It is an exciting time for women’s football at Glasgow University. Last year was the first time that there were two competitive football teams and more women were involved than ever before. The first team (the 1s) finished second behind Edinburgh in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Scottish First Division, and the second team (the 2s) finished third in the third tier – no mean feat for a side just starting out. Progress is key for all those involved at Glasgow University Women’s Football Club (GUWFC) and everyone is ambitious.
Eleanor Smith, the club captain, has high expectations for the new season: “I really want us to challenge ourselves. The 1s have not succeeded in beating Edinburgh in my three years in the team so I do hope we can look to do that this year. Aberdeen, St Andrews and Edinburgh 2s will also be tough opponents but I believe we have the ability to get results there.” She is confident, and she must be. For the team to succeed they need a strong skipper, and Smith is certainly that.
The female side of the beautiful game has made great strides in recent years. It is the fastest growing sport in the UK and it has only become more accessible. “It hasn’t just become a sport for girls in cities surrounded by some of the best facilities, but girls in more rural areas are competing and because they are now more supported, their prospects are much better and they too able to become more successful.” Coverage has also significantly improved as many women’s games are televised and attendances rise. Molly Hyde, treasurer of GUWFC sees progress: “Girls and women are acknowledging it as a sport that is not exclusive to men or 'tomboys'.” Tackling these traditional attitudes is important, and will increase the amount of participation.
Despite this progress, however, Scotland continues to lag behind other countries. In the USA and Australia, women’s football is more popular than men’s. In England, there is now a full-time top tier. North of the border, there are no professional teams. Although these countries are bigger and have cultural differences, Hyde reckons there are obstacles which can be tackled: “There is obviously a clear lack of funding. The barriers to playing professionally can be not only a financial barrier but also a mental barrier, with many girls giving up after university due to the cost.” This is a big issue and one that needs to be tackled. Hyde also reckons that coaching courses need to be more accessible, as through high-quality coaching top-level players can be produced.
There are lots of men at the forefront of the women’s game, but not so many the other way around. When Phil Neville was made England women’s manager last year, the reaction was mixed. Some believed it was good PR to have a famous former professional as coach. Others reckoned it would be better to have a female manager who was more experienced (it is Neville’s first managerial job). “It’s important especially for younger children to have female role models within the game," says Hyde. “There has definitely been an increase in the number of females become more active participants and having a voice - such as during the World Cup, where Alex Scott and Eniola Aluko were part of the team of pundits.” Scott and Aluko have become increasingly recognisable in recent times, despite not being household names when they played. Aluko’s brother, Sone, formerly of Aberdeen and Rangers, is probably better-known in Scotland despite Eniola’s much more decorated career. “It is also important not to become complacent," Hyde continues. "Just because there has been a significant increase doesn’t mean that there isn’t an inequality that has to be addressed.”
Dale Dorrian, the second team’s head coach, admires the American women who have done a lot for the sport: “The likes of Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and now Carli Lloyd are household names – even amongst those who don’t follow the sport. It’s arguable that without them the game wouldn’t have advanced as much as it has done in the last 20-30 years.” They have definitely had an impact, and Dorrian argues that women have more of an influence on the men’s game than people realise: “There are actually a lot of women working behind the scenes at men’s clubs – physios, dietitians, secretaries – who all do fantastic work.” These women perhaps don’t grab the headlines, but they are a fundamental cog in the machine of the world’s most popular sport. Dorrian resolves that the best way forward is to focus on increasing the numbers of women in the game itself: “UEFA’s stats in 2017 show that only three women working in Scotland hold the UEFA Pro Licence qualification compared to 140 for men. There are also currently only 112 qualified female referees in Scotland.” By increasing these numbers, “the number of women working in football (men’s and women’s) will increase.”
Dorrian remains optimistic about the future: “I can see women’s football growing over the next 20 years. Events like the World Cup are growing in popularity and this will only continue. Hopefully, within the next 20 years, there will be more women working across both men’s and women’s football. I also hope that there will be more live televised women’s football on major channels as this will encourage young girls to take the sport up.” His dreams do not seem unachievable. We are beginning to see more of women’s football on TV, and more and more girls take up the sport every day.
Smith, Hyde and Dorrian all encourage any female Glasgow University students to join GUWFC.
“We are an all-inclusive club," says Smith. “We are 50% football and 50% social. So even if you’re looking for a way to get away from the stresses of uni or to meet new people and make the best friends, I couldn’t encourage you to join our club more. It’s got me through three years of uni, so I’m hoping it will get me through one more!”