Historic Season For Killie Women and Women’s Football

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An historic season in Scottish Women’s football, which saw record high attendances for the past few weeks, has come to an end, with Glasgow City crowned champions.

However, for Kilmarnock in the lower league, their own historic season ended in heartbreak. The early promotion favourites got a draw against St Johnstone at Rugby Park, but a 3-0 win for fellow play-off contenders Gartcairn ensured the Ayrshire side finished third; and will have another season in the SWPL 2.

Kilmarnock (in blue) faced St Johnstone on the last day of the season

Kilmarnock, who are Scotland’s oldest women’s team, began the season by reappointing manager Jim Chapman. Jim oversaw two league title winning campaigns in 2002 and 2003. Killie were further boosted by the inclusion of professional contracts. Six players signed professionally, which allows them to move full-time into football, whilst a further six signed amateur contracts.

Kilmarnock captain Laura McLaughlin, who signed a professional deal with the club, said: “I’ve been at Kilmarnock for years now, and it’s a club that I think anyone that comes in will say is very hard to leave.

“It’s such a good atmosphere. Coaching staff, as well, this year has made a massive difference, been really good. I think, personally, I’ve never learned so much in a season than I have this season. The professional contract is just an added bonus.

Kilmarnock captain Laura McLaughlin

“For me, the professional contracts, I’d have been here regardless. It’s the club that I’ve signed for rather than the actual contract. But the professional contract makes the club more appealing, so it can attract more players. It’s a good step in the right direction.”

During the season, Kilmarnock suffered a Scottish Cup quarter final exit to eventual SWPL 1 champions Glasgow City. City went into the game on the back of an 11-0 thumping of local rivals Glasgow Women, so the deck was stacked against the SWPL 2 side.

However, an inspired Kilmarnock performance saw them provide a stern test for their high-flying opponents. Glasgow City were limited to a 3-0 win, with the goals coming from a direct free kick, a penalty, and an own goal.

Kilmarnock manager Jim Chapman said of that game: “We just do our work. We look at the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. People always talk about, it doesn’t matter who you play, they’re a top team in the country and still are.

“But you only play against the opponents put in front of you. Whatever 11 players put out. People can talk about changes, squad rotations. I think what it did, hopefully, inform our girls about is we can compete. When we’re doing our job properly, there’s more defensive organisation, but that’s what Kilmarnock are capable of.

“We know the lessons to learn that going forward we need to be just as good. Any game plan, regardless of your opponent, is up to the players. Players will win games and coaches, managers, will lose games. That’s the way football tends to go.

“As long as the players keep doing what we’re asking them to do, keep showing that willingness to learn. They’re a very young group, very inexperienced group, a lot to learn. They’ve been a joy to work with and I’m looking forward to seeing out this season and getting a full pre-season under our belt.

“I’m sure with the same kind of application, one or two changes here and there, then, hopefully, we’ll be up challenging for SWPL 2 next season.”

Laura added: “It just shows how the quality we have in the team if we can perform against the best team in the country, essentially, then we should be able to do it against any team.

“It just depends on how we turn up on the day. We can be guilty of dropping our standards to other team’s standards instead of playing our game. It’s just trying to become more consistent in our game.”

Kilmarnock Women are, rather amazingly, far more successful than their male counterparts. Despite the club being formed in 1961, they’ve won ten major honours in the last 62 years, compared with five for the men in 154 years.

Jim, who managed Killie to five of those trophies, said “it’s a different game” now. He went on to say: “The whole woman’s game has changed for the better. The organisation of the game, the investment of the game, the resources and all that behind the woman’s football. Obviously, the other teams have kicked on and Kilmarnock had regressed from what had been before. But that’s in the past.

“It just shows you what you’re capable of when everybody works together. If we all work together and we’re all pushing in the same direction, then there’s no reason why you don’t get success, because that’s where success starts.

Kilmarnock boss Jim Chapman

“It’s a different game, but the girls know me. I’m a winner. I’m never in a competition to be second in my life. We know what our plans are, we know where we want to take the club. It’s long term and nothing’s going to happen overnight.”

In 2020, Kilmarnock FC took full control over the woman’s game, which has allowed proper resources and investment, including making Rugby Park the home of the women’s team. In the past, they’ve had to travel around the town when Kilmarnock’s men have had home games. Whereas recently the SWPL allowed the women to switch a fixture due to be played at home to Montrose, because the men were playing at Rugby Park on the same day.

Jim added: “It’s great that Kilmarnock Football Club are right behind the woman’s section, now. Investment’s good, and all we need to do now is learn our lessons from this year, galvanise everyone to go again next year. But, more importantly, realise what you’re capable of.”

Another major achievement for the women’s team is due to be implemented from next season. Currently, the team share the kits of the men’s team, therefore sharing sponsorships. From next season, the women will be sponsored by the Killie Trust, which already does a lot for the women’s game.

Nationally, this season has been a huge success. The attendance record for a Scottish domestic woman’s game was broken when Celtic faced Glasgow City at Parkhead, with over 9,000 fans in attendance. This was broken again on the last day of the season, twice over. Over 10,000 fans were at Ibrox to, ultimately, see Glasgow City crowned champions, whilst more than 15,000 were at Parkhead for Celtic against Hearts.

But it’s not just a record-breaking year in Scotland. In the FA Cup Final in England last Sunday, a world record attendance for a domestic women’s game was set with 77,390 fans there to see Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 to lift the trophy.

Lower down in the SWPL 2, is the only university team playing in the top two leagues, Stirling University. They finished the season second bottom, which means they will face a relegation play-off with Rossvale in the SWF Championship.

After a difficult start to the season, due to the league campaign starting a month prior to the university year, Stirling University have bounced back with a stellar run of form, more akin to a mid-table side, rather than a relegation-threatened team. This run included a 4-3 loss at home to Kilmarnock, with the hosts 4-1 down early in the second half.

Stirling University captain, and Player’s Player of the Year, Rebecca Hellgren said: “We were 2-0 down against East Fife, as well, and we brought it back. So, I think the team itself is more confident.

“I think we’re working a lot harder. I think we’re clicking with each other a lot better, recently. Our game management’s a lot better as well. I think we always had that in the back of our heads that we can come back and that’s what we should do. Work hard to do.”

Stirling University manager Nile Robbins said: “We sat down, and we talked, not just the players and the staff, but also the board, in terms of what do we use the remaining games, in order to put ourselves in a better position possible for the play-off.

“There’s a lot of things that we’ve changed in the past month or so in order to build to that. One of them was we need to go into it with some confidence. We want to play in a more attacking, on the front foot, style in terms of the areas of the pitch that we play in.

“Implementing a higher press, stepping further up the park, and taking the game to teams. I think you can see that in our last three games. Even though we’ve maybe not got the results we wanted, in terms of only taking four points.

“The quality of the performance and, in particular, scoring more goals, is just about building confidence for the play-off and making sure when we get to the play-off, we’re in the best situation we can be.”

Despite their final league position this season, it has been a better season for Stirling University. The last two seasons they finished bottom of the league. They had a goal difference of -73, having conceded 86 goals last season, whereas this season they have a goal difference of -39, conceding 74 goals.

Nile said of their defensive record: “On balance, we’re better than we’ve been. Individual mistakes in key moments have cost us and I think the focus, as we build towards the play-off, I don’t think we can just talk about one side of the ball and say let’s focus on attacking, not worry about defending. Or let’s focus about defending, and not worry about attacking.

“The whole thing has got to work well together, otherwise we will lose. In terms of messaging, we won’t talk about one or the other. It’s the whole team performance and how it all fits together.”

Despite results not going the way they would’ve liked; Stirling have run a few promotion contenders close. They’ve run Kilmarnock close on multiple occasions and have left Rugby Park with two draws. They’ve picked up four points against Gartcairn as well.

Stirling University took a point off Kilmarnock at Rugby Park

Rebecca said: “We’re matching a team that’s going up there to go up in Prem 1. If anything, that should make us even more confident and happy with our performance, because throughout the whole season we’ve matched them. I don’t think our results have been very far from each other. Yeah, it’s a shame we’re at the bottom of the league but it gives us confidence, for sure.”

Ahead of the clash with Gartcairn, she said: “We’re just working hard right now to prepare for the final game. Our previous results against Gartcairn have been pretty positive with a win and a draw. We’re confident against them. We think we can match them; we’ve done it before. Just work hard in training this week and we’ll be fine.”

After such an historic season for the women’s game, with record high attendances, across the country, and seeing the women’s teams get advertised through the BBC, SKY, and other media, will this continue or be enhanced next season? With the Women’s World Cup coming up next month, with Scotland, unfortunately, not involved, the women’s game will be getting seen a lot more than it has done in recent years.

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