The club was originally formed as the Belle Vue Belles by a group of young, ambitious women who were selling draw tickets on the terraces at Doncaster Rovers FC.
They began playing local, small-sided games but within a short period of time found themselves venturing outside of Doncaster and subsequently the Belle Vue part of the name had no meaning. This led to one of the biggest moments in the club’s history as they decided to change their name to the Doncaster Belles.
Having won the Townsend Cup back in 1977, the Belles were champions again – this time in the Women’s FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history. And, quite fittingly, a brace from club founder Sheila Stocks helped Doncaster lift the cup in a 3-2 victory over St Helens at Sincil Bank in Lincoln. The game also saw a goal from Jill Hanson.
Despite having a hunger for glory, the Belles had to endure three successive Women’s FA Cup final heart-breaks before they were trophy winners again. But success came in fine fashion as Jackie Sherrard and Karen Walker’s goals set Nottingham’s City Ground alight with a 2-0 final win over St Helens, which included a penalty save from Doncaster’s Tracey Davidson.
Further success continued for the Belles as a 3-1 win over Leasowe Pacific saw the Belles retain the Women’s FA Cup. Strikes from Walker, Sherrard and Gill Coultard cancelled out a Michelle Jackson penalty at Gresty Road, Crewe, in the entertaining final. ‘Micky’ Jackson was also to join the Belles the following season and play a key role in the heart of the Doncaster defence.
The yellow and blues were back in the Women’s FA Cup final and experiencing more success as talismanic midfielder Coultard scored the match-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Friends of Fulham at the Baseball Ground in Derby.
After championship success in the regional leagues (winning 12 out of 13 titles in the Notts League and two championships from two in the North East League) as well as several tournaments and cup successes, the Belles became founder members of the National League in the 1991/92 season. Their dominance saw the Belles clinch the FAW Premier League without conceding a game as strike duo Walker and Gail Borman netted a combined total of more than 50 goals. They made it a double in 1992 following an emphatic 4-0 Women’s FA Cup win over Red Star Southampton which included a Walker hat-trick who set a record for scoring a hat-trick in every round of the cup.
The rise of Arsenal saw the Belles suffer both league and cup final heartache to the North Londoners, however, Doncaster exacted revenge in the ’93-94 campaign despite the odds being against them. Needing three wins from their last four games, the Belles dug in to clinch the league title and finish four points ahead of rivals Arsenal. Further misery was inflicted upon the red and whites as the Belles regained the Women’s FA Cup following their 11th cup final in 12 years. Over 1,600 fans watched on from the Glanford Park stands in Scunthorpe as Walker’s header, from a Jo Broadhurst corner, proved enough to beat Knowsley United 1-0 and give Doncaster the cup. That game also marked the retirement of founding member Sheila (Stocks) Edmunds following a glittering 25-year career with the Belles.
Having taken over as manager of the Belles alongside Mick Sherrard in the 1987-88 campaign, the club’s most successful manager, Paul Edmunds, stepped down boasting a CV of stunning trophy triumphs and cup finals. Mel Woodhall took over the reins before Julie Chipchase became manager and enjoyed six seasons with Doncaster until 2003.
More than 3,400 spectators descended into Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground as the Belles were narrowly defeated 2-1 in the Women’s FA Cup final to Croydon as Vicky Exley struck for Doncaster to equalise and Pauline Cope saved Walker’s penalty.
With the Belles the only likely suitors to threaten treble-winning Arsenal’s dominance, Doncaster suffered a blow when Vic Akers’ side claimed the inaugural FA Women’s Community Shield 5-2 – Melanie Garside and Walker netting for the Belles.
Doncaster finished as runners-up for the third successive season but did manage to triumph over Arsenal 4-0 to inflict the side’s first league defeat in over two-and-a-half years. The Belles also knocked Arsenal out of the Women’s FA Cup during the quarter final stages before suffering a 2-1 defeat to full-timers Fulham in front of over 10,000 supporters at Selhurst Park. Jody Handley was on target for Doncaster against Fulham who also claimed the Community Shield with a 1-0 win over the Belles in 2003.
The Belles formalised a partnership link with Doncaster Rovers to enable the team to play a number of games at Belle Vue stadium and also to use the training facilities at Cantley Park. The partnership also led to a name-change of Doncaster Rovers Belles.
The Belles worked alongside Doncaster Rovers, Doncaster Lakers Rugby Club, Doncaster Athletic Club and Doncaster Council on the development of the new 15,000-seater community stadium which is now used by all four clubs, called the Keepmoat Stadium, and was unveiled in December 2006. The Keepmoat Stadium is the Belles’ permanent base for home games.
The Belles were named as one of the eight members of the inaugural FA Women’s Super League, due to kick-off in March 2011. Meanwhile in November 2009, The Belles for The Community Initiative was launched – becoming Britain’s first social enterprise delivering community, social, health and educational services with female sport as a focal point. This launch was based on extensive research with a large number of community organisations and agencies within Doncaster and South Yorkshire. This year also saw Doncaster finish runners-up to Arsenal in the FA Women’s Premier League Cup final.
The Football Association announced in April that, as part of an FA WSL restructure and expansion, Manchester City WFC would replace the Belles in the top tier in 2014. The Belles were placed in a new ten team FA WSL 2. Earning a decade of service to the Belles, long-serving manager John Buckley left the club in September 2013. Gordon Staniforth was appointed into the head coach role two months later.
Doncaster narrowly missed out on promotion, finishing runners-up to Sunderland as they snatched the solitary promotion spot on the final day of the FA WSL 2 season. Later in the year, Glen Harris was appointed as the Belles manager following Staniforth’s departure.
Winning 14 games from 18, a superb season saw the Belles finish in the top two of the FA WSL 2 – securing promotion back into the top-flight. Boasting such a stunning campaign, the Belles received a hat-trick of accolades in the annual FA Women’s Football Awards for ‘FA WSL 2 Club of the Year’, as well as striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk picking up ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ and ‘FA WSL 2 Top Goalscorer’.
The Belles return to WSL1 was marred by fixture disruption and injuries to key players, resulting in relegation back to WSL2. The season also saw the departure of Harris as manager, who was replaced by his assistant, Emma Coates, who oversaw the club’s only win of the season on the final fixture against Reading Ladies.
After finishing runners-up several times, the Belles finally got their hands on the WSL2 trophy. Emma Coates, Kate Rowson and Neil Redfearn all had spells as manager in our title-winning season, with our league win claimed just before kick-off in our penultimate game of the season.
FAW Premier League
Runners up (x2)
FA Women’s Cup
1983, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994
Runners up (x7)
1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2000, 2002
Runners up (x3)
2014, 2015, 2017 Spring Series
Runners up (x3)
1994, 1996, 2009
FAW Charity Shield
Runners up (x2)