she seems always to have been. At 32, she is England's most capped woman player. She is still an integral member of the England squad and if she plays against Italy next week it will be her 89th international.

"I thought it might be over for me with England after the last World Cup, but they've kept picking me," she said. "It's as if they've thrown the gauntlet down. I've picked it up and being the first to reach 100 games is beginning to cross my mind."

Coultard, who works on the production line for Pioneer hi-fi in Castleford, was born and bred in Doncaster and has spent her entire career with the Belles. She has seen vast progress in women's football but does not belong to the school that suggests it might be semi-professional in a few years.

Without a sponsor this year, the Belles have struggled. For three consecutive weekends the club have paid pounds 450 to hire a coach for matches in the South. To try to meet the cost, part of last Wednesday night's training took the form of a sponsored run.

The Belles, third in the league last year, have been reinvigorated this season, according to Coultard, by a new manager, the return of established goalscorers Gail Borman and Jackie Sherrard, from injuries and the maturing of younger players.

"We were very disappointed last weekend," Coultard said. "But in the past we've been very good at putting results like that behind us."