The Rise of Scottish Women’s Football: From Exile to Excellence

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Hampden Park, Home of Scottish Women’s Football. Pic credit – Sam Ronald

A vibrant, stadium display transforms the vertiginous stands of FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou into an effervescent cauldron of blue, red, and yellow.

The rousing club anthem of Cant del Barca – so instantly recognizable to even the most apathetic of football followers – bellows into the evening sky and is echoed harmoniously by almost 92,000 supporters.

The colours, the sound, the scene so intrinsically affiliated to the rich institution that is FC Barcelona. Except on this Wednesday night, there was an inspirational twist.

The occasion? FC Barcelona Women v Real Madrid Women in the Champions League Quarter Final.

A world-record-breaking attendance for a women’s football match took in the home side’s 5-2 Quarter-Final victory over their fierce rivals on an evening that illustrated, on an explosive global scale, just how far women’s football has come.

Camp Nou in Barcelona put on an incredible spectacle for FC Barcelona Women. Photo by form PxHere

Albeit on a somewhat more modest scale, the women’s game in Scotland has embarked on an impressive and admirable evolution of its own over the last decade or so.

The record attendance for a women’s game in this country was smashed in May 2019 when approximately 18,000 fans took in a World Cup warm-up match between Scotland and Jamaica at Hampden.

Since then, commercial deals between governing authority SWF and BBC ALBA, BBC Scotland, and GO Radio have seen media coverage more than double.

Full-time and part-time professional contracts are becoming more and more common and the number of young girls getting involved in the beautiful game is astronomically higher than ever before.

Former Glasgow City Youth Coach and current Glasgow Women Manager Craig Joyce – who has 12 years of experience in the women’s game – explained:

“It’s huge. Everything is on social media now.”

“Games are on TV which is great and more recently Hibs, Hearts & Celtic have all played in front of crowds at their respective home grounds.”

“Something the girls also have alongside the visibility is the role models on show.”

And so it is for good reason that, when pondering what level the women’s game in this country can truly reach, many will start to “look sideways at Barcelona the other night to find inspiration.”

Such optimism is further vindicated when on closer inspection, you consider the ostensibly insurmountable challenges which have obstructed the development of the game for such long spells of its history.

In 1921, most notably, the English FA implemented a UK-wide ban on all women’s games being played in their stadiums claiming that football’s physicality was “most unsuitable for a women’s frame” and “quite inappropriate for most women”.

Resultingly, the female game was forced underground until as recently as 1971.

Despite these attempts to curb the expansion of women’s football, incredible pioneers still emerged throughout this period.

Rose Riley, Jane Legget, Elsie Cook, and the Rutherglen Ladies Football Team have all gained recognition in modern Scottish football folklore; they’re defiance against the male-dominated orthodoxy of the sport each well-worthy of standalone features in their own right.

Upon intervention from UEFA in 1971, a vote was called amongst member nations as the need for official, regulated governance of the women’s game became too clear to ignore.

At long last, a 31-1 resolution lifting the prohibition was passed.

Can you guess the single nation who opposed the motion? Embarrassingly, yes, it was Scotland.

As a result, in a dismissive act of trailblazing self-establishment, the Scottish Women’s Football Association was formed in 1972 by 6 founding clubs taking matters into their own hands.

Thanos’ ‘Fine, I’ll do it myself’ meme comes to mind in this respect.

Eventually, in 1974, the SFA relented, and Scottish women’s football was finally recognized in an official standing.

The SFA were active opponents of women’s football throughout the 20th Century. Pic credit – Sam Ronald

The format and structure of the women’s football pyramid have since been adapted a number of times before the incumbent SWF was established as the governing body of elite women’s football.

Thus, having only been officially recognized as a sport less than half a century ago, the progress made in this time is worthy of profound respect.

Joyce was quick to testify to this:

“The growth of the game while at City was there for everyone to see.

“It’s slightly easier when your first team is successful and is visible.”

“The club was promoted, and I saw it as my job to develop the young girls there as people and footballers.”

Record numbers of young girls are playing and training in Scotland. Pic credit – planet_fox

“From then the evolution is evident, teams are now full time, some part-time, and others aspiring to be both.”

“This doesn’t happen overnight, there is a lot of time put in behind the scenes to make this happen and make it sustainable.”

“Not everyone has the resources that teams affiliated to a men’s side have but we do our best with what we have.”

So, what is next for women’s football in Scotland?

The unpleasant reality is that sexism and antiquated, discriminative attitudes towards women’s football still very much exist. Whilst not in the flagrant regulatory sense of the 20th century, the commercialization, increased coverage, and social media presence of the women’s game has given rise to misogynistic prejudice of an entirely different new kind.

This was particularly clear at the start of the year when Stenhousemuir was required to publicly defend their captain after she was subject to online abuse following a game against Ranger’s Ladies.


Instances such as this are far too common in the women’s game, and a simple visit to the comments section of women’s highlights videos on social media is more than likely to back this up.

Moving forwards, Joyce said:

“We need to shout more about our game. Embrace it, develop it and be positive about it. Cut out any negativity or bullshit that comes with social media and people thinking they have an opinion.”

“I can’t stand negativity towards the game and bullies. Unfortunately, we have faceless ones who hide online or in crowds, there’s no time for that moving forward.

“Cut it out and enjoy what we have.”

“Watch it, help it, and enjoy its growth.”


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