Lop-sided SWPL still in state of transition

·4-min read
Lop-sided SWPL still in state of transition
Lop-sided SWPL still in state of transition

THE opening round of fixtures in the new-look SWPL produced some eye-catching scorelines. A double-figure win for defending champions Rangers against newly promoted Glasgow Women wasn't entirely unexpected given all the circumstances, but Celtic's 9-0 demolition of Hibernian certainly was.

Throw in Glasgow City's 7-0 win over Spartans and the top three from last season scored 30 goals without reply. It wasn't an ideal look at the start of the SPFL-run era.

Some social media commentators appear not to approve of such inconvenient statistics being highlighted, but ignoring them won't make the issue disappear. Anybody who thought adding two teams to a league which was already very lop-sided in terms of professional status and resources would have no consequences doesn't understand how performance sport works.

One person who does is Aberdeen co-manager Emma Hunter. Her side finished a commendable fifth last season following successive promotions, but even so were a huge 48 points adrift of Rangers, who they host today at Balmoral Stadium.

“It was a shame on Sunday seeing some heavy scorelines, and unfortunately I think it's going to happen again,” Hunter pointed out. “It's another transitional moment here in Scotland, and the game has taken another risk because we're taking more teams into the league at the same time as the game is getting more professional at the top end.

“When that happens there's always going to be this big gulf, but you have to start somewhere and hopefully in the years to come that gap will close. The WSL is a good example – in the first couple of years there were some heavy scorelines but that is completely changing now.

“We've just got to realise where we are in this transitional moment yet again. It's hard to compete with Rangers, who went abroad to do a pre-season and play Atletico Madrid in a friendly while we are playing the local boys team.”

Aberdeen did, however, put five of their best young players on professional contracts in the summer – a first for the club. Like Hearts and other teams, they are working steadily and strategically to narrow the gap, even if the season started on the wrong foot with a 3-1 loss at Hamilton Accies.

It remains a challenge for Aberdeen to persuade players to move north, but Hunter believes it is another step in the right direction that – and despite offers from elsewhere – the club retained all their best young talents in the summer.

Celtic, meanwhile, confounded expectations that they might have been weakened by player losses when they beat Hibs, who finished fourth last season, by such a huge margin. Clarissa Larisey and Jacynta both notched hat-tricks on an afternoon when Glasgow City's Clare Shine and Hearts' new striker Georgia Timms did the same.

Even allowing for a difficult pre-season build up, it was a really worrying performance and scoreline for Hibs. They play their first home game at Meadowbank Stadium against Hamilton today.

THE recording of SWPL attendances is a very welcome – some might say overdue – development. Without proper measurement it is impossible to gauge whether numbers are rising or falling.

According to the SPFL, 2017 people were spread across the opening ten games. Rangers led the way with 720 at Broadwood for their game against Glasgow Women, followed by Celtic (391) and Glasgow City (213).

These figures are a significant improvement on the traditional “friends and family” audience in Scotland. It would, however, have been concerning had attendances not made a leap so soon after the huge success of the Euros in England.

Whether the encouraging figures will survive games being played in the dark winter months is another matter, but at least there is now extra motivation for clubs to maintain a positive trend.

European football is back and Rangers and Glasgow City both have Champions League games on Thursday.

City are embarking on a sixteenth season, but for Rangers it will be a tournament debut when they play Ferencvaros in Katerini. Both clubs are playing in first round mini-tournaments, with City hosting theirs and getting underway against AS Roma at Petershill Park.

This is the second season of the new format, with Rangers in the champions path and City in the league path. The former look to have the better chance of qualifying for the second round in a grouping which also includes hosts PAOK and Swansea City.

Rangers will travel to Manchester tomorrow and fly out to Greece on Tuesday. Head coach Malky Thomson said: “It's a test we've never experienced before, but we're really looking forward to the challenge of playing in Europe.”