Behind Glasgow City's battle for Scottish football supremacy with Celtic and Rangers

Glasgow City Celtic Rangers GFX
Goal/Getty composite
The reigning champions have a Champions League quarter-final to look forward to, but on home soil they face a titanic fight to stay top dogs

Glasgow City are utterly dominant in Scottish women’s football in the 21st century in a way that Celtic and Rangers men’s teams, and their Old Firm fight to be top dog, must envy.

Thirteen titles in a row only tells half the story – they haven’t lost two Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) games in a single season since 2006-07.

Since the SWPL’s launch in 2002, they have won 14 titles and been runners-up every other time except the very first season.

But Glasgow City have an almighty battle for supremacy on their hands in 2020.

Goal 50 Revealed: The best 50 players in the world

When they kicked off the new SWPL season against Celtic in February, it was those in the famous green and white hoops who ran out victorious.

It was Celtic’s first league victory as a professional club, something Rangers too would achieve that same weekend. Both clubs, with huge history in the men’s game, saw their women’s teams turn full-time ahead of the 2020 campaign.

The change in mentality is one of the biggest differences in going full-time, and it was key to Fran Alonso's side coming from 1-0 down to beat the champions 2-1, with the last kick of the game.

"Nobody was happy with a draw," Alonso, appointed manager of Celtic in January, says.

"That, when you’re playing the champions of the last 13 years, a team that is still in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, is a massive statement. Not in the sense of quality, but just in the sense of desire, passion and ambition."

Celtic Glasgow City February

"I think it’s psychological, how players go into the games [against Glasgow]," midfielder Natalie Ross, who has been at the club since 2016, adds.

"In years previous, I would definitely say that some players were nervous playing Glasgow and Hibernian, but I don’t feel that now. I feel confident going into every game with the players that we have."

Hibs, winners of that 2006-07 title and also last year’s SWPL Cup, have long been City’s closest rivals in terms of competition.

But now, with the rise of two sleeping giants also coming into play, this year’s title defence could be the toughest yet for Glasgow City, who remain an amateur club.

Head coach Scott Booth, who has overseen five of those title wins since being appointed in 2015, agrees – but isn’t fazed.

“It’s not really something that I’ve really been concerned about or thought too much about, purely because we’ve wanted the league to grow and get better for years now,” he tells Goal.

“There will be more competition, there’s better players, I just feel like that’s something that we will take on as a challenge.

“We’re still bringing in players, trying to get players settled ourselves. It’s going to be a long season, it doesn’t finish until the end of November pretty much, so there’s quite a long way to go.”

The coronavirus outbreak brings further disruption to a calendar that has already suffered heavily from bad weather this year, with the season suspended until further notice.

That’s unlikely to dampen the buzz around Rangers and Celtic though, who are able to call themselves professional teams with professional players for the first time.

“It’s a really exciting time for the club,” Amy McDonald, Rangers’ women’s and girls’ academy manager, says.

“I think overall in the Scottish game, it just adds a different dimension throughout the season and hopefully it will make it more competitive. I think it makes a huge difference that it’s the chairman, Dave King, who has pushed [the professionalism].

“That’s on the back of a really successful World Cup campaign and the coverage that the game got in the World Cup last year. It was kind of the perfect storm for the club to then take the initiative to have a more competitive programme.”

That World Cup was the first Scotland have ever qualified for, coming two years after they reached their first European Championships, and the growth in quality of the SWPL is sure to only benefit the national team further.

Scotland international Zoe Ness, who swapped FA Women’s Championship side Lewes for Rangers this year, believes it works the other way, too.

“You can see the impact [the national team’s success] has had across the league, in the quality of players, the quality of teams,” she explains.

“There’s been a few young players that have moved down to England from the Scottish league, but I think the quality across the board has improved.”

The 24-year-old’s move was influenced by the behind-the-scenes' support that comes with a professional contract as well.

It's something taken for granted in the men's game, but which means so much to their female counterparts.

Ness is recovering from an injury she suffered before joining Rangers and, having already seen her return date pushed back by surgery, admits the move has given her "a big lift”.

“Having that support and that structure around training, being able to have a lot of the girls full-time, was a big thing," she added.

Glasgow City’s Leanne Ross is one of those who have watched the game in Scotland develop to this stage first-hand.

The 38-year-old called time on an 11-year international career after the 2017 Euros and is now in her 23rd senior season at club level.

She admits there’s “a wee bit of jealousy” watching players get the opportunities that they do today, but there is the pride of having been one of those who paved the way, at a club that has done the same.

“We’ve trained like four nights a week for I don’t know how many years now,” she says.

“With the club and the national team, I was probably training as much as, if not more than, a pro player would do, but then just trying to balance work with it.

“People say: ‘You’ve won the league so many times in a row and you’ve won this, and you’ve won that, it must get boring, it must be easy’. But it’s not.

“You’ve literally got a target on your back and people want you to fail, they want to beat you, try harder against you."

Glasgow City Brondby Women

Ross added: “I think that being at a club like Glasgow City, they’ve always had progressive ideas and plans as well. We’re never happy with anything that we’ve achieved and sit back and look at that and saying we’re done.

“We always look to say, what can we achieve next and how can we achieve it? I think we’ve always tried to set standards and, to be fair, other teams have tried to follow and maybe copy some of the things we’ve done.

“I like to think that we’ve contributed to the improvements in the game.”

March 29 would've sat between Glasgow City's Champions League quarter-final tie with German giants Wolfsburg before the coronavirus outbreak postponed football for the foreseeable future.

It's the second quarter-final in the club's history, a huge achievement for an amateur club, but also for Scottish football. In fact, Glasgow's performances in the competition have raised Scotland's coefficient so much so that, when new changes are implemented in the competition for the 2021-22 season, it won't just be the SWPL winners that enter the competition, but the runners-up too.

More European experience is sure to only benefit the game in Scotland as it continues to grow at a rapid rate.

“I think we’re probably closer now than we’ve ever been,” Rangers academy manager McDonald says of the gap between Glasgow and the rest.

“In terms of being able to bridge it, I think we need to make sure that the culture and the environment is correct.

"We now need to trust in the process and in the players that we’ve recruited and brought in, because they’re the people that need to go and compete every week.”

Celtic midfielder Ross has no doubts in her team's ability to achieve that title now, but admits it's "a big step". 

"You see how successful the men’s team are, but I don’t really feel the pressure that we need to achieve something this year. That comes from Fran, he doesn't put a lot of pressure on us," she says.

The Celtic boss is also dismissive of winning a trophy this year, but he does have silverware in his sights - and much more.

"We want to be like the men," Alonso says. "We want to be the most dominant team in Scotland. We want to be like Glasgow City has been for the last 13 years.

Article continues below

"A club like Celtic has to win titles. We don’t have the pressure from the club that we have to win the league, because they know the game very well and things cannot be changed suddenly. It’s a developing process that has to be put in place, which we are [doing]. But that doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

"I would like to see Celtic winning the league in at least the next three years. There are three or four clubs in the country that have the same goals and only one can win, so it’s going to be challenging.

"But if in three years, we haven’t won the league, for me, that would be a failure."