Glasgow City FC: Can Glasgow’s women break the European glass ceiling?

Credit: Florianne Watt

Credit: Florianne Watt

Jack Haugh
Sports Editor

For so long, one team has dominated Scottish Football in a way never seen before. Whilst they may not get the recognition of Celtic, who have a stranglehold over the men’s game, Glasgow City FC’s achievements outdo their male counterparts in a way never seen before. By clinching their tenth title in a row by beating their nearest rivals Hibernian Ladies FC, City made it ten titles in a row to eclipse the previous nine-in-a-row as set by both of the Old Firm. With Scottish football swept aside once more, where exactly can Glasgow City go next?

Europe remains the obvious test of their ambitions, with the team having partaken in the Uefa Women’s Champions League for the last nine seasons, culminating in a Quarter Final appearance back in 2015. On that occasion, professional outfit Paris Saint-Germain Feminines simply proved too strong as they romped to a 7-0 win over the two legs. However, as Glasgow City TV Commentator Callum Paterson noted, “that is furthest any Scottish side has gone in Europe – women or men!” In recent times, City have found themselves ousted in earlier rounds by English champions Chelsea and most recently Swedish side Eskisltuna United, although Glasgow did score their first goal in five European matches in the 1-2 home defeat to the Swedes.

Paterson, who has seen the many peaks and troughs of City in his three years with the club, himself struggles to understand why City have failed to build upon their success of 2015. “It is kind of hard to pin fully. In competitions like the Champions League you just need a bit of luck.” The defeat to Eskilstuna was arguably the most disappointing of the recent three, with the Swedes on a similar level to Glasgow in terms of support and finances but players such as Olivia Schough, an Olympic Silver Medalist in Rio, offering more on the night.

It would appear then that in recent times, the superiority of European football has ultimately been beyond the capabilities of City, who regularly win games by insurmountable score lines on a weekly basis in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. On their way to ten-in-a-row, they defeated the likes of Spartans, Stirling University and Forfar Farmington by eight goals to nil, and even put twenty-six past a miserable East Kilbride side in the Scottish Cup. Naturally, going from rampant victories to facing professional opposition poses a challenge.

“The big thing is the funding in the Scottish Women’s game sadly. That is an issue. As talented a group of players likes of City have it is hard when you get drawn a top side, such as PSG in 2015.”

However, unlike in 2014 where the club won the treble of the, then, Premier League, Scottish Women’s Cup and Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup, their dominance over the Scottish game has wilted. Defeat to Hibernian in both the Scottish Cup and League Cup finals ensured that for the first time since 2010 City’s trophy cabinet would look rather sparse. “It has been another decent title race, like last year Hibs have kept it alive for a long distance this season.” The League was only wrapped up in the penultimate match of the season. “You would say however City always had it in their control. Crucially though, the head to heads – City have dominated in league competition since the 3-3 draw in August 2015.”

With Celtic Women FC also strengthening throughout the year, and Hibs having also competed in Europe for the first time ever as second placed side in Scotland, City’s dominance over the Scottish game may be on the cusp of fading.

But, if the club’s founders Laura Montgomery and Carol-Anne Stewart have their way, City’s dominance may only just be beginning. Having founded the club in 1998, the pair set about developing both women’s football and a top-level youth academy. “Academy players making the step up to pretty regular first team appearances include Brogan Hay and Carla Boyce this season.” What seems to set City apart from the rest, in Paterson’s opinion, is their professional outlook.

“I think it is a lot of hard work from top to bottom by the founders/owners Laura Montgomery and Carol-Anne Stewart initially to try and bring growth to the women’s game and professional attitudes. I think on the whole, a professional as possible attitude has seen City grow in all aspects and the real determination to win and for the first team players they commit a heck of a lot, alongside day jobs and so on for the most of them.”

Unlike some of the other clubs, Hibs, Celtic and Rangers Ladies FC notable examples, City do not share funds and resources with a men’s club. The complete focus on the women’s game from the very start seems to have ensured their almost unbroken dominance over the chasing pack. Of course, that isn’t to say clubs such as Manchester City Ladies FC or even Hibs have been held back by their affiliation to the men’s game, but it has certainly benefitted City.

“They have been leading the pack in Scotland for years. [However] one thing for sure in Scotland is that there are some good young players coming through – as mentioned. Glasgow City have had a head start and do still have a dedicated girls’ setup obviously which has its major benefits.”

It seems that City’s dominance over Scottish football may be here to stay, although maybe not as convincing as it once was. Which brings us back to Europe as the best measure of City’s progress and potential. But, when compared to the likes of the Frauen Bundesliga, which benefits from a sponsorship deal with Allianz, the lack of finance in the Scottish game seems to be restricting any chance City have of reaching their previous heights.

Not to mention an apparent real lack of appetite for fans. Whilst City, Hibs and the like have their fervent supporters, only 728 people turned out to see the elite of the women’s game at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium. Meanwhile, 814 took in Airdrie’s 1-1 home draw to East Fife, a men’s third tier match.

So what next for the club? With plans for their own stadium being mentioned by both Paterson and player Laura McMurchie on STV Glasgow, the latter also mentioning plans for a community centre, it would appear that for Glasgow the development of the women’s game in Scotland remains the biggest priority.

If this could one day lead to proper funding in the game through sponsorship, though the Scottish Cup was supported by SSE Energy this season, and higher attendances, the club, the players and the women’s game will only continue to grow. Europe may prove a step too far, as it often does for all levels and sexes of the Scottish game, but incremental improvements may one day pay off and City should prove that this season’s paltry haul was only an anomaly.