Along with the rest of Scotland, no doubt, I was delighted that the Scotland Women’s football team qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which kicked off in France two weeks ago.
Whilst we lost the opening game against a strong England team, the team’s excellent second half performance in that game confirmed their credentials as World Cup qualifiers, and heightened expectations for their remaining matches. Sadly, the game against Japan followed a similar pattern and all hopes of advancement now rest on beating Argentina this week.
Notwithstanding the disappointing early results, Shelley Kerr has done a fantastic job to take a Scotland team to this World Cup, and this generation of players have breathed real excitement into the sport.
The 23-woman squad consists of professionals and semi-professionals playing at the highest levels in domestic leagues in England, Scotland, Sweden, the USA and Italy.
While only seven of the squad play in the Scottish Premier League, the women’s game in Scotland has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and there is a great buzz about the team’s participation in the competition, with all football fans cheering on our national team.
In a warm-up game before heading to France, a huge record crowd of 18,555 turned out to watch Scotland’s beat Jamaica 3-2 at Hampden. The previous record for a Scotland Women’s fixture was around 4,000 – proof of the growing popularity of the women’s game.
I am delighted that funding from the Scottish Government allowed the squad to train full-time from January 2019 through to the tournament, giving the team the best chance of success for the finals while strengthening the image women and girls’ football across the country.
It is heartening to see that the women’s game in Scotland is flourishing both at a professional level, and at the grassroots, with new figures from the Scottish Football Association showing that the number of girls playing for a local football team has doubled in the past five years, from 7,126 in 2014-15 to 14,071 in 2018-19.
A lot of thanks are due to those who have been promoting the woman’s game for many years against a backdrop of scepticism and poor media coverage. Indeed, in the very early days there was a fair measure of misogyny too, as the beautiful game was very much seen as a male preserve.
In 1921 the SFA banned member clubs from allowing their facilities to be used for woman’s football, a ban that was not lifted until 1971! Even then, when UEFA passed the resolution instructing its members to take control of women’s football within their territories, the SFA was the only affiliate to vote against. How times have changed.
The World Cup has made household names of Kim Little, Erin Cuthbert, Jane Ross and other Scotland players, as well as Manager, Shelley Kerr, all great role models for girls keen to get involved in the game. Let’s not forget either local woman, and former Stonelaw High pupil, Amy McDonald, who played with Glasgow City, Celtic and Scotland and now manages Rangers Women.
Football Associations around the world are now actively supporting and promoting women’s football and there is far more support and opportunity for girls to get involved at a local level.
In a recent initiative, the SFA offered free tickets for the friendly match against Jamaica, and it was great to be able to help arrange 20 tickets for Eastfield Fives FC who, along with other organisations, such as Blantyre Soccer Academy, have been actively promoting girls’ football in my constituency.
With more and more women and girls taking part in football, there’s a bright future for our national team and our women’s game.
Clare Haughey MSP