Laura Montgomery: Inspirational Founder and Leader of Glasgow City

Ben Gilby caught up with Glasgow City’s co-founder and Chief Executive Laura Montgomery to hear about a phenomenal 2019 at the club, their Champions League run in 2020 and why re-starting the Scottish Women’s Premier League is vital for the credibility of the women’s game in Scotland

Laura Montgomery is one of the most important names in British women’s football. She co-founded Glasgow City in 1998 with Carol Anne Stewart. When we spoke previously in October 2019, Laura recalled how: “Carol played senior league women’s football having played at university. I wasn’t able to play football at primary school because I was a girl. I started a girls’ team when I was at high school, but we had very few other teams to play against. We only had about six games in all my time at high school. I played at university and was asked to come to Maryhill and play for them, as was Carol Anne. I tore my ACL, and so the two of us spent time talking about how we could do things better for women’s football. Better facilities, sponsors.”

Above: Laura Montgomery pictured giving a TEDx talk in 2014. Photo: Twitter.

“We were fortunate at that time that the structure in women’s football in Scotland was changing – it was an opportune moment; now or never. At that time, there was a first division and a regional second division with only one team getting promoted. The structure then changed with more regional divisions at the second level. You could go straight into the second level. So, we formed Glasgow City, entered into the league and won that division in our very first year. The next year, our first in the Premier saw us finish fifth. We’ve never been lower than second since.”

For Montgomery, it’s because Glasgow City place huge emphasis on their passion for “advancing girls and women and their role in society. That runs through everything we do. Players coming to us know that they won’t be coming to a club that suddenly lose funding simply because the men’s side are not doing well, or can’t train or play because a boys’ under twelve team need a pitch.” She points to a TEDx talk she gave in 2014 where she stated: “Quite simply, you can’t be what you can’t see without visible role models. How do girls grow up thinking they can be anything other than sexualised objects, which is how the media currently portray women?” The ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ message was famously displayed on the back of Glasgow City’s away shirt in 2017 – a reference to the lack of coverage of women’s football within the Scottish media.”

“It comes down to everyone involved at the club having high standards. Carol Anne and I are successful businesswomen and that mentality goes into Glasgow City. We pioneered so many things that are now common place in women’s football. We had the first full-time head coach, the first club to insist on our head coach holding a UEFA pro licence, the first to transfer a player for money. We were the first women’s club to use sports science. We want to train as often as a professional club – up to five times a week. We also played a major part in getting some television coverage for women’s football in Scotland. BBC Alba (the BBC’s Scots Gaelic language TV channel) followed us for a year in 2011 for a documentary, and on the back of its popularity, they got involved with covering women’s football.”

Since we last spoke almost eighteen months ago, Glasgow City have made some wonderful new history – which included winning the league for the thirteenth consecutive season and the Scottish Cup. However, their incredible Champions League run topped even those achievements.

I asked Laura what that famous night against Danish side Brøndby in the last sixteen of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in October 2019 was like: “It was one of the best nights ever for the club, if not the best. We had managed to get to the Quarter-Finals before in 2014/15, but Brøndby were far tougher opposition. After making the quarter-finals previously, we never thought we’d do it again given how the women’s game has moved on and with the size of the clubs we were now up against. Winning the away leg in Copenhagen was fantastic. Then, of course in the home leg they got it back to 2-2 on aggregate and it then went to penalties. The crowd that night were amazing. It was such an emotional night for so many reasons. My partner, Kat Lindner had passed away. Kat was such a big part of the club and for that period for us being so successful winning the league for the thirteenth time in a row, getting the Scottish Cup back and then the Champions League run. It was very emotional.”

Above: Glasgow City celebrate their famous penalty shoot out win over Brøndby in the last sixteen of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Photo: @BBCSportScot

Not long after the Quarter-Final draw which paired Glasgow City with giants of European women’s football VfL Wolfsburg, came the coronavirus pandemic and the end of football for the season. I wondered how tough it has been off the pitch for the club since then.

“It has been hugely challenging,” said Laura, “but it is like that for everyone. We’re not out there on a limb. We have more outgoings than others with a full time head coach and staff. It was also the start of what would have been a new financial year from a season perspective. As we weren’t able to play any games our sponsorships didn’t kick in which was hard – but everyone was in the same position.

The Wolfsburg tie was eventually rescheduled to take place as a one off game as part of the final stages of the competition held in the Basque region of Spain last August. At this point, Glasgow City had not been able to train for months and had to rely on sponsorship to make the journey. It was far from ideal preparation for such a tough tie.

“Physically the preparation was the toughest in our twenty-two years. Players had been off for months. We could only meet together as a squad due to holding Covid testing, at the cost of thousands of pounds for us. It was hugely challenging. Playing Wolfsburg at any time is impossible, but given the Bundesliga had only stopped for a short period, it meant that Wolfsburg were able to play friendlies and hold mountain training camps. We had to accelerate our training. We had to get players at peak physical fitness ahead of time and that causes injury. When it came to the game we only had three fit players for the bench. It wasn’t what we wanted. We had no choice but to get players match fit for a game like that in four weeks. You physically can’t do it.”

From the outside it looked like everything had conspired to make an exceptionally difficult tie virtually impossible for Glasgow City, but despite that, they emerged with credit. Montgomery was exceptionally impressed with their opponents.

“Listen, Wolfsburg are a fantastic team – an absolute joy to watch and it was tremendous to play against them. From a point of view of the experience, it was a single occasion. UEFA did brilliantly in terms of what was put on for us, the preparation, they dressed the stadium magnificently to make it a great experience for the players. Although it was a heavy score line (City lost 9-1) it will rank as one of the highlights of many of our players’ careers.”

Above: Pernille Harder part of a VfL Wolfsburg side who showed no mercy against Glasgow City in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarter-Finals. Photo: @guardian_sport

Taking a wider look at the experience of being part of the final stages on the competition all played in one area with teams such as Olympique Lyonnais, Paris St. Germain, Barcelona and Arsenal was particularly memorable. “It was vital for the women’s game that the tournament did get played and completed. I ended up quite enjoying the fact that everyone was in the same place. There was a real tournament feel. It was potentially a one off which we were part of. It was fantastic. The stadium in San Sebastian was fantastic as were all the facilities.”

That run of success in 2019 and 2020 was overseen by Scott Booth as head coach. I asked Laura what his major qualities are as a coach and as a person: “He’s a UEFA pro license coach. On paper he has the qualifications we needed when we hired him in 2015. We had a number of top candidates for the job of which Scott was one. He interviewed well and we get on well. It works really well. We have similar thoughts on players and football. He knows his stuff. He is a good coach, a good person, not remotely egotistical at all. He is so unassuming and is fully immersed in the women’s game.”

A recent development at the club is Laura’s appointment as full time Chief Executive – a role that is not new for her – but she is now able to devote her full attention to the position: “I’ve always done the role in my spare time on top of another job. Selflessly, I’ve always wanted to do it for free and not taken money out of the club. The board have asked me to do it and think about how we progress the club further. I do player negotiations, working with Scott (Booth) on new players and have recently appointed a full time head of academy.

Glasgow City are known for the phenomenal work that they do in supporting the all-round development of young girls – and obviously this is going to become even more important once we are in a position to get football going again. The club have been preparing for the post-lockdown return of their young players with some exciting new developments ready for them.

“The number one priority is to get all our girls back. We have twelve teams. Right now it’s so important. Boys in Scotland can still watch men’s football on TV as they are still allowed to play. Girls in Scotland can’t watch the women’s game here as its been halted, so they can’t see their role models play as well as not being allowed to play themselves. We’ve made a major investment in our academy. We’ve worked with a company called Athlete Focused for sports psychology and nutrition with our first team and they now are working with the academy which means that every team in the club now has access to sports science experts too.”

As Laura alluded to, the Scottish league has been very stop-start with no matches at all for over two months. Glasgow City’s chief executive is absolutely clear that getting the game going again, at the top level at the very least is of utmost importance.

“For the credibility of women’s football in Scotland, it would be catastrophic if we can’t finish the season as we have two Champions League places to play for and if the league doesn’t get completed by a certain time, we cannot take those places. Getting back to train on 1st March would mean games could start on 28th March. If we can’t get back on 1st March it means it’s going to be tough to complete the league. Even if we do get back then, it could mean having to play three games a week. The league has attracted lots of top players back to Scotland and credibility is at stake when it comes to re-starting.”

One thing that has been clear in the short period that the top flight was able to be played in 2020/21 was the number of new signings that both Rangers and Celtic have made in a bid to end Glasgow City’s run of thirteen straight championship wins.

“They’ve always had more money than us although it must be said they have increased the amount they have put in even more recently. Rangers have five of the players that finished last season with us. But the money that Celtic and Rangers have put in actually just puts more pressure on them. I always believe in our values at Glasgow City, what makes us special, the fact that we are the most important team at the club. There isn’t a men’s team here. If you have a men’s team, they will always come first. We believe in our club and our players and we will always be competitive.”

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