By Tim Oliver
The 2017 SWPL season getting underway on Sunday, it promises to be even more exciting than last season. Here we preview each of the 16 SWPL clubs.
2016 Position: 7th – SWPL 1
Opening Fixture: Spartans (home)
2016 was a year to forget for Aberdeen. When I was writing the season previews for 2016, Aberdeen were talked about as a challenger for the second Champions League place. In the end, they were fortunate to avoid relegation. A team that had built a reputation for being difficult to break down suffered some chastening defeats, including an 8-0 defeat to Hibernian.
July saw a change in management with their U21s coaching team, led by Head Coach Stefan Laird, promoted to the senior team. Whilst this brought just two wins over their final ten games, they were crucial wins in surviving the drop and they showed the attacking style that Laird wants to implement. They’ve also got a very young side, with their SWPL Cup First Round team having just one player in their 20s. It may be simple to just suggest that Aberdeen will be fighting against the drop and whilst that will be the immediate target, what will be a common thread is that they can do more than that. Aside from the top three SWPL 1 sides, any of the clubs could finish fourth or be relegated. Get a few good wins on the board early, and Aberdeen will be forgetting the troubles from last season.
Laird admitted that their initial target would be to “consolidate their place in the league” but also said he was really looking forward to the start of the season. On the issue of home advantage, Laird stated that “teams don’t like coming up to Aberdeen” and he felt that this was something the club could use to help them. But he also added that the team had to start home games quickly to make the stadium the fortress that they want.
They also have the issue that their usual home of Heathryfold Park is currently suffering from drainage issues so they are currently ‘homeless’. Wherever they end up, they will be hoping to make their home stadium a fortress once again.
New signing Jade McDonald said she was looking forward to fighting her way into the first team and described the opening match against Spartans as a “tough game”, but said that they were looking for a quick start and to score a quick goal or two. Whilst McDonald spoke about the club’s ambitions to be a top three side, she admitted that because the side will have to develop a lot of young players, this may have to be something they achieve over a few seasons. She described the biggest target for the club as “getting an established team, to work for each other and work hard”.
2016 Position: 3rd – SWPL 1
Opening Fixture: Hamilton Academical (Away)
Celtic will be hoping to make a continued progression towards closing down on the Champions League place, but with the competition so fierce, finishing third will be no mean feat. Of course, Celtic are expected to finish at least in the top three, but as Stirling and Spartans showed last season, anyone can beat anyone.
However, what is making people more excited about Celtic’s prospects is not only the players that have stayed at the club but the signings they have made. They’ve strengthened their defence with the signing of Kelly Hodges and signed two incredibly talented forwards in Sarah Crilly and Sarah Ewens from Glasgow City and Hibernian respectively. Crilly, in particularly, hit an incredible scoring streak at the end of last season, including a stunning goal in the Champions League against Eskilstuna United.
With an upcoming game to be played at Celtic Park, like last season, it does feel that the club is on the move towards that top two. If you look back at last season, the majority of the games between Celtic and the top two ended in narrow one-goal defeats for Celtic. The game that will make Celtic look back with probably the most optimism (coupled with annoyance) was the SSE Scottish Cup Quarter-Final when they outplayed Hibs for the first half and led 1-0, only for the Edinburgh side to make a comeback in the second half and win.
Forward Kirsty Howat said that the squad were “really looking forward” to the league starting, saying that whilst last season’s third-place was “successful” they would be looking to “hopefully get second or first.” Howat felt the new additions had “gelled well with the team”, but felt that their main target would be to get second and Champions League football, and “take points off City and Hibs”.
On the game against Stirling at Celtic Park, she described it as a “great opportunity for us to hopefully play in front of a big crowd.”
Looking closer to now with their opening game against Hamilton, she described them as a “good side” that will be “up for it”. But she said, “we just have to play our game and hopefully get three points.” On her personal ambition, she said: “hopefully play every game, stay away from injury and score as many goals as possible.”
2016 Position: Champions – SWPL 1
Opening fixture: Stirling (home)
Can Glasgow City win their 11th title in a row? They have been the story of Scottish Women’s Football for this century and they will be looking to continue their grip on the league. However, they face two challenges. Number 1, transfers. City have lost several players, but most notably Erin Cuthbert and Fiona Brown who were arguably two of their best players, if not their best. This means they have added several players, but as usual, they have brought in talented players such as Savannah Jordan, Lauren Silver and Noelle Murray. The question will be how quickly these players settle in.
Number 2, the continuing improvement of the league. On paper, City have an extraordinary record, losing just twice in eight years (both to Spartans) but not only have the sides like Hibernian and Celtic made huge strides forward, the other teams have done so. For example, they lost to Rangers in a pre-season friendly, and they lost both cup finals to Hibernian last season.
Their Head Coach Scott Booth declared that he was excited to get the season underway, but pointed out that it had been a long time since their last league game in October. He admitted that both Brown and Cuthbert were “star players” and that despite losing them, he said he was pleased that they had both been able to secure professional contracts. But he said that so far the new signings had managed to blend in well and he was looking forward to seeing how they play in their opening games of the season.
With City travelling to Hibernian on the final day of the season, there is a real possibility that the title race will go to the final day.
New signing Lauren Silver, who joined from Metz, said she was “really looking forward” to the start of the season, saying she was moved to City “to play a different style of soccer”. Silver talked about her desire to “learn as much as possible in my playing career” and admitted the chance to play in the Champions League was another reason to move to Scotland.
She said she was “really excited” for the game against Stirling, looking forward to the start of competitive league action and stated that she felt the new signings had settled in “seamlessly”.
2016 Position: Champions – SWPL 2
Opening Fixture: Celtic (home)
The SWPL 2 champions Hamilton Academical will most likely start the season as pre-season favourites to go down, but that is only by a tiny degree. Hamilton is a young side, full of goals but nearly saw the title slip away from them in August last season. Back-to-back defeats to rivals Glasgow Girls and Hearts meant that they had to win every single game left in the SWPL 2 to do so, and this was what they did, including a crucial last-minute winner against Buchan.
Hamilton’s top scorer in 2016 Lori Gardner described the new season as a “challenge” and something that the whole squad was looking forward to. Gardner had made her debut at senior level in 2015 when Hamilton were relegated and described the prospect of playing in the SWPL 1 as a chance to progress and develop.
This time last season, Hamilton were having to settle in a dozen new signings and Gardner admitted that it did take a while for the squad to adapt, but she described the squad as “a close group of people” and said that the new signings that they have made have been able to settle into that group.
Whether Gardner can keep finding the back of the net could be crucial in Hamilton’s prospects and she fully admitted that she had not expected to have scored so many goals last season, pointing out that in 2015 she had been playing as a right-back.
To win the SWPL 2 is a fantastic achievement, and they did so with their backs to the wall. Gary Doctor, their Head Coach, has spoken about taking each game at a time and his belief that this was more important this season. The reality of the situation is that Hamilton are unlikely to go on large winning runs, and definitely not the one they were on in the second half of the 2016 season.
But they know that if they can pick up some early wins, then they can go on and stay up. Plus, with some large crowds turning up at the Superseal Stadium, they will be back by a vocal support that will make Hamilton a difficult place to travel to.
2016 Position: 2nd – SWPL 1
Opening Fixture: Rangers (away)
Can Hibernian go one step further and secure the treble? 2016 was a fantastic season for Hibernian, winning the SWPL and SSE Scottish Cup Finals, playing at Easter Road in the Champions League in front of 2,551 fans and backed on by a deafening roar.
But, disappointingly, they lost all three of their league games to Glasgow City as they missed out on the title. Losing to Glasgow City in the league is something they desperately need to change if they are to win the title. And they can’t just focus on City, Celtic are breathing down their necks and they can’t take any of the other SWPL 1 clubs lightly.
They’ve made improvements to the squad by signing Amy Gallacher from Forfar Farmington and seeing Katey Turner and Hannah Reid return for their second spells with the club. They are also playing their home games at Ainslie Park, instead of Albyn Park, as they look to build their fanbase by being based in the capital.
Head Coach Chris Roberts stated that Hibs’ pre-season had been tough, but the whole squad was “looking forward to getting going.” On the game against Rangers, he described them as a “tough side” and with the two clubs meeting in the SWPL Cup Quarter-Finals and this was something that Roberts felt would allow both sides “to suss each other out”, but reiterated what a challenge Rangers would pose describing them as an “athletic team and they’ve got goals in them”.
Whilst Hibs will be going for the title, Roberts was clear that each team in the SWPL 1 can beat anyone on their day, and said that they would have to play at their best to pick up points.
Right-back Claire Williamson talked about her excitement of the start of the season, saying that the opening fixture against Rangers would be a “team not to be underestimated”, adding that they “have a lot of good young players”.
On the SWPL 1 competitiveness, she commented that “there’s going to be competition right across the league and that’s only a good thing”.
Whilst she spoke about Hibs’ desire to defend both cups won last year, she said that the club would not get ahead of themselves and would “take one game at a time”. But she added that the memories of those triumphs would act as inspiration.
2016 Position: 5th – SWPL 1
Opening Fixture: Hibernian (home)
Rangers currently do not have a permanent management team, however, there is a lot of confidence that they can improve on their 2016 performance.
Their squad is full of Scottish youth internationals and they have strengthened with the signing of Holly Napier. The victory against Glasgow City in pre-season has shown that they are in a strong position. They are in the group of clubs that are outside the pre-season title favourites, but look like they will be able to go at least one step further than last season and finish fourth.
Interim Manager Peter Kennedy said that this season, the club had added “a lot of young players with energy” and described pre-season as “excellent.” On their pre-season win over Glasgow City, he admitted that it was something the Rangers’ first-team had struggled with previously but described his young players as “fearless”.
With their opening game against Hibernian was “challenging but exciting” saying the reason why the players play senior football is to play clubs like Hibs so that they can “showcase how good they are”. He described Hibs as a “quality side with good young players and a good deal of experience”.
On Rangers’ target for the season, he admitted that with the young squad, they would be inconsistent so he would be looking for the club to consistently compete at the high level they have shown they can. This inconsistency happened last season, as they suffered a few heavy defeats and this will be something they will want to improve on this season.
2016 Position: 6th – SWPL 1
Opening fixture: Aberdeen (away)
Suzy Shepherd’s second season in management will see the Edinburgh club look to secure a top-four position once again.
If you compare their first half of 2016 to the second half, there is a huge difference. In the first half, they looked like they could even break into the top three, especially after beating Glasgow City 3-0. But in the second half of the season, they lost eight games, winning just one and drawing the other. This saw them slip down the table to sixth.
They’ve made some impressive signings over the pre-season. Alana Marshall has returned after leaving the club last summer, and has been made captain and Spartans’ fans will be looking forward to seeing her score more stunning free-kicks. They’ve also added goals with the loan signing of Carla Boyce from Glasgow City.
Colette Cavanagh stated that pre-season had gone well and that Spartans’ aim was to finish in the top four. With Hibs’ playing at Ainslie Park, she said they wanted to make the stadium “ours” but also “to play a consistent game”.
On Marshall returning, she felt that “she has given us a lot of experience in our game” and added that the new signings gave the club “fresh ideas”.
She said she was looking forward to the game against Aberdeen, saying that they would “have to play well and see what they can do.”
2016 Position: 4th – SWPL 1
Opening fixture: Glasgow City (away)
Stirling University was probably the standout team in 2016. Whilst Glasgow City winning ten titles in a row was a moment of Scottish history, they were expected to win the title at the start of the season. However, Stirling was seen as one of the relegation candidates this time last year. And whilst they started the season with just three wins in the first half of the 2016 season, they won six out of their final ten games to finish fourth on the final day.
They are an exciting team that have now established themselves as a top-flight team and they will be looking to at least replicate this top-four finish. To do so, they will have to focus on winning the opening series of games. Last season, they failed to beat the teams around them at the start and if they do that, they may find themselves in a possible relegation battle.
Captain Lauren Gallon admitted that they would be looking to finish fourth again and said that of their opening fixture against Glasgow City that “we relish every opportunity” and they would look to “get off to the best start possible”.
She stated that Stirling would be “looking to pick up points where they had lost them last season”, but admitted that the SWPL 1 was “a lot more competitive looking this year”.
2016 Position: 6th – SWPL 2
Opening Fixture: Hearts (away)
Buchan is an indication of the strength of the SWPL 2. They were a thorn in several of the sides, notably Hearts and Hutchison Vale, and yet ended up sixth. They will be looking to improve on what they did last season, and pick up more reliable results but it should be stated their geographic position gives them more challenges than their other SWPL 2 clubs.
With the addition of Forfar Farmington, Motherwell and East Fife to the SWPL 2, it means that the league has become even more competitive this season with all eight sides looking to start the season with the ambition of winning the title.
This means that once again they will need to keep their home ground as a fortress. 15 of their 21 points that they picked up came at home, and they only lost three games as well as drawing with Hearts twice. However, they did struggle on their travels, winning only twice, both times against Hutchison Vale.
Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale
2016 Position: 4th
Opening fixture: Glasgow Girls (home)
2017 saw Edinburgh University and Hutchison Vale launch a partnership together which sees the club now play their games at Peffermill Playing Fields. Last season, as Hutchison Vale, they finished fourth but were unlucky not to find themselves in the title race.
They took points off all of the three title contenders, including victories over Hamilton and Glasgow Girls, but they failed to show enough consistency over the season. For example, they only won four games at home (out of ten) and only scored in those four games. If they have hopes of breaking into the title race, they will have to improve their home form.
They fared better on their travels, picking up 18 points (compared to 13 at home) and only failed to score in two away games.
Karen Hanson said that with the new EUHV partnership, the whole squad was “super excited” to see what the season would bring. She said that the Peffermill pitch was “pretty large” but felt that it would benefit them, saying that “because the pitch is so hard, hopefully, that will contribute to our fitness levels”. With the club training at Peffermill as well, Hanson said the facilities were “class, second-to-none really”.
After last season’s performance, she felt that would give them confidence that EUHV could mount a title challenge, but said that “the league was so unpredictable.” She said that they would “look to maintain on our performances from last year and hopefully build on that”, saying that her personal opinion was that EUHV were an underdog.
On their opening game against Glasgow Girls, she said: “It’s always interesting, it’s always a good battle.”
2016 Position: 1st – Champions SWFL Division One North
Opening Fixture: Forfar Farmington (away)
East Fife may have been promoted to the SWPL 2, but they come up with plenty of confidence. They reached the SWFL Division One Cup Final but lost narrowly 2-1 to Hibernian’s talented Development side but impressively, they won the division with a 100% rating.
Even the fact that they only lost 6-0 to Hibernian in the SWPL Cup First Round shows that they are in a position to do well in the SWPL 2.
On the upcoming season, Teri Skivington said, “We’re all really excited, feeling positive from last season so hopefully we can continue that and get some results.”
Kerry Walker, on the game against Forfar, said: “I think it’s good to start our season off against Forfar, an away trip for us and hoping for a good result in our first game in the Premier League ”.
She felt that they could turn King George V Park into a home fortress due to a lot of their fellow clubs playing on 3G, whereas East Fife plays on grass so “they would look to use that to help us this season.” Skivington described their defeat to Hibs in the SWPL Cup as “a good experience” for them, whilst Walker added that “they had held them really well for 25 minutes, we only conceded two in the first 45 minutes and the coach Liz [Anderson] at half-time was really positive with everything we had done in the 45 minutes.”
On the target, she said East Fife would be looking to “cement our place in the SWPL 2”.
2016 Position: 8th – Relegated from SWPL 1
Opening Fixture: East Fife (home)
Having been relegated from the SWPL 1, Forfar Farmington will start amongst the title favourites for the upcoming SWPL 2 season.
They may have lost players from last season, they have made some astute signings and will take huge confidence from a narrow defeat to Celtic in the SWPL Cup First Round.
Last season they picked up just six points but they were highly unlucky at times with certain results and there were a couple of results that were close to becoming Forfar victories.
Goalkeeper Chantelle McKay said that the squad as “really looking forward to it, and can’t wait to get started.” She felt that Forfar would be challenging for the title, saying that as they had been relegated, they would be “obviously going for it [the title]”. However, she did acknowledge that there would be several teams challenging for the title, alongside Forfar.
McKay called the SWPL 2 a “tough division” but she felt that they would be able to continue their good work in pre-season into their opening game. She felt that East Fife would be “challenging”, especially as they had just been promoted, but felt that Forfar would be able to get a good result.
2016 Position: 3rd – SWPL 2
Opening Fixture: Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale (away)
Glasgow Girls were probably the surprise package of the 2016 SWPL 2 season, coming within two points of the title.
They led the league at the mid-season break last year after beating Hamilton Academical, but a defeat to Hearts saw them fall behind in the race. An unfortunate goalkeeper injury crisis meant they had to play a midfielder in goal for crucial title-race matches at the end of the season that inevitably affected their ability to beat Hamilton and Hearts.
During 2016, they only lost four matches (two at home and two away) but the main difference between them and their title rivals had been the number of goals they scored. Hamilton scored 87, Hearts 71 whilst Glasgow Girls scored just 59.
Charmaine McGuire stated that the squad was in a confident mood ahead of their game against EUHV, hoping that they “could put in a good performance.” After missing out on the title last season, she said that they would be looking to go one step further saying that they were “quite disappointed where we finished”.
She described their SWPL Cup defeat to Aberdeen as “a bit disappointing and not to our standards.”
On their opening league game against EUHV, she said that “she always loved a good game against Hutchie Vale, they’re a good team, a really good setup as well… they always give us a good game, they know that we have threats and we know they have threats.”
2016 Position: 2nd – SWPL 2
Opening Fixture: Buchan (h)
Hearts came so close to the SWPL 2 title last season, finishing two points behind the champions (as did Glasgow Girls).
Having lost just two games last season, they were a tough side to beat, but they only picked one point up from the two crucial title games in October and ultimately that cost them the title. But they have kept the core of their squad together, including top scorer Ashley Carse as well as making some big signings, including Katie Reilly.
They’ve built up a fortress at King’s Park, and they will be looking to win their opening fixture against Buchan having drawn twice against them away in 2016. They have now gone ten months unbeaten at home in all competitions and if they can keep that record going, they will surely be in the mix for the title once again.
Megan Paterson described the SWPL 2 as a “great competitive league” and stated that they were looking to continue their good home form. She also praised the players for their hard work in training and that they would be “taking each game as they come”.
Hearts have already had an impressive start to the season, beating Hamilton in the SWPL Cup First Round, and have been rewarded with an away tie to Celtic. And Stewart pointed out, that even though this would be a difficult game, “if we want to win the league, that is where we are aiming to be.”
And whilst Stewart admitted that Hearts were looking to win the title, she also stated that every team in the league was wanting to do that.
2016 Position: 5th – SWPL 2
Opening Fixture: Motherwell (a)
Jeanfield Swifts built up a great reputation in 2016 as an attacking side, with Danni McGinley finishing 2016 as the top scorer in the SWPL.
Jeanfield scored 70 goals last season, finishing just behind the top two sides in terms of the league’s scoring chart but the fact that they had the fourth best goal difference tells a story. If they can improve on this slightly, they could find themselves challenging for the title.
Danni McGinley felt that the SWPL 2 suited Jeanfield with how “they wanted to play” and that she was looking forward to the season starting.
Jeanfield lost their SWPL Cup game to Glasgow City and described it as a “great experience” saying that it gave the young team an idea of where they currently were, and in what areas they had to improve in. McGinley said that the new signings they had made had improved them as an attacking side and said that “hopefully they would be able to provide us with even more goals”.
She said the target for the season was “just to continue to develop. As I said, we’re an ambitious club and we continue to look to develop all the time.”
Jeanfield has not played Motherwell before and McGinley was looking forward to playing them, saying that the club had done their homework.
2016 Position: Champions – SWFL Division One South
Opening Fixture: Jeanfield Swifts (h)
Having won the SWFL Division One South, Motherwell now find themselves in the SWPL 2 and they have already shown that they are more than capable in the competition. In previous seasons they have had impressive cup runs, beating established SWPL sides, as well as troubling Spartans in the SWPL Cup First Round.
Stacey Cook said that Motherwell were “so looking forward” to the start of the SWPL 2, describing pre-season as “really long”. On their SWPL Cup defeat to Spartans, where they lost 4-3, Cook felt that “with an extra ten minutes, it would have probably been a draw” and called it a great experience for the younger players in the squad.
She spoke confidently about Motherwell’s ambition to get into the SWPL 1, saying that she “hopefully they did really well in [SWPL 2] and get promoted to Prem 1”.
On their squad, she felt that “we’ve got the ratio right of experienced players and young players, whereas I think we’ve had too much experience. We’ve got a lot of younger players in now so hopefully, that will give us a wee boost and help us kick on this season.”
On the opening match against Jeanfield, she just said: “we cannot wait.”