Football: New year for Belles of the ball

Pete Davies finds the women's game in good health for today's kick-off

If a woman running a team strikes you as a curious notion, think again. In 1997, according to Julie Chipchase, it's not unique or special. "A few years ago, maybe," she explained. "I've always played under men myself, but women are getting qualified now who have played football all their lives. I have got my coaching badge myself; like any manager, my aim is to make players better, and to build a winning team."

Now 36, Chipchase sends her Doncaster Belles team out against the Millwall Lionesses at Armthorpe this afternoon at the start of what promises to be the most competitive season yet in the FA Women's Premier League. Millwall present Chipchase with a stern first test; they knocked Doncaster out of both the League Cup and the FA Cup last season, on their way to winning both trophies.

Millwall finished fifth in the league, while Doncaster were runners-up behind their old rivals Arsenal - and on paper Arsenal look strong again. Last season's leading goalscorer, Joanne Broadhurst, is joined in attack by Rachel Yankey, a promising 17-year-old who won her first cap against Scotland two weeks ago. In defence, the Gunners have signed internationals Carol Harwood and Leslie Higgs from Wembley, and are likely to be as mean at the back as they are prolific going forward.

They also start their season with a difficult game; they face an Everton side themselves strengthened by the acquisition from Liverpool of international midfielders Karen Burke and Rebecca Easton. Chipchase is fully aware of the difficulties ahead: "I want to fetch some silverware back to Doncaster, of course I do," she said. "But I'm not naive enough to think I can click my fingers and it'll just happen. It's going to take a lot of hard work."

Along with Croydon, double-winners two seasons ago, Doncaster, Everton, Millwall and Arsenal look likely to make the running in a division of two halves. Wembley and Liverpool (also now managed by a woman, Barbara Nodwell) will both sorely miss the players they have lost. Newly promoted Bradford City and Berkhamsted Town, meanwhile, will know that the top flight play on a plane as far removed from the rest of the women's game as the men's Premiership is from the Nationwide.

They can take heart from the survival last season of Tranmere Rovers, but they are still likely to find themselves fighting for scraps. Not that Chipchase would write them off. With more and more women playing, standards are rising all the time. "When I joined the Belles eight years ago, we used to win by 10-0, 12-0, ridiculous scores," she said. "Being a full-back, some games I'd barely get a kick. But the fact that the club's not won anything for three seasons just shows how much better all the other teams have become."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor