The Scottish Women's Premier League 1 begins on Sunday, once again with eight teams competing for the league title. Last season, Glasgow City won their twelfth consecutive title unbeaten, with Hibernian finishing just three points behind them. However, the gap between the top two and the rest of the league appears to be closing, albeit gradually, thanks to investment from the likes of Celtic, Motherwell and Rangers.
Celtic’s manager Eddie Wolecki Black has brought in four new players ahead of the new season. Kirsty McLaughlin and former Scotland international Emma Black have joined the club from Motherwell; both 31, they will bring experience in midfield and defence respectively. Winger Kodie Hay, whose younger sister Brogan plays for Rangers, has joined from Hamilton, while 31-year-old attacking midfielder Katherine Smart has signed from Hutchison Vale.
On the other hand, Sarah Crilly, Georgie Rafferty, Claire Adams and Stephanie Knox are all off to Motherwell, while Colette Cavanagh has recently put pen to paper with Hibernian.
Two players to keep an eye on are Kathleen McGovern, a talented 16-year-old who found the back of the net against the likes of Glasgow City and Hibernian last season, and German forward Josephine Giard.
Forfar have announced the appointment of Stevie Baxter as their new head coach ahead of the 2019 campaign, and they have strengthened their squad with the signing of Hannah Stewart from Glasgow City; she spent three months on loan at Forfar last season, scoring once in seven appearances, before rejoining the Scottish champions.
The attacker, who made her UEFA Women's Champions League debut on 27 September at Petershill Park against Somatio Barcelona, scored three goals in 15 appearances for Glasgow City. Stewart is certainly a player to watch, and so is 20-year-old Donna Paterson, who joined the club towards the end of last season.
The Scottish champions have managed to keep hold of their core players, although they have lost Abbi Grant - who was the club's top scorer last season with 22 goals in all competitions - to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht.
Three returning players to watch are goalkeeper Lee Alexander, forward Kirsty Howat, who scored 20 goals in all competitions last season and is, therefore one of the favourites to win the Golden Boot, and highly-impressive 16-year-old defender Carly Girasoli, who has already played over 500 minutes of Champions League football.
Grant Scott's first season in charge saw Hibernian lift both the SWPL Cup and the Scottish Women's Cup for the third year in succession, securing a historic treble-double. They came very close to winning the league for the first time since 2007 as well, but ultimately finished in second place – three points behind Glasgow City.
It has been a busy off-season for the Ainslie Park-based side. Midfielder Lisa Robertson, who wore the captain's armband last season in Joelle Murray's absence, has left to join FA Women's Championship side Durham. Defender Emma Brownlie has signed with Everton, reuniting with manager Willie Kirk. Abi Harrison, who scored a remarkable 33 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions last season, has joined Bristol City, while Rachel McLauchlan has signed with West Country rivals Yeovil Town.
Three players have been brought in: 17-year-old Leah Eddie, who can play at centre-back or as a holding midfielder and has been capped for Scotland at U17 and U19 level, has joined from Rangers. Goalkeeper Sara Robson has joined from Hawick United, while Colette Cavanagh, who can play as a full-back or in midfield, has signed from Celtic.
Scott has also announced that 17-year-old forward Kirsty Morrison, 17-year-old defender Kirsten Laing and 22-year-old defender Shannon Leishman have all been promoted from the U23s to the first team. Two players to keep an eye on are Jamie-Lee Napier, who scored 10 goals in all competitions last season including a hat-trick in the Scottish Cup final, defender Siobhan Hunter, and captain Joelle Murray, who is finally healthy again.
It has been a busy off-season for Motherwell, and the result is that the women of steel will look a lot different from the team that won the SWPL 2 title and reached the Scottish Women's Cup final last season, but they certainly seem to have have what it takes to stay up.
Motherwell have signed four players from Celtic: midfielder Sarah Crilly, who has made four senior appearances for Scotland, is joined by former youth internationals Georgie Rafferty and Claire Adams, who play in defence and midfield respectively, and defender Stephanie Knox, who spent the first half of last season on loan at Motherwell before returning to Celtic.
Two players, forward Lori Gardner and midfielder Katie Rice, who has been capped at various youth levels by Scotland, have joined the club from Lanarkshire rivals Hamilton. Six players have joined from SWPL 2 sides: promising 16-year-old midfielder Chelsea McEachran has signed from Central Girls, 15-year-old defender Morgan Hay from Glasgow Girls, midfielder Beth McLeod from Hutchison Vale, defender Kirsten Rolph and goalkeeper Morgan Hunter from Kilmarnock, and defender Stacey Hutchison from Heart of Midlothian. An interesting addition is Mhairi Fyfe, who returns to Scottish football after a six-year absence: the former Hutchison Vale and Celtic forward played in the United States for Campbellsville University from 2013 to 2015 and for Louisville University in 2016.
Manager Donald Jennow has also announced that forward Sam McManus has been promoted from the development squad, and that Northern Ireland international Kerry Montgomery, goalkeeper Kendall Welsh, forward Hayley Cunningham, who has been capped three times by Scotland, and defenders Maxine Welsh and Natasha Roberts have all re-signed with the club. Forward Caitlin Russell, who has made her loan spell from Hibernian permanent, completes the squad.
Things look to be moving in the right direction for Rangers, who finished fourth in the league last season. In addition to 16-year-old midfielder Laura McCartney, who joined the club towards the end of the 2018 season from Glasgow City, manager Amy MacDonald has announced the signing of Ellis Dalgliesh, who has previously played for Celtic and Durham and represented Scotland at various youth levels. Three returning players to keep an eye on are 18-year-old midfielder Amy Muir, who was named Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year for the 2018 season, experienced captain Clare Gemmell, and midfielder-turned-attacker Jade Gallon, who scored nine league goals last season.
Stirling University, who narrowly escaped relegation from the top flight last season, have not signed any new players, but they have continued to play football in the BUCS league, albeit with mixed results. Two returning players to watch are goalkeeper Chloe Logan, who was named Player of the Year and Player's Player of the Year for the 2018 season, and midfielder Abby Callaghan, who has represented Scotland at all youth age groups.
Having narrowly escaped relegation last season, Spartans have strengthened their squad with the signings of Beth McKay, who spent the first half of the 2018 season at Stirling University before joining Hibernian, and of Scotland U17 captain Robyn McCafferty, a promising 15-year-old centre-back who is set to be one of the youngest players in the top flight. Two players to look out for are 17-year-old midfielder Elena Santoyo-Brown and goalkeeper Rachel Harrison, who has recently received her first Scotland call-up in two years.