Scottish Daily Mail

WHO WILL CALL THE SHOTS?

Revolution in the air as City prepare to battle for future of women’s game

- HUGH MacDONALD VISITS COUNTRY’S TOP SIDE AHEAD OF CRUCIAL WEEK TO MAP OUT WAY AHEAD FOR CLUBS

I am not persuaded that the SPFL is the way to go at the moment

THERE is revolution in the air. There is also a foreboding of hypothermi­a and more than a hint of rain.

The weather is traditiona­l but the wind of change, though, is never far from women’s football. It is a game growing beyond the chains of restraint previously applied by football authoritie­s.

With growth comes tension. The aristocrat­s of women’s football in Scotland were yesterday playing relative newcomers. For once, Queen’s Park were cast in the role of the new kids on the block. Quickly, their collective heads were on the block.

The dominant team in Scottish women’s football scampered, harried and passed swiftly to a facile 9-0 victory in the third round of the Scottish Cup.

Other battles remain. The game is in the midst of a governance debate. Who will run the Scottish women’s game next season?

There was a newspaper report yesterday suggesting the majority of the 10 top clubs want to play under the auspices of the SPFL.

The Scottish Women’s Football League will make its pitch on Friday, with chief executive Aileen Campbell outlining the organisati­on’s plans for the future after Neil Doncaster did the same for the SPFL.

Glasgow City remain to be convinced. Laura Montgomery, chief executive and co-founder of the club and one its driving forces since 1998, addresses the matter briskly as she goes about her business at Petershill Park.

‘The SPFL has no great track record of attracting sponsorshi­p,’ she says, pointing out that the cinch deal was brought in with considerab­le outside help.

‘We need sponsors to grow,’ she adds. ‘I would want a lot more detail on how that can be achieved. I am not persuaded that the SPFL is the way to go at the moment.’

Her voice is influentia­l. The story of Glasgow City is one of considerab­le achievemen­t in the face of mighty obstacles.

The records tell a story: 15 league titles in a row, nine Scottish Cups, participat­ion in the Champions League.

The context is missing, however. This is a club that has constantly fought to progress while facing growing and increasing­ly more powerful opposition every year.

Asked how she has changed in more than 20 years at the club, Montgomery (right) does not pause. ‘Still the same person. Annoying, demanding, never content. Still the same old me.’

She does concede that much around her has changed, however. ‘There is an excellent infrastruc­ture here,’ she says.

‘Players are backed with excellent coaching, dedicated sports scientists and physios.

There is, too, the growing reality of a pathway for female players. Once interviews with women footballer­s referenced men as their idols. ‘Mine was Eric Black,’ says Montgomery of the former Aberdeen striker.

Now the story is different. There are more than 180 girls training with Glasgow City. Each has a hero. Most of them will be women.

THE ball girls cluster at the edge of the pitch. They are waiting for their heroes. They stand for the moment but they are dreaming of stepping into the boots of the players who are running over

Queen’s Park. ‘Erin Cuthbert’ is the immediate response from Laura Quinn, a 12-year-old from Gourock, when asked for her favourite player. Cuthbert, of course, is now at Chelsea. Laura is a newcomer to City. ‘I wanted to come here,’ she says. ‘It’s the best club in Scotland and I want to be among the best.’ She is guileless and clear in her responses and her drive is obvious. She has loved football since she started playing with her brother in the garden. Crucially, she does not just have a woman as her idol, but a definitive pathway stretches out in front of her. ‘Yes, I want to go further in the game. I hope I can have a future in it,’ she says. Sitting behind her in the frozen stands, Neil Paterson has his 17-year-old daughter to thank for his interest in City. His daughter, Maura, plays for the Under-19s and Neil and his wife have followed her throughout her career.

‘I really enjoy it,’ he says of women’s football. ‘The skill is very high and in a lot of ways it is a cleaner game. When there is a foul, you don’t get players rolling around as if they have been shot. The atmosphere for fans is excellent, too.’

On the subject of heroes, Maura has a special respect for Clare Shine. ‘Maura looks up to so many in the team but Clare is probably her favourite,’ says Paterson of the Irish internatio­nalist.

‘Clare is a fabulous player, but she does so much great work off the park. She is so approachab­le. She will talk to young girls and the fans. She takes time with people.’

Paterson concedes he is a ‘convert’ to women’s football but has no desire to change his ways, being part of a growing constituen­cy that is watching a game evolve in front of its eyes.

The developmen­ts, of course, extend to players. ‘There is so much on offer for them now,’ says Paterson of young girls seeking to play the sport.

‘The girls at Maura’s level want to win their league but they want to grow too, be ready for a first team. It was a big thing, too, during Covid. It’s been a release for her.’

Maura, a sixth-year pupil, coaches the Under-9s at City and has just qualified as a referee. ‘She is a busy girl,’ says her father.

IN the corner of the stand, there is a busy father. John Montgomery, 76 next week, is setting his stall out. The proud father of Laura, he spends matchdays selling programmes and merchandis­e.

An athletics coach, he has been at City for the long run.

‘I have helped out since 1998,’ he says. ‘First as a coach but just on the fitness side. I still coach athletes. Laura was good sprinter, ran Under-15 for Scotland. But, back to the football, that’s how I started helping out here. I just helped get the players fit and that was sometimes enough to win games.’

His view of the millennium and its effect on women’s football is simple. It has grown and grown.

‘Everything has changed since 1998,’ he says. ‘Every club has followed us in terms of how a team is run and organised, from media to merchandis­e.’

He is aware, too, that the regular giants of Scottish football are under siege from rivals at home and abroad.

‘The amount of players we’ve lost... so many great players, but that’s the way it is. The English league has soared and so have European teams. They spot a player and, just like that, she’s gone.

‘But we are good for players. They have a good set-up, been doing it for years and played in the Champions League. But the truth is we have to rebuild and rebuild.’

The success, though, has continued. ‘Yes, we are still doing well,’ he says. ‘Yes, we are on a firm footing.

‘Much of that is down to Laura’s persuasive­ness with sponsors. We have gone our own way and that’s been the right way.’

So why does he brave the elements on a Sunday?

‘I do it because I enjoy it. I also coach young athletes three times a week at Scotland level. It all keeps me young, keeps me healthy.’ He does not do it for money. ‘It’s all for free,’ he says. ‘I think this is important.

‘It is hard to get people to do something for nothing nowadays but that is how some clubs survive and it is how players can grow. You have to give a bit.’

His daughter seems to give her all. At 8am on a snowy Thursday, she stood in front of her players as training is organised for the day. After completing the signing of Kerry Beattie, from Glentoran, she talks of the challenges facing the game.

She does not shirk from them. ‘There is so much that is important at the club,’ she says. ‘So much to do. You just have to look at England to see how the women’s game has grown and how important sponsorshi­p is to the game.’

Some aspects remain the same in this age of revolution. First, City are still winners. Second, the City ethos is constant.

‘Yes,’ says Montgomery. ‘This club always puts the person before the player. That will never change.’

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