Featured Image: From left: Colin Banks (SEE), Justine Mitchell (SWF), Kirsty Smith, Gemma Fay, Anna Signell, Leanne Ross, Joelle Murray, Aileen Campbell (Sports Minister), and Viv MacLaren (SWF).
Sunday sees the Semi-Finals of the SSE Scottish Women’s Cup at Ainslie Park, the first game since the historic sponsorship deal with SSE.
Both games are local derbies between SWPL 2 and SWPL 1 sides with Hearts playing Hibernian and Glasgow Girls playing Glasgow City. With Hearts and Glasgow Girls locked in a tight SWPL 2 title race, both sides will be looking to prove that they can compete in the top flight next season.
With the SWPL restructure that came in at the beginning of 2016, one of its aims was to improve the competitiveness of Scottish Women’s Football. Whether it has succeeded in that goal probably needs a few more seasons to be sure, however, what it has done is give the SWPL 2 the most exciting title race imaginable.
Two games left, three teams all level on 45 points.
Compare that to the SWPL 1 where Glasgow City are five points ahead of title rivals Hibernian. City only needs to avoid defeat in their next game (which is against Hibs) to secure the title.
If the two SWPL divisions are to thrive, what they need is for the team relegated from the SWPL 1 to not automatically be in the title race. I don’t think that will happen next season as Forfar Farmington are a very strong side, but anyway, this is something that would require a few years to balance out. What is more critical is that you need the side promoted to the SWPL 1 to be able to compete.
The reason is obvious. Otherwise, you would have seven SWPL 1 teams going into each season feeling assured of their safety and not feeling the need to push on. If you want the SWPL 1 to be the best league it can be, it needs all eight teams to feel each winter they need to make great strides forward, just to stay in the league.
With the two SWPL 1 representatives in the Semi-Finals, Glasgow City and Hibernian, that is not going to happen for a while. Both teams know that nine out of ten Sundays, they will win their SWPL 1 game. But, give Celtic another year or two, and the top two will have someone breathing down their necks. And the rest of the SWPL 1 sides will continue to push on in their development.
So could either Glasgow Girls or Hearts compete in the SWPL 1? A glance at the fixtures this season puts the odds against Glasgow Girls. After all, they did lose 10-0 to Glasgow City in the SWPL Cup. But, as you can see from the paragraph above, that really isn’t a fair marker. There are a couple of other reasons as well. One, that was the first time they had played a side of Glasgow City’s magnitude and two, they were a side in development using new tactics. If you look at the league fixtures, you can see the improvement that has happened to Glasgow Girls.
You can also look at Hamilton Academical. They are the slightest of slight favourites in the SWPL 2 title race, just because of their goal difference and the fact that Hearts play Glasgow Girls next Sunday. In the Second Round of this year’s Scottish Cup, they knocked out the SWPL 1 club Spartans on penalties.
There are also other positive aspects. Whichever side gets promoted, they will have to bring in new players and all three clubs have been able to bring in players who have played for SWPL 1 clubs already. But, this season, they’ve all shown themselves to be dangerous attacking units as well as being able to be defensively disciplined when needed.
I don’t think it is vital that in 2017 the promoted side stays up. The fact that a side like Forfar has been relegated shows how strong the SWPL 1 has become. What matters is that the promoted side is competitive in every game: so you believe that Hamilton can beat Aberdeen, Hearts can beat Stirling University and Glasgow Girls could beat Spartans.
However, a couple of words of caution. One, cup football can throw up surprises that aren’t reflective of the situation and two, the gap between Hibs and City with Hearts and Glasgow Girls is big. I still expect to see a Hibernian v Glasgow City final.
What these cup games though does do, is give the SWPL 2 a platform to promote two of their best sides against the best in the country.
And show the strength of the second tier.