The Battle for Glasgow - can Rangers or Celtic take City's crown?
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October 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. On a Lanarkshire public park, Glasgow City had demolished Motherwell 10-0 to clinch a 13th consecutive league title. They had done it by winning every game up to that point. They were untouchable.
Head coach Scott Booth said in the aftermath: "To make it 13 in a row, it's crazy to think about how good they have been as a club. It's great to have the title in the bag, but we want more and we will march on."
And march on they did. A week after securing the title, they took hold of European football and gave it an almighty shake. Glasgow City, this small and mainly amateur side playing out of a leisure centre in Springburn, had knocked out Brondby to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Yet, listen closely, and you could hear the sound of an army coming their way. Not just one either, but two. Rangers and Celtic were sharpening their swords.
Three days after City's European heroics, they lost 4-1 to Celtic. The title was already won, but Celtic were laying down a marker for the next campaign.
The league title remains the ultimate prize. It has been so long since orange and black ribbons were not adorning the championship trophy that it makes for a great pub quiz question: Who were the last team other than Glasgow City to win the women’s league? (Spoiler alert, it was Hibernian).
But there is a wider edge to the campaign. A new dawn is emerging not just in Scotland, but in the Women's Champions League. From 2021-22 there will be a new-look European competition comprising of more teams from the top nations, a restructured qualifying campaign, and a mouth-watering group stage.
There are two places up for grabs for Scotland, and three teams from Glasgow all desperate to be involved. At least one of them is going to miss out.
Initially, it was Rangers who appeared to be taking up arms. Emma Brownlie had arrived from Everton in September, and French stars Daina Bourma and Lisa Martinez joined her.
In pre-season as the long-talked about full-time football became a reality, if you turned your attentions away from Rangers' Twitter for just a moment you ran the risk of missing another announcement. Players arrived, others already there signed professional terms. At each post the admin made, the drums of war beat a little louder.
And recently, that noise has been deafening even during the enforced shutdown. Four Glasgow City players have now put pen to paper at Rangers; Kirsty Howat, Sam Kerr, Nicola Docherty and Carly Girasoli. Former Hibs striker Lizzie Arnot has also moved back north after a spell at Manchester United.
You knew Celtic would not be far behind. Players there too began to go full-time and new head coach Fran Alonzo bolstered the squad with more additions.
It was one thing the Old Firm strengthening by picking up players from Hibs and abroad. Taking players from the champions and weakening them in the process is a double whammy, especially as Docherty’s signing was confirmed hours after Celtic had handed City a 2-1 defeat at the start of the season.
You could say City are rocked, but they expected this challenge. And head coach Booth has been relishing it long before the season got underway.
"That's the way that we want it, we want it [Scottish women's football] to improve," said Booth back in October. "If there's more competition, if it does come next season, I do believe the more competition that we have in Scotland the better the league is going to be. We'll just keep doing what we do and hopefully that keeps us on top."
And he doubled down on those comments before the season got underway in February. When asked about the Old Firm's squad building, he replied "Interesting".
"We’re always there to be knocked down. Maybe this season in terms of competition will be slightly deeper because the Old Firm have said that they have gone professional, and with that comes added pressure, they have to win. If you’re saying that you’ve gone professional in the Scottish League that is a pressure and we’ve had the pressure on us every season because we’re continuing to win and we want to continue to win."
That 2-1 loss to Celtic will be erased due to the season being declared null and void. They will also begin the new one with some big additions of their own. Northern Irish striker Lauren Wade joined in February. American-born striker Krystyna Freda impressed for Somatio Barcelona against City in 2018 and she and South African captain Janine van Wyk are big additions, along with left-back Zaneta Wyne.
City club manager Laura Montgomery said of defender Van Wyk’s signing: “If we are talking about players who are known across the world, Janine is in that category. Her record is incredible on and off the pitch in what she has done for girls and women’s sport in her own country as well as in her promotion of equality.
“Her jersey is on display at the FIFA Museum next to the other top female players in the world, this is the calibre of player and individual that she is.”
City have lost big players, but signed some big ones in return. They are, despite the 2020 season being ended abruptly, the champions of Scotland. They may no longer be favourites, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do what they always do and make it 14-in-a-row.
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