The big question, some may say the only question, ahead of the start of the…
Only three Scottish clubs can boast clinching 13 domestic titles in just 20 years. The first two are Rangers and Celtic – the other is Glasgow City FC.
Founded in 1998 by former players Laura Montgomery and Carol Anne Stewart, the club has dominated the women’s game since the formation of the Scottish Women’s Premier League in 2002. Around two-thirds of the current Scottish national team have at one stage played for Glasgow City.
Despite their continued success, however, Montgomery is cautious when she discusses the club’s future pursuits, particularly in Europe. That’s because the SWPL is still an amateur league. Even Rangers, Celtic and Hibernian women’s teams are not yet professional. South of the border, a “record-breaking” £70,000 fee was paid for 22-year-old Fran Kirby when she moved from Reading to Chelsea in 2015.
It may not sound like much, and relatively speaking it isn’t, but it’s indicative of a greater flurry of activity in the women’s game in England. Montgomery thinks it’s something that needs to be mirrored here before any real progress can be seen.
“It all started with the FA giving each club £75,000. They also paid the broadcasters to put the games on television, and now they’re seeing crowds of 30,000 for their cup games. You look at a lot of the national associations now and they’re putting their players on central contracts. Now all of England’s best players are staying within the country. They invested in setting up a professional league, and it’s now attracting investment from the men’s teams. We’re nowhere near that.”
Investment in women’s football is nothing novel. America’s Title IX, passed in 1972, insisted that equal funds be channelled into both men’s and women’s college sports. “If you’re getting the same investment at that age, you have the same platform to become the best player”, Montgomery says. In the 2016/17 season, Germany channelled over €9 million into their women’s game, an increase of over €2 million in just two seasons. It comes as no surprise, then, that the USA, England and Germany hold the top three positions in the UEFA world rankings. Average attendance at national matches in both Germany and England, alongside Belgium, Ukraine, France and the Netherlands has increased by over 2,000 in the last five years. It’s evident that women’s football is big business, yet Scotland is still reluctant to embrace it.
Playing at the modest Petershill Park, with a capacity of less than 1,000, the contrast couldn’t be starker. Following City’s 6-0 win over Stirling University, with a Sunday league game taking place behind her, striker Kirsty Howat said: “I study at uni as well, so having to train in the morning, go to uni, train at night and then try and fit in uni work in between that, it’s a different lifestyle altogether. To become professional you have to go away somewhere else, and this could hopefully be the platform for me to do that.”
In terms of Glasgow City’s position as a women’s team independent of affiliation to a men’s club, Montgomery says there are inevitable challenges: “Our facility costs are easily £35,000 a year, and some of our competitors don’t have to take that hit because they can benefit in kind from using a training centre that belongs to their men’s parent club. From a Glasgow City point of view, I think we’d be more successful if we had those people behind us able to do those things.”
“We’ve lost all of our best players over the years. Every time we play someone in the Champions League the team that plays us will come and take our star player of that time – it’s happened year after year, but that’s football. You can never say a player’s done the wrong thing when they go and do that, and girls should be able to go and earn full-time salaries to play football, but it’s frustrating for me from a Scottish perspective, because I’d love to have all these players here, and I think we would have a really strong domestic product and a brilliant league.”
Midfielder Hayley Lauder is hopeful the Scottish league will soon catch up with its European counterparts: “For a standalone club to be in the position we’re in, I think is phenomenal. If you look at the teams that are in the SWPL now, we’ve got Rangers, Celtic, Hibs, and these clubs should really be, in my opinion, putting funding into their women’s sides. They’ve got great players there and there are some great teams so I don’t see why they don’t. I don’t think we should have an advantage. I think if these clubs properly invested in their women’s teams it would be tough for Glasgow City.”
“I think in football it’s very much a results industry, and if these teams aren’t doing well on the pitch with their men’s side then nobody’s going to care about how the women’s team is doing, and that’s just the sad reality of it.”
Of course, funding and maintaining a professional women’s team is no cheap task. The majority of centrally-contracted English Super League players earn around £20,000 each year. Without assistance from the SFA, this is not an investment many Scottish clubs could dream of.
Montgomery is quick to point out that Glasgow City have proven their worth through sheer hard work, despite a lack of financial support. “If I’m honest, I probably would give credit to Carol Anne and myself. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into the club. It’s a full-time job for both of us – so it’s a full-time job on top of a full-time job. It’s pretty much taken over our lives and we have very little free time. I’d call it a labour of love.”
“There’s obviously a lot of independent women’s clubs in Scotland – certainly they weren’t all part of men’s clubs ten or twenty years ago. We were still the best team all those years ago. I think it comes down to individuals.”
Whether the issue is solely down to funding and investment or is indicative of a deeper-rooted cultural resistance to accepting women’s football as being on a par with the men’s game, is something neither Montgomery nor Lauder seem to know the answer to. It is telling, though, that Scotland was the only country to reject UEFA’s bid back in 1971 to have all nations adopt responsibility for women’s football in their respective territories.
20 years after the conception of the SWPL, prize money will be awarded to the champions for the first time at the end of this season after a sponsorship deal was struck with Scottish Building Society.
Glasgow City are real-life proof of the success that can be enjoyed by women’s clubs with a dedicated management team, regardless of resources. But, as Lauder concedes: “It’ll take somebody brave to come in and change it, but hopefully that can happen.”