by Richard Laverty
Nobody’s talking about them, but Doncaster Rovers Belles duo Natasha Dowie and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk are a good bet to link up as league top scorers this season, if they get off to a good start.
Dowie joined Belles last month in a move from twice FA WSL champions Liverpool, while 24-year-old Sweetman-Kirk was the top scorer in WSL 2 last season and was instrumental in getting the Belles back to the top division.
England international Dowie is confident the pair have already struck up a good enough understanding in pre-season to be a hit when the season kicks off next month.
“It’s key to learn the other’s game. Courtney has proven she can do it in WSL 2 and we’re here to make each other’s lives easier,” she said. “We’re selfish as strikers but we’ll create for each other.
“It’s important we get on. I’ve played with talented players who I haven’t got on with, so to build a friendship with her straight away has been great.”
While Sweetman-Kirk has had a very different journey to this point, compared to Dowie, she echoes her strike partner’s sentiments about connecting off the field as well as on it.
“The existing players said to Glen [Harris] we needed to keep the team spirit. It’s all about friendships first,” she said.
After finishing behind Reading in WSL 2 last season, many onlookers may see Belles as one of the favourites for relegation this season. While both players disagree with that forecast, they’re happy to be under-estimated.
“Everyone’s writing us off. Happy days,” laughed Dowie.
“At Liverpool last season, we were beaten by Sunderland on the first day, so I know what it’s like. We know what we’re capable of. We’ll go about our business, and our team spirit and work rate will be the strongest in the league.
“I wouldn’t have signed here if we couldn’t compete. I’m a winner. I could have gone somewhere else, but I came here.”
Sweetman-Kirk added: “It gives us a siege mentality. We’re winners and we’re not here to make up the numbers. The aim isn’t to stay up, it’s to compete and show people what we’re made of.”
Like Dowie’s Liverpool last season, Belles face the current champions Chelsea in front of their home fans on the opening Thursday, and Sweetman-Kirk is relishing the opportunity.
“You want to play the big games,” she said.
“They’re the champions, but things change quickly. That was evident with Liverpool. We will start as we mean to go on.”
Dowie, 27, is ready to bring experience to the side, along with fellow signing Becky Easton when the going gets tougher.
“I’m quite vocal, but nobody moans here if you shout at them. They’re willing to listen.”
While they are already friends, there’s already been some competition for bragging rights when it comes to the numbers on their back.
“I’ve always been No.9,” said Dowie. “I was having a panic. I said to Glen ‘I can’t just ask Courtz for her shirt’. We were doing jumps in pre-season and I said whoever got the highest would take No.9. She won, but if she’s scoring and we’re playing well then happy days all around!”
*This article was originally published in The FLP’s Women’s Football Weekly pull-out on 21 February 2016.