How far has women’s football progressed in Scotland?

Women’s football in Scotland has been growing and changing since its first match in May 1881 but it still has a long way to go. This begs the question of how exactly can the female game in Scotland improve?

The first big change in women’s football happened in 1921 with it being banned outright and clubs interested in hosting games were denied permission by the Scottish Football Association until the 1970s. UEFA ordered its members to manage their country’s women’s football in 1971 with 33 members voting in favour of this with only Scotland being against the notion.

 The Scottish Women’s Football Association was formed by Aberdeen, Dundee Strikers, Edinburgh Dynamos, Motherwell AEI, Stewarton, Thistle and Westthorn United in 1971. Despite this the SWFA was not formally recognised until 1974 after teams reached the final of the FA Women’s Cup and the ban was fully lifted. More recently the SWFA was renamed to the SWF and the Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) was formed in the 2002-03 season. With major progress being made at the turn of the millennia the women’s game continued to grow with a Scottish national team being formed as well as more teams joining the professional leagues. However, in the last 10 years progress has improved while also further highlighting the inequalities between the men’s teams equivalents.

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The main leagues in Scotland are the SWPL1 which is the highest league and the SWPL2, the second highest league. In the topflight only three teams are full time professionals. Glasgow City, Rangers and Celtic. The Glasgow powerhouses have been hugely successful since the league formed with Glasgow City winning 14 League Titles in a row, they have competed in the Champions League, all three teams feature internationalist players that represent various nations and they have attracted players from around the world. However, part time teams are still relying on volunteers and operate with very tight budgets meaning it can be harder for them to attract new talent and find suitable stadiums. David Smith, former head of media at Forfar Farmington said:” Ryan McConville who was in charge at Forfar Farmington had multiple Northern Irish players lined up and when he resigned in January 2021 after the SWPL1 was cut short. Kevin McGreskin took over and he tried hard to get players in but unfortunately it didn’t happen, it was probably the toughest two months of his footballing career.”

The successes of the Old Firm and Glasgow City were able to generate interest from broadcasting outlets as BBC Alba and BBC Scotland now premier radio and televised coverage of the SWPL1. Every Sunday one game will be on BBC Alba with a highlights show following later on a Sunday night. Commentary is in both Gaelic and English to make it as accessible as can be. BBC Alba has also become the home of Scotland’s women’s national team games where the commentary is also mixed.

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Kevin McGreskin, former manager of Forfar Farmington said: “With the increased Prem One coverage hopefully young players are going to have role models they can see on the TV. It is like that old saying ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’.

“You now have this opportunity to see games regularly on TV which can only be good for growing the game. I can remember staying up late at night to watch Team GB compete in curling they had the chance to win a gold medal and there was a Scottish women called Rhona Martin competing. Did it make me take up curling? No but it made me interested. It was Scottish and there it was on the TV if it had not been broadcasted, I might not have known her name or that she won an Olympic gold medal. Women’s football hasn’t had that coverage but now we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

The national team have been making waves on the world stage in ways the men’s team have not been able to. Qualifying for the 2017 Euros and then the 2019 World Cup with a promising FIFA 2023 World Cup campaign underway, it means they may be able to qualify for back-to-back World Cups, something the men have not done for decades. Hampden has made itself the home of both national teams but like many of the club teams they have had to use multiple stadiums for games. The national team have made Easter Road, Tynecastle, Fir Park and St Mirren Park their temporary home ground at various stages of their international campaigns. The international team only found their new manager Pedro Martinez Losa in July 2021 after Michelle Kerr resigned in 2020.

Hampden Park home of the National Teams-Photo Credit Jenna Thomson.

Kevin McGreskin said: “The national team are able to inspire a lot of young players to take up football and play the game. They have seen it on the TV, now they are holding this dream where that is what they want to do, they want to achieve and represent Scotland at a World Cup.

“However, it’s disappointing how long it took to find a new Scotland manager. If Steve Clarke left the position, would it have been allowed to drag on for as long? It really felt as though they weren’t having conversations, there may have been some behind closed doors but to let it go on for so long with no official comments wasn’t good as it made it appear as if they had ‘better’ things to do. I understand the COVID stuff going on in the world right now, but this should have been on their priority list.

“These comments aren’t me being negative about the coaches that stood in and did their best but, we really should’ve done more to make a permanent appointment.”

This has not been the first-time women’s football has been overlooked by football governing bodies. Kevin McGreskin said:” We submitted the paperwork for a Northern Irish player to gain international clearance back in December 2020 and in April 2021 we were still waiting for answers as we were supposedly ‘outside the international transfer window’ and as such couldn’t register her. We had to reiterate to the SFA that we had sent everything away in good time. The Scottish Football Association messed up, not us.

“This wouldn’t have happened in the men’s game so why did it happen to us? I understand fully people can make mistakes but if that happened in the men’s topflight that would have been swiftly rectified. Their attitude seemed to be ‘it’s just women’s football’ and we need to eradicate that mentality from the public at large and most certainly from those embedded in organisations.”

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David Smith weighed in on the issue and said: “We brought Leontia McVarnock over to Scotland at Christmas, I think it’s important for people to note that she had to leave her full-time job to come to Forfar. She had a dream of playing professional football.

“The club looked at putting Leontia out on loan in Northern Ireland and then recall her for this season but unfortunately that never came to fruition. As a club we were saddened to lose her, and I don’t think she was too pleased either with how everything was signaled out. The blame shouldn’t fall squarely onto the Forfar Farmington Committee as some does lie with the SFA and the Committee as I don’t think it was chased up enough.”

The collapse of Fofar Farmington in between the 20/21 and 21/22 season meant that SWPL2 side Partick Thistle were promoted. David said: “The problem was that when Ryan left in January Kevin took over. There were lots of talks about whether he was going to take over in the first place as they were always a duo, but Ryan encouraged him to go for it.

“Kevin got off to a great start with a 3-2 win over Motherwell and lots of players got their first goals that day and lots of records were blown. However, after that it was one thing after another. Could the SWPL1 Forfar Farmington have been saved? Absolutely.

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“I won’t mention publicly what happened but after Kevin departed there were only 12-16 players left. I don’t think that is down to Kevin but rather Ryan’s ambitions were not backed, he wanted to be up there competing with Hibs and be a top four SWPL club within three years. There was a lot of uncertainty a few weeks before the start of the season. We appointed Eddie Wolecki as manager, and he tried his best to get players in.

“If it wasn’t for things out with Ryan and Kevin’s control, I am certain I would still be at the club as it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever worked with.”

The Hummingbird Journal conducted a survey into people’s opinions involving women’s football in Scotland which found that 59% of those surveyed believed that playing games at the same stadiums as their male counterparts, better broadcasting options, more publicity from men’s clubs and media outlets, altered ticket prices and more funding from club chief executives were the key to improving the female game. Putting these suggestions into place is much easier said than done but the sooner a more sustainable development strategy is implemented across the SWPL the better.

Hamilton Academical player Rachel Ross also voiced these opinions. She had this to say:

Video credit-Jenna Thomson.

Overall women’s football has come a long way in Scotland since it was banned 100 years ago but the ball is in the SFA and respective club’s courts on how it can progress further.

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