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The Week in Women's Football: Scotland focus; Rangers, Celtic turn professional; International players arrive

This week, we look at the Scottish Women's League, which though on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, should be much more competitive than in past years, as men's top sides Rangers and Celtic have gone fully professional and have added internationals from Europe, America, Australia and even India. This week, we will focus on perennial power Glasgow City and their city rivals Rangers and Celtic, as well as second division and promotion hopefuls Aberdeen FC, another club with a strong and successful history on the men's side. Then, in the near future, we will look at some of the key signings for the other 5 clubs in the first division.



Scottish Women's Premier League 1 2020 Preview—Part 1

The Scottish Women's Premier League 1 2020 season started in March with one game before the hiatus due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. When it resumes, this will definitely be a league that followers of the international women's game should focus on more than in the past, when it was almost always a fiat accompli that Glasgow City would win the league, as they have done for 13 consecutive seasons. However, with Celtic and Rangers leading the way in going fully professional for 2020 (both sides) and fully integrating into their men's organization (Rangers), City may face challenges of the like they typically don't see domestically—particularly since they lost the opening game of the regular season 2-1 to Celtic.


2020 Scottish WPL 1

Team

MP

W

D

L

F

A

D

P

Rangers

1

1

0

0

3

0

+3

3

Celtic

1

1

0

0

2

1

+1

3

Hibernian

1

1

0

0

1

0

+1

3

Motherwell

1

1

0

0

1

0

+1

3

Glasgow City

1

0

0

1

1

2

-1

0

Forfar Farmington

1

0

0

1

0

1

-1

0

Spartans

1

0

0

1

0

1

-1

0

Hearts

1

0

0

1

0

3

-3

0


Glasgow City

Head Coach Scott Booth's Glasgow City side has won 13 consecutive Scottish Women's League titles and has reached the Women's Champions League quarterfinals twice—in 2014-15 after 13 European campaigns (which is typically when this column follows them as their domestic league has been so one-sided for over a decade) and this current season, when they were due to meet Wolfsburg of Germany across two legs, which again is postponed as world football has shut down for the time being. Booth (who played almost 200 matches for Aberdeen in two stints, as well as in Germany and Holland and was on Scotland's 1996 European Championship and 1998 World Cup sides) also led the City women to the 2019 Scottish Women's Cup Final title, their 9th overall but first since 2015 (Booth's first year with the club).

City was founded in 1998 by Laura Montgomery (22 years of age at the time) and Anne Stewart, who still run the side. City started in the second division, but won promotion in that first season and have never finished below the top two in the first division in any season since then. Montgomery said, "I've always had a commercial brain; I started my high school's first team at the age of 13 and went out and got us a sponsor," After founding City with Stewart, Montgomery said that the club is, "This monster, a massive business," but is still run by volunteers. They pay £50,000 a year for training facilities whereas Celtic and Rangers are able to train for free at their own facilities. The new investment by men's sides is welcome in the women's game while still posing a significant challenge to clubs like City, where the players are part-time footballers, resulting in a definite change in the status quo. In addition, Glasgow City is a women's only club and not aligned with a men's organization. The club even looked to join England's FA WSL in 2013 but the FA in England denied the move.

Note: BBC is presenting a six part series on the club: 'The Women Who Built Glasgow City' and is a must see program for women's football fans.

For Glasgow City this season, they have brought in some new imports, beginning with Australian forward Aoife Colville (19), who has moved from Canberra United, where she played 3 seasons. As an Academy Player in 2018, she scored 42 goals in 19 games—double the second place scorer in the Capital Football Premier League (division 2). Fellow Aussie and U-17 international Isabel Dalton moved from Brisbane Roar in 2019/20 after spending four years in the States with the University of Colorado and a brief stint in England with Bristol City in 2015. Northern Ireland international Lauren Wade played previously in Sweden with Umea in 2017, last season with Throttur Reykjavik in Iceland for a side that won the league, and previously at Glentoran at home. A native of Coleraine, Wade also played collegiately in the States with Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Forward Clare Shine, a Republic of Ireland international, has played with the club for 5 years after joining from Raheny United at home, where she won the local league in 2013/14.


Celtic

Celtic quickly announced that they will be a threat this season to Glasgow City's reign with a surprising 2-1 victory over their city rivals on February 9 in the first league match of the season. They also won two cup games as well in February/March; with a 6-0 away win over St. Johnstone on February 16 and a 4-1 away win over Spartans of Edinburgh on March 1 (they opened their season with a 0-0 tie on February 2 against Glasgow Women). Ahead of Celtic's final Group A SWPL Cup game against Spartans, new American import Sarah Teegarden said that she was comfortable in the Celtic midfield, joining experienced Natalie Ross (30—a former Scottish international who had a spell at Arsenal; her brother Frank plays at Aberdeen FC) and Lisa Robertson (27—who moved from Durham in England before the season, whose other stint abroad was with the Spokane Shine of the WPSL in 2012; she has been capped at the youth level by Scotland). New signing Teegarden explained, "I feel like I'm doing well. Nats, Lisa and I have a good rotation and play well off each other because we're all a little bit different but I think we've done well, especially against City's really good midfield, so I think it was a great match up. We fought tooth and nail and that was evident by the result and as a team we've improved every single week, which is extremely important, especially tactically. The biggest thing for us is that we keep our mentality really strong. We can't let any game go off just because it's [the] League Cup and not the League. We need to take Spartans very seriously and continue to improve and not feel confident just because of the City result. [Celtic defeated Spartans 4-1 in that League Cup match on March 1.] On the win over Glasgow City, Teegarden said: "It just shows how much more competitive this league can be. There are so many more leagues where there are one or two leaders and then the rest drop off, so to beat the champions in our home opener straight away shows how much more competitive the Scottish league can be."

Teegarden played collegiately at Wake Forest University in the States and was on the North Carolina Courage roster in 2018 when they won the league but did not appear in any matches. Internationally, she played in France (with Lille) and Sweden (with Gothenburg in 2017); she is also excited to be playing in Scotland as she is engaged to Ian Harkes, who plays at Dundee United, and they now are with clubs in the same country.

American forward Summer Green joined Celtic from Swedish side Vittsjo during the latest transfer window (January of 2020) in time for preseason training in Gran Canaria, where Celtic lost to German side Bayer Leverkusen 3-1. Green has been a U.S. youth international at various levels including the U-23's and played in the 2014 under-20 Women's World Cup in Canada. She played 18 matches for surprise third place packet Vittsjo in the Damallsvenskan in Sweden last season and played a few games across the 2017 and 2018 season for the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL. In her early games with Celtic, she has been proficient in front of the net, scoring twice in two matches at the preseason camp in Spain.

Celtic have a new coach this season in Spain's Fran Alonso. Alonso spent 13 months at Lewes FC in the FA Women's Championship in England (Second Division). Prior to that, Alonso was Ronald Koeman's assistant at Everton and a technical coach at Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino. He explained his move to Glasgow when he said, "When Celtic want you, you can't say no. Celtic is about passion, heart and soul, about the love of great attacking football." He replaces Eddie Wolecki Black, who led Celtic to consecutive third place finishes in the SWPL1 in his two seasons, before leaving for Motherwell to lead the women's football department.

Other imports on Fran Alonso's squad include Spanish forward Ana (Anita) Marcos (19), who played parts of 3 previous seasons with Atletico Madrid's first team, being selected for 16 games over 3 years with 1 goal with the team that won league titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19. She was also a U-19 international got Spain, winning the title in Northern Ireland in 2017 and again in Switzerland in 2018. She finished at Atletico B's team top scorer for the past three years. Brenda Lopez Castellano (Brenda) is another Spanish import who Alonso signed during the preseason camp in Gran Canaria. Brenda played for CD Femarguin, the host club of the tournament the Hoops participated in.

Among holdover import players is Josephine Giard, who moved from Germany to join Celtic in 2018 and worked on her college degree in molecular biotechnology. She played 98 games for Gutersloh in Germany, scoring 39 times. Republic of Ireland defender Keeva Keenan was the side's 2019 Player of the Year and started with Glasgow City in 2016 before joining Celtic two years later. At home she played with Shelbourne and debuted with Ireland last year in the European Champions qualifiers. English center half Jodie Bartley played in 2019/20 with Coventry United (12 games) in the English second tier and joined Celtic last September.

Among Scottish holdovers, Katherine Smart (33) gave up her football in Scotland at the age of 13 to concentrate on alpine ski racing, before returning to the game at Hutchinson Vale in 2018. Captain Kelly Clark is starting her 8th season with side and the central midfielder was team player of the year in 2014.


Rangers

Rangers sit on top of the league table after one game while the league is on hiatus, defeating Hearts 3-0 on February 23 at home; they hold a two goal difference advantage over Celtic, Hibs and Motherwell. The club has been in the top flight since 2009, after winning promotion in their first season from the second division (rival Celtic played in the top division in 2007-08). Rangers are now a full-time operation and fully integrated into their famous men's team organization. The women train at the club's high-performance training center in Milngavie, along with the men's U-18 side, men's development team and the men's first team squad. For the first season as part of this organization Malky Thomson has moved from his role of Head of Intermediate Academy in the boys Academy to coach the Women's side alongside Gregory Vignal. Malky has worked as a Manager, Assistant Manager, Reserve Coach and as a coach with various Academy age groups with clubs in leagues including the Scottish Premiership, the English Premier League and the English Championship as well as working abroad in India and Dubai. Vignal played at Rangers and Liverpool.

On the playing side, Rangers have two exciting young French imports in Lisa Martines (19), who signed in September 2019 and re-upped for six months in January 2020. She came from Montpellier and is a French international at the U-17 and U-19 level. The center-back was part of the French Under-19 side that came from behind to beat Germany in the final of the Women's Under-19 Championships in Paisley in July 2019. She missed the end of last season's campaign with Rangers after an injury, but scored two goals in a 3-0 SWPL Cup victory against Hamilton on March 1. Another Montpellier import is Daina Bourma (20), who played in 2018-19 with Montpellier and before that at powerhouse Lyon. She has also played with the French U-19 national side. She also joined in September and signed a one-year extension in January and was nominated for 2019 Goal of the Season at the SWF Awards.

One of the most interesting imports is Bala Devi (30) from India. She has played with Manipur Police (on two occasions), Eastern Sporting Union and KRYPHSA (Imphal, Manipur) at home before moving to Rangers this season. She has played for India's national team since 2005 and has 52 goals in 58 games since 2010. She also has led the Indian Women's League for the past two seasons and was All-India Football Federation Women's Player of the year in 2015 and 2016. She signed an 18-month contract in January of 2020 after trialing with the club in November 2019. She is reportedly the first Indian women to sign professional forms anywhere in the world—though a few have played at the semi-professional level in England—and this is another important step, along with the U-17 Women's World Cup (still scheduled for November 2020 in 5 markets around the country) for the country where women's football has struggled massively for respect. Her move came in part due to Rangers international partnership with Bengaluru FC that was started in September 2019. We will talk more about Bala Devi and Indian football in the weeks to come.

Zoe Ness (23) is English-born but a Scottish international (through Scottish parents) and has played at Durham and Lewes as well as Mallbackens IF in Sweden across 2 seasons, with 42 games and 8 goals; this will be her first season in the Scottish league. She is on a six month deal with an option for an extension. Ness has been capped nine times by Scotland, with her most recent coming in August in an 8-0 win over Cyprus. She has one goal for the full national side, in a 3-0 win against Poland in August 2018.

Other internationals at Rangers include Northern Ireland Demi Vance from Glentoran, who signed an 18 month contract in December 2019. Last season, Glentoran won the Irish Cup, League Cup and County Antrim Cup as well as finishing third in the seven team league (9 points behind Linfield and Sion Swifts, with the former winning the title on a +85 to +81 goal differential). She has won over 60 caps since 2008 for Northern Ireland and was last season's Player of Year in the NIFL. Vance discussed her move, "First and foremost we want to win the league, I think that is what we are all striving for which is good because I think everyone has the same goal and we want to get to Champions League football….Champions League football is where everyone wants to play."

Another Northern Ireland international joining Rangers is Megan Bell (18), who has played the past four seasons at Linfield before joining Durham in 2019, scoring 2 goals in 10 games. Bell has been capped at the U-17, U-19 and full international level. She signed a two year contract in January. Megan started her Gers career with two goals in her league debut in a 3-0 win over Hearts and could be a fantastic find for the club.

Sonia O'Neill (25) was born in Toronto, Canada and has had quite a journey as a professional. After playing collegiately for Niagara University and the University of North Florida, she has played in Sweden with Husqvarna FF (for two months but had to leave for visa issues) and then went to Italy with Roma (then in the second division) and Pink Bari on loan in Serie A. In 2019 she played with ZKN Split in Croatia in order to experience Champions League (who unfortunately only defeated Bettembourg of Luxembourg while falling to FC Minsk of Belarus and Kharkiv of Ukraine in their Group in the Preliminary (Qualifying) Round. She also lined up for Fluery in France last season. Internationally, O'Neill was eligible to play for Canada, Venezuela, Italy, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In late October 2019, she was called up by Venezuela, who had brought in an Italian coaching staff that fall, and held camp in Rome. She explained her choice of national team, "Growing up I always felt a connection to my Venezuelan family. I always wanted to know more, always telling my Mom I wanted to live there. I feel connected to my Venezuelan roots, so that has always stood out." She is on a one year contract with Gers.

Scottish international goalkeeper Jenna Fife (24) joined Rangers last December from Hibernians and was in France last summer with Scotland at the World Cup and has 5 national team appearances. Another high profile signing is 27-year-old left-back Nicola Docherty from Glasgow City on a two year contract. She played at Rangers a decade ago and has been a full international since 2011 and, like Fife, went with Scotland to the WWC last summer. She has over 20 full caps and played at the U-19 and U-17 levels as well. She won the league with City 8 times since 2012, as well as five Scottish Women's Cups and four SWPL Cups. Additionally, Docherty has Champions League experience, having featured in the competition numerous times during City's dominance of the domestic league.

Kristen Reilly (24) played collegiately at the University of West Alabama from 2013-2016 and after time at Hearts, Stirling U. and Hibs, spent a brief time last season at Bristol City in England. She is on an 18 month contact.


Aberdeen FC

Aberdeen could also move up to the first division in the next year or two and could be another team to threaten, now fully integrated into the men's organization. Long in the top flight, they were demoted after the 2017 season, finishing with only 6 points from 21 games in the 8 team league and they then fell straight away in 2018 to the SWFL Division One North (third division) as 2 of 8 sides dropped down. However in 2019, they ran the table to finish undefeated and win the league, led by their captain Kelly Forrest. Starting their second season as part of the Don's First Division men's side, they utilize a number of players from the former Aberdeen Ladies side as they hope to again win promotion—this time from the Scottish Women's Premier League 2 to again join the top flight. Forward Marlijn Hermans (30) is their only import and she has come from the Netherlands—she had previously played over a decade ago in the States at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.



Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey

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