Interview: John Buckley /Manager/ Doncaster Rovers Belles
The Belles' boss talks about his Scandinavian signings, the first Super League pre-season and his hopes for the new competition.
What drew your attention to Maria Karlsson and Kylla Sjomen?
Kylla came from Canada, she's played out of some of the American leagues, a super little player and looks like she's got a good attitude as well. It was Katie Holtham who suggested her name, we looked into her background and thought she looks a good player. We had a Canadian here last year, Liz Hansen, and we phoned her up and got her to do a little bit of homework on her and she came back within a day and said 'she's top draw, she'll fit into this division'. She's only been back training and played one game but it doesn't look like she's going to disappoint.
We had an email about Maria and the following week it turned out that she was in London and said we'd love to have her up for a week. She'd been due to fly home in a couple of days but was willing to stay on if we could sort a flight out. So we brought her up and it really only took me one little training session to look at her, she was quite professional in what she did and very, very strong. Not blessed with outstanding pace but a very good football brain, so no hesitation in signing her really.
How have your foreign signings been settling in Yorkshire?
We've got a great deal with a hotel called the Ramada up at the Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster and they've been brilliant. We've struck a great deal with them, they look after the girls and give them a fair amount of their food as well. Aine's brought a car, so that gets them about, they get free use of the the gym everyday and they sometimes come and train with academy teams that me and Paul Green run through the day.
What is your pre-season schedule like?
We did a military boot camp and it's been brilliant. We stay the night in a hotel, get them up at 6am, really outside their comfort zone - put them into sh*tty little overalls - and it's not even 7 o'clock and they're doing press-ups in the mud and he's in their face like you wouldn't believe! But by the time we got to 9 or 10 o'clock, you want to have seen the groups pulling together, it was unbelievable. What it does is it lets you see who your real leaders are, and it was who you thought but just confirmed what you were thinking.
We're playing Blackburn at Keepmoat on 20th February, we then are going up to Scotland to play Glasgow City and on 17th March there's Rotherham United at Balby Carr, more are being arranged.
How is the squad shaping up for the FA WSL kick-off?
We cannot wait to get it started. Maybe one of the things in our favour is that everyone thinks we're going to finish at the bottom and in a way it's quite nice because people think we're going to be distinctly average and I don't think we will be. If I'm being honest, I don't think we'll win it but I don't think we'll be terrible. Some of the girls that have come back look dynamite - Precious Hamilton has looked really sharp and little Becky Hall has looked like a new player - so we've got a lot of real positives.
Aine O'Gorman's come over from Ireland and looked a different class, great condition, really pleased with her as well. We're still probably three short of what we need for the required 20 and we fell there's a kind of drop-out zone for the players where it's building up now that those who are decent players may not be getting in. I've also taken three young ones. I've kept my word on that when they've come into the club and done well for me, I'm not about to abandon them. I think it would be absolutely crazy to do that. The three girls are Tash Lipka, Millie Bright and Charlotte Bennett, they're all 17 and all got first team experience. Some people say it's a gamble taking young ones but if you don't do that you wonder why you look at young players.
I've let quite a lot of girls go that really had done ever so well for us. I let Amy Vaughan and Amy Johnson go and it was a really hard decision, they weren't a million miles away but if I'd kept them for what I genuinely thought was my best eleven, I didn't think they were going to get a lot of football. They're only 18 and 19 themselves, so they chose to go to a club in the next division down.
My massive thing is that all the teams get behind this league and not for people to want to compare it with the men's game but to understand it is a different game and hopefully we can push on and let the league progress each year.
How well can the Belles do?
Other teams have had a bit of finance, we've just not been able to battle against that. Our thing that's helped us is where we're playing. I think that's definitely dragged people in and when we bring girls in we do out best to create a really good atmosphere. We're trying as best we can to build up a really good team spirit.
We've got a little business plan that we've got to work to, which is fine but we're probably going to be the poorest payers in the league by a country mile. There's nothing we can do about that, we've got to accept that and just get on with it. I think people are probably reading into the fact that we can't pay a lot of money that we're going to be the whipping boys but I don't believe it. I still think we've pulled a decent little squad together and if we can add to it by what we're thinking then that would be fantastic.
Just keeping my fingers crossed we do OK, we certainly won't be getting carried away. It's a hard game our first game, we've got Lincoln away and I know for a fact that they'd really love to stuff us.
What sort of home crowds are feasible?
Say we were getting 150, I think The FA are saying to us, if you can get above 300 or 400, then it's great. Some of the ideas The FA have got are good, you know with the ambassadors about putting the girls aged 13 - 15 on twitter, they keep in touch and let them know what's happening. As long as people don't go and overprice it but if it was a Sunday afternoon, for a family to come down and go to a game, for a Mum, Dad and two kids, if it were to cost the £12, it's nothing for a day out really is it?
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Neither are workable or likely at present but hypothetically, would you prefer a more strict salary cap in the FA WSL OR should centrally contracted England players (that receive salaries from The FA) be allocated more evenly around WSL1 clubs?