The Rise of Women’s Football in Scotland

By Robbie Hanratty (RHanratty99)

“We want more people tuning in and taking notice of women’s football” – Scotland legend Julie Fleeting MBE tells UWS News via Anyone’s Game, Scotland’s women’s football podcast.

With over a century of caps to her name, Julie Fleeting is the face of Scottish women’s football, which has grown remarkably in the past decade with technology playing its part.

“There was no social media when I started but with it women’s football is getting more and more publicity.”

Football: Julie Fleeting makes debut in Glasgow City's 4-1 cup win over  Aberdeen | The National
Julie after winning her 100th cap for the national team.

“Nowadays people will know who the teams are, who the players are. Whereas before it was very hard to have any information about who the players were or who they played for.”

“There are some amazing footballers that Scotland has produced in the women’s game. They play great football and are exciting to watch” said Julie, who now balances punditry work at the BBC with life as a school P.E teacher.

Julie names Caroline Weir, who started her career in Scotland at Hibernian and now is a star player at Manchester City in the English Women’s Super League, as a perfect example of Scotland now producing world class talent.

Erin Cuthbert who now plays for Chelsea as well as the Scotland national team is also another player she quotes to have been massively successful. Cuthbert started her career playing for Scottish sides Rangers, and Glasgow City before making the move to what could be seen as the best women’s league in the world.

“It might not be exactly the same as the mens game and we should never pretend it is, but it can still be just as entertaining.”

“There are a lot of people working really hard to try and show the general public that this is a sport that you can enjoy. Come along when you can and support your local team.”

Julie’s former side Glasgow City have been the dominant force in Scottish women’s football across the last decade, winning almost every trophy available and flying the flag for Scotland in the Champions League where they reached the quarter final stage last season.

This season in both the Scottish Building Society SWPL 1 and the SWPL2 there are many teams that can win the league.

Celtic and Rangers have invested heavily in their women’s sides having now joined Glasgow City in becoming full time clubs. Attracting established players from the WSL in England.

This is how the SWPL 1 currently looks with Glasgow City, Celtic and Rangers all vying to be champions.

The number of registered female players in Scotland almost doubled in the last five years.

In 2015, 9,286 women were playing football in Scotland, now in 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish FA latest figures show that this number has risen again. It is estimated that around 17,230 women are involved in women’s football in Scotland.

In 2019 alone, participation jumped by 21 per cent .

These statistics combine player registrations plus the numbers they have participating in soccer schools around the country. 

The success of the Scotland Women’s national team in recent times, where they featured for the first time at both the UEFA European Women’s Championships in 2017 and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019, has played its part in the growth of the game.

The World Cup in France where Scotland bowed out in controversial style to Argentina, also saw record high viewers in Scotland for a women’s game. While Scotland’s defeat to England at the tournament became the UK record for the most watched women’s game of all time drawing in over six million viewers to the BBC.

Robert Wilson, the Marketing & Communications Officer of Scottish Women’s Football, said “We have signed the biggest ever broadcast deal with BBC ALBA for the 2020/21 season and established a new partnership with BBC Scotland for showcasing future games.”

“Before BBC ALBA became involved, next to no women’s matches within Scotland were broadcast live.”

Kilmarnock Women’s captain, Laura Neil who’s side play in the SWPL 2 said, “This year especially I have noticed a big difference. We have been treated a lot more like professionals this season. Whereas before it maybe wasn’t as smoothly run. There maybe wasn’t as much structure in the women’s game”

“In the past couple of years especially, I have noticed a lot more focus being put on women’s football. People are now coming and watching us in the Scottish Women’s Premier League two and I hope eventually it’s going to go down to all the women’s leagues in Scotland.”

“Over the next few years I feel it’s definitely going to keep growing, media wise as well.”

Neil found her pathway into playing football through someone coming into her primary school with the idea of starting up a fun session for girls. Then from there she was scouted for a development session which led onto her playing for Hamilton Accies.

Now Neil finds herself at Kilmarnock, where she has become a star player over the past six seasons.

Hamilton Women’s captain Ellie Kane said she also found Scottish women’s football is a lot more professional these days.

“Before covid, we had one night a week where we would go into training early and spend a large amount of time on tactical analysis. We would watch lots of video footage and analyse it really closely.”

“The stuff the coaches put into our group chats and the feedback they give us: it’s so in depth. Obviously before covid we felt we could discuss it more as we’d actually be in the changing room with them but considering the times we are living in, they do a great job.”

Currently, the SWPL 1 has eight teams and the SWPL 2 has ten teams.

For the next season this is going to grow.

Robert Wilson from Scottish Women’s Football said, “As outlined publicly, the SWPL 1 & SWPL 2 will have ten teams in each league for the following season. Our AGM is also tomorrow, so there will likely be a further update around potential areas of expansion/change released on Friday.”

Hopefully women’s football can shine bright again once the season is allowed to resume.

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