After two promotions in three seasons, Dundee United Women’s Football Club will play in the Scottish Women’s Premier League for the first time in the 2019 season and the club couldn’t have asked for a more exciting clash to start off the SWPL 2 campaign, welcoming St Johnstone to the City of Discovery.
Manager Gavin Beith believes that it is a fantastic way to start the season, saying: “We’ve never faced St Johnstone before and to have a derby to begin the campaign has got the girls right up for it. St Johnstone will feel exactly the same. It’s going to be a difficult game and they have done really well over the last two or three seasons in the league. They know what the league is all about so it’s a challenge that we welcome and look forward to.”
If any new supporters are keen to identify any key individuals for the side, they won’t receive a definitive answer from the manager as he is confident in the whole squad’s abilities. After being questioned about star players, Beith admits it is a difficult question to answer.
He continues by explaining that: “I think all my players are going to play a major part in this season, there won’t be one player singled out. I think I have a talented squad and I believe in every single one of them. They believe in themselves and it’s just a case of them showing that.”
Although the club welcome impressive attendance figures to the women’s matches, Beith feels that recent developments in the game could tempt even more Arabs into taking in matches. He states: “It’s a big year for women’s football. I think it’s grown since the national squad qualified for the World Cup. The announcement of Celtic going full time and the investments at Hearts and Rangers shows there’s a lot going on. It’s probably in the spotlight more than ever.
“The girls turn up off their own back and volunteer because they love playing football and they deserve a little bit of support. That’s not just for our team but right across the board. I think every player deserves that little bit of recognition and support. So come along and try it, there’s no better place to be on a Sunday than watching us play.”
It’s not just the manager who is raring to go, but captain Keira Johnstone and her teammates Katie Caine and Laurie Ross also can’t wait for their opening day clash with St Johnstone.
Speaking days after their first pre-season outing, a 5-1 win at Montrose, the pair exclaim: “We’ve continued to train since the end of the season, we were all happy to and we feel fit and ready to go for the new season.
“It was nice to get back into a game again at Montrose, spirits are high after last season and it was just good to get back into the swing of things really.”
Striker Ross has been out injured since October but is hopeful of a return to action soon, saying: “I’ve not played since the end of the season but tonight is my first night back at training and fingers crossed I can be back for the opening game against St Johnstone.”
Despite not playing, she has noticed the level-headedness amongst the many young players in the DUWFC squad and believes they can all cope at the higher level of SWPL 2.
“There are a lot of good young players in the team, they’re not scared and they’ve done well the last two years. There isn’t really a big goal in their head, they just want to keep working hard in training and see how they get on against the bigger teams.”
Next season will be the first time United have played at that level but the players are full of confidence ahead of the step up. Johnstone said: “I definitely think we’re ready to make the step up. It’s been a long three seasons hoping to get there but now is the time, we need to go up and do our best and just take each game as it comes.”
After winning the club’s Player of the Year award last year, she also believes she can keep that form going into next season.
“That was a great achievement for me, I’ve just got to keep doing what I was doing last season and I can hopefully continue that.”
Caine knows the same can be said of the whole squad, saying: “Right now, the idea is to take it one step at a time, to play to the absolute best of our ability. We want to do the best we can, to do ourselves proud, to do the club proud and to do Gav the coach proud, we’re just excited at the opportunity just now.”
Last season saw Motherwell romp to the SWPL 2 title and defy all expectations to reach the Scottish Cup final, albeit losing heavily in the final to Hibs, but Ross doesn’t think they should be comparing themselves to that team.
She said: “Motherwell’s achievement was unheard of but we just want to go into the league and compete. We’ve never played these teams before so we don’t know where we are compared to them. We’ll just work hard and see how we get on but we can’t compare ourselves to Motherwell.”
With the national side having qualified for their first ever World Cup, which will take place this summer and both Glasgow City and Hibs involved in next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League, interest in women’s football in the country has risen, and all three players hope that more Dundee United fans will come out to watch the side on a Sunday.
Caine said: “Playing at Tannadice was great, that was a massive turnout for us (423 fans watched as United secured the title against Cove in October) and a massive show of respect for the girls. It boosted spirits an incredible amount.
“The folk that come along regularly are an inspiration to us, it makes it enjoyable playing for our people, the more we can get to come along and watch and make the women’s game as big as it could possibly be would be beneficial to everyone.”
Ross believes that the women’s game is getting bigger in Scotland and is of more interest to people now. She said: “There are lots of families across at Tannadice with lots of young girls so it’s good for them to see other girls on the pitch instead of men.
“There was a good crowd at Tannadice and lots of them said they were surprised by the level so that’s good.”
Johnstone also believes that more people should come to the watch the girls, saying: “We have a good squad, we move the ball around well and look to score lots of goals so I feel they’d enjoy coming to watch us.”
Dundee United Women’s Football Club begin their first season in SWPL 2 with a home clash against Tayside neighbours St Johnstone at the GA Arena, opposite Tannadice, on Sunday 10th February.