Before the beginning of the 2016 SWPL 2 season, many people believed that the league would be more competitive than the top tier, with any team able to beat any other. However, there was a general belief that the title favourites were Hamilton Academical and Hearts.
You can see why. Hearts were incredibly unlucky to be relegated from the SWPL 1 whilst Hamilton had heavily strengthened their squad.
And yet, as Scottish Women's Football returns this Sunday, neither of those two teams are sitting at the top of the league. It is a team that went unmentioned, Glasgow Girls.
New format suits the First Division champions
For a reason why, you have to understand the creation of the SWPL 2. Formed in 2002, the Scottish Women's Premier League has been the top tier of the game ever since. But there were issues over lack of competitiveness, and around this point, the league split into the top six and bottom six.
So, for the 2016 season, the SWPL was split into two divisions (SWPL 1 and SWPL 2). The SWPL 1 was formed of the top eight sides in the 2015 SWPL season (Hearts finished 9th) whilst the SWPL 2 was formed of the 9th-12th teams in the 2015 SWPL as well as the top four sides in the 2015 SWFL First Division.
Generally, the SWPL reconstruction has been a success so far, but this was why Glasgow Girls went under the radar. Say, you still had the SWPL as it was. Glasgow Girls would be playing in the SWPL, and most likely would have struggled against the top-six teams (especially Glasgow City and Hibernian) and therefore would be expecting to fight against relegation.
But this ignored the reality of the SWPL 2. It was effectively the best of the First Division, the league that Glasgow Girls won, with four SWPL 1 sides. Any First Division side had/have a chance of winning the league.
Ambitions pave the way for success
Glasgow Girls had gone into the season in high spirits having won the 2015 SWFL First Division and enjoyed a successful off-season to the Gambia, which was part of FIFA 'Living Your Goals' Programme. The 2015 season had been manager George Patterson's first in management, and whilst he was massively grateful for the trust the club had put in his staff (Ally Cree, James Boyle and Andy Selkirk), he was aware of the immense challenges that the SWPL 2 would pose.
Patterson felt that there were two key additions in pre-season that helped. The club signed a sponsorship deal with Nuffield Health and Fitness, allowing their players to use the gym and health suite to their convenience. And he picked out the signing of ex-Scotland international Jayne Cameron, who he believed added experience to a young squad.
Patterson felt that at the SWPL launch in February 2016, it was strange that Glasgow Girls were thought of as relegation battlers rather than title contenders. This was partly because, in 2015, Glasgow Girls had won more points than any of the SWPL 2 sides, scored more goals, kept more clean sheets and were the only Champions in the SWPL 2.
But instead of bitterness, he felt it spurred Glasgow Girls on as his coaching team looked to make the club more competitive and tactically aware.
The chairman had told him that his objective was to stay in the SWPL 2, but this was not what his squad felt or wanted – they wanted to fight for the title. Despite having a smaller squad than Hearts and Hamilton, Patterson felt his small squad had the quality and winners required – such as Georgie McTear, Lauren Coleman, Sam McManus, Megan Logan and Lauren Evans.
Bad start; great recovery
Glasgow Girls got off to a bad start, losing to Hutchison Vale – who they had beaten a fortnight before in the SWPL Cup. He believed that during their first seven games (where they lost twice), they were still adapting to their new formation and possibly not scoring the number of goals he wanted. But over the season, they have become a disciplined side, hard to break down and dangerous going forward.
But Patterson praises his squad, saying they deserve the credit for their season as they work hard in training, with their togetherness and desire making them a joy to work with – as well as driving them nine wins out of eleven (and currently, seven wins in a row).
He also praises the improvement of players like Leigh Ferrol, Charmaine McGuire and Chloe Docherty, and highlights the importance of the whole squad to get through the season.
Patterson is aware that they will be chased down by Hearts and Hamilton – and possibly others like Hutchison Vale and Jeanfield Swifts – but he believes in his squad and club.
Glasgow Girls require three wins to achieve safety – their first aim – but they will not be resting on their laurels once that target is met.
Looking to the future, Glasgow Girls seems to be a highly ambitious club, and will be running a reserve team next season.
The question is though, can they hold onto first place?