Some Problems for Woman’s Football in Scotland

The FIFA Women’s World Cup has been lauded as a game-changer, a moment of huge cultural shift. In terms of coverage it has gone mainstream with 11 million people watching the US-England game in the UK, in terms of culture it has been ‘normalised’ and it is a breakthrough moment where iconic images and stars came to the fore and a generation of girls and young women have role-models to look up to.

Megan Rapinoe’s goal celebration stance provoked adulation from women enjoying its unashamed triumphalism.

But while the game is having it’s ‘breakthrough’ moment there are considerable problems ahead in Scotland. Amongst the celebrations, the game may be about to come across some harsh realities. Like most of the big set-piece events (see Glasgow Commonwealth) the question of ‘legacy’ is rearing its difficult head.

The issues are many, but here are three ones for the game in Scotland. How do you create a professional league in a game watched by so few people? How do you create ‘equality’ in a sport where the male counterparts are (sometimes) paid stupid-money? How much do you create a different culture/ethos and how much do you mimic the men’s game?

Numbers

The number of women and girls playing football in Scotland has almost doubled in the last five years, according to figures from the Scottish FA and Scottish Women’s football. The total registered with the governing bodies has increased from 7,126 in 2014-15 to 14,071 in 2018-19. This sounds good, and is quickly improving, but is still low.

There are currently no professional or semi-professional teams in Scotland. Glasgow City, from where most of the Scotland team have come, only muster a couple of hundred for a home game. Even the English top league has an average attendance of 1000 or so.

There’s a big big gap between Scotland and England, where the bloated Premiership is disgorging millions into the women’s game, sensing a lucrative new market and a marketing opportunity. Scotland has nothing like that, though the SFA is supposed to spend the £1.2 million it will receive from FIFA back into women’s football.

Dani Garavelli, writing in Nutmeg explains:

“In Scotland many top flight clubs are still paying little more than lip-service to their women’s teams. Celtic, which promised to create the country’s first professional club, is understood to have struggled to have signed players, and its plans appear to have been put on hold.”

But is professionalisation the way to go at all?

Many ancient Scottish clubs with diehard loyal fans struggle on the brink of falling into amateur or semi-pro status. Wouldn’t it be better to build the game on an amateur basis and grow it organically? Such a thought is a heresy as we rush for ‘equality’ but mimicking the fragile economics and flawed sub-cultures of the men’s game seems like an odd direction given the pride in which women players (and fans) describe the different qualities of the game played by women: less diving, less cheating, less aggression and a better and family-friendly atmosphere. These are great qualities but ones which are likely to be tested in a pro-game.

One Club

One solution offered is for the women’s game to be nurtured by existing clubs. This is already well underway on the continent where it is seen as ‘one club, many teams’ and Hibs and Hearts are leading the way in Scotland. This approach is favoured by many as it puts women’s game in the same stadia and on an equal footing. But there are problems too. Are you going to take the kids to the men’s game and then to the women’s game too? How much is that going to cost?

Another approach is to create women’s clubs and cultures.

The success of Glasgow City (founded by Laura Montgomery and Carol Stewart in 1998) is one example. The club have won twelve consecutive SWPL league titles. It was formed in part to step away from the city’s sectarian culture, and in this sense it seems to be a pilot for creating alternate structures for the game.

Scotland-England

There are real problems with clubs having their best players pinched by English clubs boasting (relatively) huge fees and the potential for a professional career. If Scottish teams were to go down the amateur road they’d have to have a mechanism to cope with that. Protective contracts or a culture of developing talent over the long-term might be the way forward.

But some of the euphoria of the World Cup seems to lead to unrealistic expectations. Mimicking the male game, or chasing after England’s development may not be the best strategy. To get a sense of the asymmetrical nature of the two nation’s funding, it’s estimated that the production costs of one episode of BBC’s Match of the Day equals the entire tv budget for Scottish football. The same applies to women’s football.

While it’s easy to compare the demise of the men’s game and the rise of the women’s game, I’m not sure how helpful it is. Garavelli writes that: “In April the women’s squad beat Brazil (something the men’s team have never done.)” You can understand the temptation – but I’m not sure this is a meaningful comparison.

Nor does the belief in the SFA augur well. The SFA lack competence, imagination and credibility, and this is likely to be as true for women’s football as it has been for the men’s game.

Having said all this, the future is bright. Women’s football has arrived and is here to stay. It’s an inspiration.

But chasing the immediate goal of commercialisation may be its downfall.

There are many examples of sports that have accelerated and burnt out in that chase. The race to have ‘icons’ and high-paid players doomed the North American Soccer League in the 1980s and could be replicated here.

There are many qualities on display at the World Cup that exemplify the women’s game: integrity, endeavor and goodwill among them. But it may be they have their roots in amateurism (in its best sense) rather than gender.

 

 

Comments (9)

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  1. squigglypen says:

    Delighted women’s football is doing so well…but don’t forget the other sports that are historically female. How about sponsorship and media exposure for them.Remember at the London Olympics the women were the first to gain gold..rowers I think who financed themselves. Oh we must make sure women’s sport gets more help brayed the media….all claptrap.
    However if women’s football becomes like its male counterpart..they can wear fancy headbands/haircuts ( they have better hair anyway) and drive expensive cars and behave really badly….yeah right……women are too busy holding up the sky..

  2. Elaine Fraser says:

    Why the fuss? Surely any differences will easily disappear when the Scottish government introduce Self-ID?

    Why would our daughters bother to take up, never mind sacrifice and train hard, for any professional sport ?

    Not sure where you stand on this ? Do as I did and ask your MSPs ( all eight of them). Prepare to be ‘re-educated’.

  3. David McDonald says:

    I do agree that the SFA are not much use and very antiquated in their approach and probably still ruled by mysoginites, dinosaurs with ideas and attitudes that should be left to wither and die.
    However, I think I heard that one or two, hopefully more SPFL teams are now going to fund professional women’s team, Celtic I’m sure we’re mentioned in the piece on TV.
    I think we should commit fully to supporting the women’s game which has been neglected for too long.

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      David, you’re right the ‘Dinosaurs’ of the SFA past and present have all but ruined the male game and I see this as a non-supporter of football. We need a new and imaginative approach and certainly not relying on Scottish Government money unless this money is spread across all sports.

  4. Wliie L says:

    It would help if the BBC paid the appropriate amount into Scottish sport that they spend on English (and foreign sport).

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Not just the EBC paying something into Scottish sport but they spend a huge wedge of their sports budget on forcing Scotland to watch English football with a nice little back-hander to EBC, HQ in London for the doubtful ‘privilege’ of so doing!!!

  5. John Scott says:

    Scotland could only support one professional, womens team. Call it Bella Caledonia FC and ask to join the English league. The present league set up could continue with any talented girls being happy to stay in Scotland having signed pro terms with Bella.

    Forget concerns over independence closing this route to English riches. Scotland is now so gutless it will never leave the union.

    “Come on you quines”

  6. Martin Edmunds says:

    The money just isn’t there for Scotland to have a professional women’s league. But the growth of women’s football on an amateur basis is noteworthy and for any girl looking for a professional career Glasgow City and Hibs are definitely clubs to aspire to, both having been plundered recently by English professional clubs. That might not be ideal for the Scottish women’s club game, but for the women themselves its a route to a professional career that even 5 years ago was probably unthinkable .. on that basis a Scottish women’s league, even an amateur one, is a good thing.

    But one club, for example Celtic, having a professional women’s team would be a disaster .. how could any other women’s club compete with that, especially considering no other club in Scotland could possibly finance a professional women’s team. The women’s teams in England attached to the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd have wage bills for a season that Scottish clubs can only dream of, but that probably wouldn’t pay a months wages for a single one of those clubs men’s first team players …. ultimately that’s why England and Germany for example have women’s pro football and Scotland just cant and never will.

    Perhaps the way to go would be to have two professional women’s teams one in the west and one in the east playing in the English set up but financed by the SFA / SPFL through a tax on the whole of Scottish football where every club puts in a percentage according to its means, chuck in a sponsorship deal and various other income streams and it could be a goer … with only Scottish girls / women being able play for those clubs a bit like Athletic Bilbao in Spain.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    As a long-term follower of women’s international football, I have been somewhat disappointed by the overall quality in the World Cup. The last Euro’s seemed better, particularly the midfield play, to my recollection. Cynicism and outright cheating are on the rise, even with Video Assisted Refereeing, and the Scots (in the last twenty minutes of their final game) were among the offenders. Players regularly take a win-at-all-costs position in interviews, and the ever-slicker media segments and promotions are ever further from the gritty, even grimy, reality, almost to the point of self-parody. Netball gets the treatment next, I gather.

    I would rather Scotland won more friends that the Cup itself if they won it by ‘game management’ and all the darksider arts we’ve seen on display. Considering how horribly disadvantaged the Argentinian women’s squad was, the Scots could have showed them significantly more respect. To be fair to the England team, they weren’t as cynical as they had been under their last tournament manager, although there is something wrong with all those angry expressions. They kept their heads against the (in my view unfortunate and primed to expect discrimination, if ultimately unprofessional) Cameroon team.

    I hope the legacy of France 2019 will not be kids practising their VAR-fooling dives, like the one the USA used to get their second and decisive penalty against Spain.

    And who the hell travels round the world and pays to watch players roll the ball into the corner flag to preserve a lead ten minutes from the end? Where is the value for money for spectators that the USA is supposed to care about? Where is the individual freedom to play, when the teams are so regimented, drilled, focused on set piece exploitation?

    On the plus side, the standard of keeping has been pretty good, and there have been some fine headed goals, so pretty much all the traditional weaknesses at international level have been overcome in the women’s game.

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