In it for the long haul

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Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Rory Clark
Sports Editor

Under Kerr’s reign, they made it into the second round proper for three years running, quite an achievement considering that they were always knocked out by full-time members of the SPFL

Partick Thistle are currently one point from a relegation play-off spot in the Scottish Championship. Having broken up the previously solid marriage of half a decade with Jags legend Alan Archibald, they turned to the relatively unproven Gary Caldwell. The ex-Scotland international has overseen two relegations in two appointments with Wigan Athletic and Chesterfield and inheriting a squad in solid limbo, as has been the case down South, could very possibly make it an unhappy three in three for Caldwell. Whether the Jags do indeed go down is mere conjecture, they’ll probably be safe after all, but the appointment of Caldwell can hardly be called inspiring for what is traditionally a progressive and forward-thinking club.

That’s why, when Archibald was sent packing, there was no real surprise when it was the name of Thistle’s men being linked with Michelle Kerr. “If it was going to be anyone, it was going to be the hipsters from Maryhill.” ‘Shelley’ is currently the manager of the Scotland Women’s squad. She is a real bastion of the game up here in Scotland but, almost incredulously, she’s far from being a household name. There seems to be a reticence to take on the women’s game in Scotland, but thankfully, these negative attitudes are beginning to thaw increasingly quickly. Kerr is at the forefront of that.

Like Caldwell, Kerr was a teak-tough, no-nonsense centre-half. In 2008, her final year as captain of Scotland, her manager Anna Signeul described her as a ‘really British central defender.’ In other words, ‘the ball or the woman can get past me, not both.’ It’s a philosophy that has transcended onto the pitch from Kerr’s dugout, her squad conceding just 7 goals in the entirety of their 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised at Kerr’s instant success of making the Women’s team the first Scottish representatives at a World Cup for over two decades. As a player, she was at the heart of the Scottish back-line for 19 years. In the club scene, she was the last captain not to wear the orange of Glasgow City, to lift the Women’s Premier League trophy all the way back in 2007 with Hibernian. (She also coached that squad concurrently while playing.) Before David Gray’s Hampden heroics of 2016, Kerr led the Hibees to two consecutive Scottish Cups in 2007 and 2008, all at 39 years young. A final playing stint at Spartans W.F.C led to a full-time coaching gig, again in the national set-up, this time with the Under-19 Scotland Women’s squad. Nearly 4 years after her appointment, she was granted a UEFA Pro Licence and the Southern suitors promptly came calling. Arsenal W.F.C took a chance on Kerr in 2013. As with the male equivalent, the North Londoners are traditionally one of the most successful outfits in the English women’s game. Rachel Yankey, Steph Houghton and Kelly Smith, each a respective stalwart of the England team, have all plied their trade there at one point or another and it was seen as a real litmus test of Kerr’s supposed abilities. She didn’t disappoint. Although her league form was largely indifferent during her time there, she did lead the squad to two FA Cups and a League Cup.

“The first ever female head coach in senior British football.” Stirling University’s men side are, by consensus, the best University team that Scotland has to offer. Full SFA members, they are eligible for full entry into the Scottish Cup. Under Kerr’s reign, they made it into the second round proper for three years running, quite an achievement considering that they were always knocked out by full-time members of the SPFL. Playing in the fifth tier of the Scottish football pyramid, the Lowland League, Stirling are battling to have a theoretical chance of going up to the lowest professional tier of Scottish men’s football, League 2. Kerr led them to 3rd in 2016. 4th the following season was a mark of how Kerr was able to drill absolute consistency into the squad and the Women’s national team came calling again. This time, it was the full-time gig for the full-time squad.

It’s taken a little over a year for Kerr to make her mark, which is no mean feat whatsoever. Predecessor Anna Signeul had been in charge for 12 years, from 2005-2017, and the team had been making slow and steady progression since then. They were so very close to qualifying for the European Championships in 2009 and ever since, it’s been a case of more heartbreak for the team. Two further European play-off defeats would follow before Signeul finally got to take them to the Netherlands for the 2017 Championships. It was clear that the team had done all they could under the Swede and Shelley came calling to provide the perfect shot in the arm. Immediately thrown in at the deep end, World Cup qualification was the first order of the day. Again, it had been playoff despair in an attempt to make it to the 2015 tournament, but Kerr steeled much of the same squad and made the changes stick in the push for France 2019. Switzerland and Poland were drawn alongside the Scots, by no means an easy path to their first World Cup. A loss against Switzerland was exorcised in the reverse fixture at St. Mirren Park and two comprehensive victories apiece against Poland and Belarus meant that their destiny was in their own hands, a welcome change for any Scotland fan. By the time Jane Ross hit the winner against Albania in Shkodër, it was all but confirmed that Kerr had ensured that Scotland would be one of only nine European nations at next summer’s World Cup. She’s one of the more steadfast characters in Scottish football, but as long as she continues to perform as she has with the National Team, it surely won’t be long until the next step is taken for Michelle Kerr.