Football: FA forging links to create a permanent partnership: Henry Winter reports on the interest created by the women's FA Cup final in which Arsenal defeated Doncaster Belles 3-0

THE sight of the mascot's mother being sent on by her manager-husband for the last 12 minutes constituted an intriguing cameo - but it also revealed a family element in the women's game that the men's FA is keen to harness.

Families swell gates, spend money in club shops and help dissipate tension on the terraces. No wonder the FA is such a willing party to the plan to place its female counterpart under Lancaster Gate's roof and command.

'Traditionally football has been a man's game but any sport that perpetuates those attitudes in the 1990s is being very shortsighted,' Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive said after watching Arsenal battle their way to victory. 'Obviously the trite phrase is the family game - which it never was - but to have women involved is going to be good for football as a whole.'

The 'partnership' - as Kelly sees it - is essential for the future growth of women's football. 'There are just under 10,000 players today; that could be increased tenfold in five years' time,' Kelly said. 'We've got the infrastructure to help them.'

The FA's coaching resources, promotional know-how and community links are vital if England is to produce more quality internationals like Belles' Janice Murray, nicknamed 'Psycho' but the possessor of skills more Finney than Vinnie, and Arsenal's Michelle Curley, an attacking full-back with proven match-winning powers in her left boot.

After 44 minutes of Belles' control, Curley swung the game Arsenal's way with a vicious corner which sped in via Tracy Davidson's glove-tips. The Doncaster keeper was beaten again even deeper into first-half injury-time when Curley's long pass was headed in by Naz Ball, her 38th goal of the season.

Debbie Bampton, whose influence grew as the game progressed, showed her athleticism and awareness with a prodigious leap to power an 80th-minute third. Arsenal, well coached by Vic Akers, the former Cambridge and Watford defender, are now a third of the way to the treble of both cups and league.

Arsenal Ladies were formed only seven years ago and their success will inspire others. Their contribution to an eventful final plus the presence at Oxford of Kelly, Channel 4 and a noisy 3,547 crowd bodes well for the state of the new union.

Goals: Curley (45) 1-0; Ball (45) 2-0; Bampton (80) 3-0.

Arsenal: Shipp; Pealling (Spry, 78), Curley, Slee (Few, 37), Wylie, Barber, Williams, Bampton, Churchman, Couling, Ball. Substitutes not used: Mulligan, Sneddon, Smith.

Doncaster Belles: Davidson; Chipchase, Ryde, Hunt (Edmunds, 78), Broadhurst, Jackson, Lisseman, Coultard (McQuiggan, h/t), Walker, Borman, Murray. Substitutes not used: Young, Skillcorn.

Referee: M Cairns (Coventry).

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