Glasgow City is used to being unusual. But this extraordinary club has never been as outstanding as it is now.
The line-up in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League provides the perfect illustration. From Arsenal to Bayern Munich and Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, the last eight of the tournament are full of well-known names. Or almost full. Because there, in the midst of these handsome heavyweights, sits Glasgow City as a proud, prominent exception.
The Scottish master has reached this stage before. At that time, 2014, they were surrounded by other independent women’s teams from Germany, Scandinavia, and other countries. Now, these teams are nowhere to be seen, and the ever-increasing financial support from the major men’s clubs has changed the picture at the elite level of women’s football.
“It’s incredible to see our name in this Champions League lineup and it’s a great source of pride,” club manager and founder Laura Montgomery, a former Glasgow City player, told FIFA.com. “I’m sure it bothers the apple cart a bit because there will be people in the game who just want to see the big names.
The start of the decade – SWPL Champions. The end of the decade – SWPL Champions. Oh and I hung up my boots and the trophy and presentation improved! pic.twitter.com/smgMLLU2pN— Laura Montgomery (@LauraMonty4) December 31, 2019
“There’s no doubt that women’s football over recent years has tended more and more to replicate the men’s model. But I believe there’s still room for a different model, where women and girls – and championing them – is the sole focus. That’s our ethos. We’ve been approached over the years to partner with men’s clubs and we’ve always resisted for that very reason.
“There are definitely benefits to the big men’s clubs getting involved in women’s football, and I welcome anything that brings greater investment and opportunities to female players. My concern is always where these women’s sides, given they tend to run at a loss, fit within their clubs ’priorities in tougher times. Over the years, we’ve seen several men’s clubs in England suffer financial difficulties – Sunderland, Charlton, Fulham, Notts County – and one of the first things to be scaled back or cut entirely was the women’s team.
“At Glasgow City, we’ve always grown the club in a sustainable way, and always will. But the odds are definitely stacked against us and other independent clubs. To be honest, when we made the Champions League quarter-finals in 2014/15 – seeing the way things were going – I didn’t think we’d ever make it there again. When you look at the budget we operate compared to those of the teams we’re facing, it’s kind of incredible we’ve managed it. ”
‘Incredible’ is an adjective that could equally be applied to Glasgow City’s record of 13 consecutive top-flight titles. But the challenge of maintaining that remarkable run, as with progressing in Europe, grows stiffer by the year.
That is particularly true this season, with the women’s sides of Celtic and Rangers – the dominant forces in Scottish men’s football – having switched to professional status. But while full-time contracts are now the latest powerful advantage these Glasgow Goliaths have at their disposal, the David across the city won’t surrender its place of pre-eminence without a fight.
“Did I groan when I heard about Celtic and Rangers going full-time? Not at all, ”said Montgomery, pictured above. “Anything that raises the level of the league and Scottish women’s football is something I welcome. Will it make things tougher for Glasgow City? More than likely. But we’re a club that has always welcomed challenges, so our view is: bring it on.
“We’ve always been financially outmuscled anyway because, even before Celtic and Rangers went full-time, they were still able to utilize their men’s team’s training centers, sport science facilities and expertise, kit partnerships, and all the benefits that come there.
“By adopting a female-focused model and doing things the right way, we’ve managed – so far at least – to overcome those disadvantages. Celtic and Rangers going full-time just represents a new challenge for us, and we’re ready to face it. ”
Montgomery is optimistic about Glasgow City’s outlook once football returns from its coronavirus-paused break. He is less enthusiastic about the overall picture of the Scottish game of women. If the success of your club and the success of the national team in reaching two consecutive big finals has a dark side, it has made it possible to revise cracks.
“It was a fantastic time,” she said. “But I think the challenges in the Scottish home game of the past decade have been masked by the national team and Glasgow City, who have outweighed our weight in international competitions.
“My frustration is that I think some people have looked at these successes and thought: ‘The game of women is going well and does not need any further support and investment.’ And it really does, if we want to maintain the standards we have in the past few years, there has been a lot to do. ”
It is not easy to be exceptional. But if the necessary backing comes in, you shouldn’t bet that Glasgow City will remain odd for many years to come.