With the new season of the Scottish Women’s Premier League One kicking off this weekend, Robert Watson, assistant manager of newly promoted Hamilton Academical spoke to Ben Gilby.
Above: Hamilton Academicals celebrate their promotion back to the SWPL 1 at the end of last season. Photo: Ian Steel Photography, supplied by: Hamilton Academical WFC.
The Accies’ return to the SWPL 1 coincides with an important milestone in the club’s history as Robert reveals: “Our 25th anniversary has just gone so women’s football has had fairly long journey at the club so far! We are one of the biggest clubs in Scotland when it comes to women’s football and we have a really proud history of producing Premier League quality players and a few Scotland internationals at the club. Its a brilliant place for players to play their football.”
Last season was hugely successful for Hamilton as they earned their place back in the top tier after a couple of years away. Robert explains the processes involved:
“We got relegated from SWPL 1 in 2018 so since then the focus has been getting back to the top division. In 2019 we just missed out on promotion on the last day, but we managed to keep our key players and add some real quality, particularly in our defence and front line. Ultimately, the key though was team spirit through the stoppage due to COVID. The players supported each other to attend Zoom fitness classes, running groups, then training in groups of two when we were allowed, then three, four and finally non-contact before we could return to full training. The players were magnificent and I don’t think we would have done it without that sheer will from them to get promoted.
“The COVID period was very difficult. Lots of our teams were not allowed to play and only the first team actually completed a scheduled season. I am just looking forward to seeing everyone back!”
It was a real tussle at the top of the SWPL 2 table between Aberdeen, Hamilton Academical, Partick Thistle, and Dundee United last season. The key to Accies’ eventual promotion was their record in the games between those sides at the top: “Across those six games we won four of them. The four clubs had pulled clear of the rest of the League and we had to beat the three of them in a row over a week. It was a very, very tough week but we dug deep and even away to Aberdeen where we weren’t at our best, we got a 2-1 win. Ultimately, winning was more important than performance by that point. The schedule itself was hard – eight games in five weeks – so the players deserve enormous credit for keeping going and producing wins.”
The next step for Hamilton now is competing with the top sides in Scottish Women’s Football. I asked Robert what do the club need to do to stay competitive and ensure that higher level football is sustainable.
“Effectively, we need to keep our best players where we can and add some quality. I don’t think there is a big gap between the top of SWPL 2 and mid table of SWPL 1, and I already think we have a strong spine that can go and compete. Now it’s a matter of fitting a couple of new faces to the team. It will be hard but we are better prepared than we would have been in 2019 if we had done it then.”
Bringing players through the club from a young age is an important part of that sustainable development, and Hamilton Academical have an established pathway.
“We have ‘mini kickers’ which is for young children up to seven years old. Then we have Under 9s, Under 13s, Under 16s, Under 19s (essentially our reserve team) and finally the first team. At the moment we have three players in our first team who have moved through our pathway,” explained a proud Robert.
Another key part of the club’s sustainability is the strong relationship between the men’s and women’s teams.
“We play all of our matches at the main New Douglas Park stadium which the men’s team also use. The club have been very good and support us, but Hamilton are a small club when compared to Rangers or Celtic. Financially in Scotland there is an enormous gap and little financial support from the governing body, but we have been very good at stretching what we have to ensure the players get the best facility we can and the club have been brilliant in that way.”
“The biggest challenge facing the club is recruitment as the SWPL 1 now has three professional teams but we have always worked hard and done our due diligence to try and get the best players in. While we maybe can’t offer players money, we can offer them an excellent platform to showcase their ability and maybe get the professional move off the back of it.”
For this season’s return to the top tier, Robert is clear about the club’s aim: To become an established top division side again.”
To follow the progress of Hamilton Academical and all of the SWPL 1 clubs, check out Impetus’ continued coverage of the Scottish women’s game this season.