Women’s Football Breaks Through in Scotland, Record Breaking Crowds and High Drama

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It’s fair to say that the progression of women’s football North of the Border has lagged the progress in England where the national team’s success in the Euros really propelled the game forward with sell-out crowds at the matches and a major national celebration when Lionesses did what the men have failed to do since 1966 and ‘brought football home’.

That’s a claim that Scotland would argue about but maybe something we’ll cover at a later date. On Sunday afternoon three sides went into the last round of fixtures with a chance of winning the SWPL1 title. Celtic took on Hearts and instead of playing the game at their usual place, the rented stadium from Airdrie FC, the game was moved to Celtic Park. Meanwhile across the city defending Champions Rangers Women took on league leaders Glasgow City with that game having been moved from the modest Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld to Ibrox.

Both sets of fans from Celtic and Rangers got behind their own team. Ibrox saw its biggest ever attendance for a Rangers Women match, with 8,535 fans turning up for a match where either side could have ended the day as Scottish Champions.

Meanwhile over at Celtic Park the turn-out was even bigger, much more colourful, noisy and spectacular as the club’s two Ultra groups, Green Brigade and The Celtic Bhoys, joined forces to create a mightily impressive Celtic Wall, something that they hope to convince the club to create for the mens game. The official attendance at Celtic Park on Sunday for the women’s match against Hearts was 15,833.

Celtic needed to win (and outscore Rangers if the Ibrox side defeated Glasgow City) to win the league on goal difference or even goals scored. If the game at Ibrox was a draw then Celtic would have finished on level points with Glasgow City but would have won the title on goal difference. Only a Glasgow City win would guarantee them the title and deny Celtic.

Both games were shown live by BBC Scotland, both kicking off at 4.10pm. Two English players scored the Celtic goals, Caitlin Hayes, Scotland’s Player of Year gave Celtic the lead at the interval and Natasha Flint, on loan from Leicester City added a second in the second half. Then it was all about awaiting news from Ibrox where the game was goalless after 90 minutes. There was still a few minutes of stoppage time to be played.

An extra dynamic was Champions League qualification. Celtic winning secured one of the two places open to Scottish sides in next season’s competition. But at goalless Ibrox if Rangers scored they would get the second European spot while if Glasgow City scored they would hit the jackpot by claiming not only make sure of the Champions League place but also win the SWPL1 title.

City had not looked like scoring all afternoon, but as Rangers threw everyone forward, leaving no central defenders, City hit them with a sucker punch and the pain was felt more intensely across the City as news filtered through to Celtic Park. Then there was an enormous cheer inside Paradise with the Celtic manager jumping around elated as he heard the support celebrate a Rangers goal(!!!) at Ibrox. The joy was short-lived though as the referee disallowed it for a foul on the Glasgow City keeper.

So it was heartbreak for Celtic, disaster for Rangers, the team with the biggest investment in their squad and who now miss out on European football next season and elation for Glasgow City who have dominated the women’s game in Scotland for many years and so far at least have been able to hold off the two Glasgow giants, but for how much longer?

The biggest winner on Sunday was the women’s game in Scotland which finally made the long overdue breakthrough in terms of supporter acceptance. Think about this, there were more supporters at Celtic Park on Sunday for a women’s match that attended three Scottish Premiership matches the day before – combined.

This Sunday it’s the Women’s Scottish Cup Final at Hampden between Celtic and Rangers and the attendance record set on Sunday of 15,833, could be broken again. And that will be the last match in charge of Rangers Women for manager Malky Thomson who today paid the price for the weekend’s failure.