Gillian Coultard hits winner as Belles reclaim Cup
Classic match report: North beats South as Doncaster Belles avenge 1985 final defeat by Fulham
Twenty-five years ago Gillian Coultard’s 60th minute goal condemned Friends of Fulham to their second successive WFA Cup final defeat, before 3,000 fans at Derby’s Baseball Ground. It was the Belles’ fourth Cup win from their seventh appearance in the season’s showpiece. Resurgent Doncaster settled a score from their 1985 defeat by the Londoners and also made up for the previous year, when a shock quarter-final defeat by Leasowe Pacific had denied them their annual Cup final outing.
Channel 4 provided coverage of this, the competition’s 20th final, with an hour-long highlights programme screened at 5.30pm the following day.
The top-flight stadium in Derby was free because Derby County men were away at Man City that day. They won 1–0 thanks to a goal from Mark Wright, who was playing his way into Bobby Robson’s Italia ’90 squad.
Back at the Baseball Ground a crowd of 3,111 showed up for the women’s final. Not spectacular, but still three times more than the paltry turnout who rattled around inside Old Trafford at the previous season’s showpiece.
Although the Baseball Ground was notorious for the often shocking state of its pitch, this match took place on a warm, sunny day with conditions dry and hard underfoot.
Neither team were clad in their traditional colours. Doncaster Belles were in royal blue shirts with white shorts, while Friends of Fulham donned a fetching “yellow and emerald” affair.
Doncaster Belles entered the final unbeaten for four seasons in their regional League. Friends of Fulham had won their sixth consecutive Home Counties League Cup two weeks before.
The teams had met in the 1985 final at Craven Cottage, when two goals in three first-half minutes from Cheryl McAdam and Cathy Hynes gave Friends of Fulham a 2–0 win to claim their first Cup. It was known as The Sempare Final after a virtuoso display by England midfielder Brenda.
Two years previously the Belles reached their first final only after a titanic semi-final with Friends of Fulham at Imber Court Metropolitan Police Ground. After Elaine Cozens had cancelled out Denise Pittock’s opener to bring Fulham level, Lorraine Hanson’s thumping header sent the Belles through.
These closely-fought previous meetings ensured that the teams approached their latest encounter with a healthy degree of mutual respect.
Road to Derby
En route to the final Friends of Fulham beat Arsenal Ladies 4–0 in the quarter-final at Enfield Town. Marieanne Spacey scored the opening goal against the Gunners, her future employers.
In the semi-final at Millwall’s Den, Friends of Fulham triumphed 3–0 over tough Lancastrian outfit Preston Rangers. Another goal from Spacey and a Brenda Sempare double did the damage. Women’s football writer and historian Gail Newsham was playing for Preston that day and still recalls with some pride her tackle on Spacey, or her “claim to fame”!
In the quarter-final, Doncaster Belles exacted crushing revenge on Cup holders Leasowe Pacific. The Merseysiders had the temerity to boot the Belles out at the same stage the previous year, but were swept aside 5–0 this time.
The semi-final game at Millwall produced an even more ruthless display, as a St Helens team in sad decline were beaten 7–0. Gail Borman and Jackie Sherrard scored hat-tricks to add to Karen Skillcorn’s strike.
England friendships on hold
Belles’ midfield general Gillian Coultard went into the 1990 final at her imperious best. Newly-installed as national skipper in the absence of crocked Debbie Bampton, she had struck the only goal as England beat Belgium 1–0 at Bramall Lane three weeks previously.
Spacey and Sempare lined up alongside Coultard in Sheffield, but old friendships were put on ice for 90 minutes while Cup winner’s medals were at stake.
England’s Belgium victory was achieved with Fulham’s Terry Wiseman on the bench, as her long-time understudy Tracey Davidson got the nod from England boss Martin Reagan. Wiseman had a cracked rib, a legacy of Friends of Fulham’s semi-final against Preston.
The friendly rivalry continued with both goalkeepers at opposite ends of the pitch for the Cup final. Both were desperate to impress, with big qualifying games against Norway and Germany coming up and the first ever FIFA-sanctioned World Cup looming on the horizon.
Derby County and England keeper Peter Shilton had an open training session with Wiseman and Davidson the day before the final. The Women’s Football Association hoped it would serve as a photo op and drum up some much-needed publicity.
Since Wiseman’s England career overlapped with Shilton’s she was inevitably branded his female equivalent. As a girlhood Nottingham Forest fan Davidson had idolised “Shilts”, who held England’s all-time cap record until he was surpassed by Rachel Yankey in July 2013.
Teams – Friends of Fulham
Wiseman took her place in goal but was among Fulham’s walking wounded, as a bruising season of club and international football took its toll.
The right-back was Lori Hoey, resplendent as always in her Johan Cruyff-style number 14 jersey. An experienced campaigner, she had three England caps including one from the Euro 87 semi-final defeat by Sweden. She might have had more caps but for the form of Carol Thomas and Sue Law.
Promising England under-21 cap Mandy O’Callaghan played at left-back. At centre-back Friends of Fulham named Karen Gale, a revelation since signing that season from lower-division Bracknell Ladies.
Alongside Gale was another new signing, Welsh international Deborah Fox – a seasoned campaigner who cut her teeth at Maidstone beside Wendy Owen and already boasted a winner’s medal collected with Howbury Grange in 1984.
The Fox–Gale axis at the heart of Fulham’s defence unshackled Marieanne Spacey who had spent much of the previous season playing at centre-half. Instead, her quicksilver blend of brawn and brilliance was put to use in midfield.
Fiona Curl and Brenda Sempare – the star of the 1985 final – joined Spacey in a midfield three. Record-goalscorer Cheryl McAdam and livewire youngster Livvy Hughes flanked reigning club Player of the Year Lynn Jacobs in attack. Jacobs was preferred to Republic of Ireland cap Cathy Hynes, who warmed the bench alongside utility player Terry Springett (daughter of Ron).
Since their defeat in the previous year’s final, Friends of Fulham had lost the talent and goals of Hope Powell who had returned to Millwall Lionesses. The club had also installed a new manager in Fred Brockwell, whose predecessor George Curl stayed on as a coach.
Teams – Doncaster Belles
Davidson lined up in her fifth Cup final for the Belles. She had stood in for Janet Milner in 1983, then returned to the club two years later to play in the 1986, 1987 and 1988 events. She famously saved Ali Leatherbarrow’s penalty in 1987 to help break the club’s Cup final hoodoo of three successive defeats.
Future Belles boss Julie Chipchase was at right back with high-kicking Taekwondo champ Louise Ryde in the other full-back berth.
Michelle “Mickey” Jackson and Loraine Hunt were the centre-halves. Both were bank workers who also played for England. Hunt was a stylish sweeper who modelled her game on Franz Beckenbauer and Ray Wilkins.
That did not square with her club nickname (“bone head”) which hinted at a willingness to get stuck in where the boots were flying!
England regulars Coultard and Jackie Sherrard formed a central midfield partnership of commitment, courage, stamina and skill. Football maverick Jo Broadhurst was a nominal right winger with license to get on the ball wherever possible. She was nursing a toe injury reportedly caused by falling down the stairs at home.
Diligent utility player Karen Skillcorn was deployed on the left flank. She was in the terrific form which won her a couple of England caps before a “Gazza knee” laid her low.
Striking powerhouse Karen Walker led the line alongside Gail Borman. The week after the Cup final Borman crowned her England debut with a goal, in a 4–0 win over Auld Enemy Scotland at Love Street, Paisley.
Coach Paul Edmunds risked the ire of wife Sheila by naming the club founder and two-goal hero of the 1983 win on the bench. Since their last Cup win two years previously the Belles had lost club stalwart Lorraine Hanson to retirement.
Seven minutes into the game, Coultard needed extensive treatment after being unceremoniously dumped by England pal Spacey. Broadhurst’s free kick was on target but smartly touched over the bar by an alert Wiseman.
Friends of Fulham were working like Trojans to limit the Belles’ chances, but they still relied heavily on the inspired form of goalkeeper Wiseman. England’s Euro 84 legend made notable first-half saves from Sherrard and Walker.
While Fulham were never overrun – they were much too good for that – they struggled to impose their own attacking armoury on the game. Spacey ended up marking Coultard, while Brenda Sempare could not run the show as she had in the sides’ 1985 final at Craven Cottage.
An efficient, well-oiled unit under coach Edmunds, Doncaster Belles favoured a high-tempo pressing game. They hunted in packs and quickly swarmed round opposition threats in twos and threes.
Karen Walker was locked in a running battle with flinty Deborah Fox, who had an excellent game. Walker’s string of neat passes and flicked headers fed Borman, whose tireless running occupied the rest of the Fulham defence.
The all-important goal came on the hour. Marauding Gillian Coultard played a one-two with Borman and hit an accurate drive into the side of the net from just outside the penalty area. Unsighted by a stray defender, Wiseman was finally beaten.
Coultard, sporting a new perm for the television cameras, was always at the heart of the action. In the second-half she returned Spacey’s first-half compliment, clattering Fulham’s club captain into a heap.
Then Springett, on for McAdam who had tweaked her Achilles tendon, decked Coultard for the second time in the match and was promptly booked by Barnsley ref Dave Phillips.
On 80 minutes Edmunds shored things up by replacing Broadhurst with defender Yvonne Bagley. The Belles held on to win the Cup although Fulham never stopped fighting and Spacey was crowded out by a packed defence in the final moments.
Outspoken former Man United boss Tommy “The Doc” Docherty hailed Coultard’s strike as one of the goals of the season.