Doncaster Belles 0 Reading FC Women 3 (16th May 2015)
I’ve never been to a women’s football match before, and not even the local games of the Reading women’s team had tempted me, so to go to an away game way up in Doncaster seems on odd place to start.
The reason was that I’d been to Leeds for a rugby league game earlier in the day, and having never been to Doncaster before, it was almost a “two for the price of one” deal. At just £5 to get in here, and £22 for the rugby earlier, it wasn’t a world away from being one, literally.
It has to be said that even at the low price, women’s football is still a hard sell. Only 402 would be present for this, and myself and the mate I travelled up with, a regular at the women’s games, made up the “2”. With the Keepmoat Stadium holding 15,231 the 14,829 empty seats were a bit obvious.
The other obvious thing was that despite Doncaster Belles now officially coming under the Doncaster Rovers umbrella, The Belles were keen to keep their traditional identity. The friendly young woman in the Rovers ticket office might have handed me a ticket marked “Rovers Belles v Reading” but the 46 year old club plays in its traditional colours of blue and yellow, almost as if it takes its official link to Rovers under sufferance.
The colours were apparently chosen in homage to the Brazil team from the 1970 world cup, although the design of their kit makes them look more like Sweden. Indeed, The Belles’ mascot, a very Nordic-looking female viking, looked distinctly Swedish. The ancient viking warrior look was let down somewhat though by her hobbling about on crutches and wearing a surgical cast on her left foot.
Another foreign intrusion is the presence of numerous fans with bells, ringing away in support, making a game sound a bit like watching Ski Sunday. Unfortunately, probably for everyone in the ground, the bell-ringers lost the noise-making battle with one fan from Reading. A dedicated soul, he apparently goes to every game, home and away, banging his drum and singing non-stop for the entire game. Yes, really, for the entire game. Fair play to the guy for his enthusiasm, and I’m sure the Reading team appreciate his support, but for everyone else…it was probably best summed up by seeing a steward with a very pained expression turn and say “he’s doing my head in.” Others, fans not stuck to a spot as part of their job, moved to the other end of the stand.
He’d have had good reason to sing too, albeit eventually. I’ll be polite and say the first half, despite this being 1st v 2nd, wasn’t a great advert for WSL2 football. The “Donny Belles” as their fans referred to them, had most of the play, but created little. Reading, without England international and star player Fran Kirby, scorer of over half of their goals this season, were struggling up front too. One looping ball in was cleared off the line, and one shot was pulled very badly wide, but that was about it.
In the second half Doncaster came out looking like they’d been given a bit of a talking to in the changing room, and looked much more determined and likely to score or the two.
Maybe they were pushing a bit to far forward though, leaving the odd gap, and Reading took the lead against the run of play in the 53rd minute. The Belles’ keeper was unable to claim a ball chipped over her head, leaving Reading’s Lauren Bruton to leap and head the ball into the net, evading a despairing defender on the line.
In the 61st minute it was 2-0. Reading’s Bianca Bragg unexpectedly whacked a shot at goal from over 40 yards out. The initial thoughts of “what the hell are you doing that for?” turned to cheers as the Belles keeper failed to get back and save the shot, or even get near it to be honest.
After 71 minutes it was all over, when Bruton added a third from the spot. While some might suggest many male keepers (with perhaps an ageing David Seaman being an exception) would have done better with the second goal, very few of them even would have had a prayer with the spot-kick, dispatched high and hard into the top corner.
From then on it was just a case of playing out time, against a backdrop of the slowly setting Yorkshire evening sun. The win put Reading top of the league, and no prizes for guessing who was going to “bang” on about it the most.