Laura Montgomery co-founded Glasgow City in 1998 and they have become arguably the most successful women’s football in Britain. With the team just sealing a thirteenth consecutive Scottish title and tonight hosting Danish side Brondby for a place in the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, we are delighted that she agreed to talk exclusively to Impetus editor Ben Gilby in the middle of such an historic week for the club.
Glasgow City are a phenomenon in the world of women’s football and the fact that they continue to be so in this day of increased funding in their women’s sides from Scotland’s biggest men’s teams merely emphasises how outstanding their achievements are. Tonight, they host Brondby, three times semi-finalists in UEFA’s women’s club competitions (most recently in 2014/15), and hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Denmark. They stand on the brink of equalling their record of making the Quarter-Finals of European women’s football’s premier competition (a stage they previously reached in 2014/15 when Paris St. Germain defeated them in the last eight). How can a standalone women’s team remain at the top of the tree?
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.
Whilst improvements in coverage during this summer’s Women’s World Cup, Montgomery is greatly frustrated by the fact that “the Scottish media has reverted to type since the World Cup. It’s all gone back to what it was before. I was interviewed on the radio recently and was asked what I thought about the attendance figures for the Women’s Scottish Cup semi-finals. My response was that I was not surprised at all – there was absolutely no publicity for the games in the media at all. We have a huge challenge of getting TV and newspaper interest.”
Glasgow City were formed in 1998 by Laura Montgomery and Carol Anne Stewart. “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. 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.”
The story is one that should inspire all girls that they can achieve anything they want with determination. “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.”
Glasgow City’s continued success comes despite the fact that Scotland’s biggest men’s sides Celtic, Rangers, Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian are investing more money than ever in their women’s teams. “Celtic pay their women players. They have done for a number of years. They are able to offer excellent facilities which they don’t have to pay for as it all comes from the main club. They can offer sports science and administrative support. The men’s club provide staff for marketing and sponsorship. Yet, we’re still achieving with just a fraction of the potential financial and human input that those sides have. We can offer a girls and women centred club, which they can’t.”
Related to this, Montgomery sees this season as possibly the finest in the club’s history. Every league match has been won, ninety four goals scored, with just seven conceded. On top of this is the European run. “It’s our best ever run. Reaching the last sixteen is punching above our weight. Winning 2-0 away from home in the last sixteen to Brondby, who have made the semi-finals before is magnificent. We have won away from home before, at Valur Reykjavik in the last thirty-two – but they don’t have the history that Brondby have and it’s a whole round further on.”
All this comes on the back of a positive showing internationally for the Scottish women’s squad. “We had a difficult group at the World Cup, with Japan and England”, Montgomery observes, “but we competed extraordinarily well. The Argentina game was one we hoped to win. We all know what happened in the end, but the experience will help the team to come of age. We fell just short, it’s a great learning curve for the team though. That squad will be together for the European Championships next year and also for the next World Cup, so it can only produce positives.”
As our discussion moved towards its end, I asked Montgomery for her opinions on the overall state of the women’s club game in Scotland at the present time: “Our biggest weakness is that we are geographically next to England. The strongest, most competitive league in women’s football is in England. It’s the league that players want to play in – the money is there. When we were in Denmark, I spoke with the Brondby staff and they were saying how their players want to play in England. Long term, I think it could bite England on the bum – the more overseas players that come in will impact the national team. In Scotland, we, and Glasgow City of course are included in that, shift players to England, but we don’t get any money for them. We still have to produce players to replace them, but don’t get the recompense. The main strength is our resilience!”
Glasgow City have, in the past made representations to the FA in England to join the league set up south of the border. Montgomery is clear that “We’d love to do that, but in order to do it, we’ve been told we would have to become a member of an England County FA. That would be very challenging. There’s also the fact that in Scotland we have two very powerful men’s teams – Celtic and Rangers. If there was the precedent of a women’s team joining the English league system then it would make it very difficult for the FA to refuse Celtic and Rangers, so I think the powers that be would refuse.”
The founding beliefs, status and achievements of Glasgow City are inspirational – primarily for girls and women, but also more widely for all who hold dear the possibilities and status that sport offers individuals and groups in society. Glasgow City are a club worthy of respect and of their success.
Glasgow City’s UEFA Women’s Champions League Last 16 Second Leg tie v Brondby can be seen live on BBC Alba tonight. Catch it from 7:30pm via BBCiPlayer, Channel 161 Virgin Media, Sky Channel 141 in Scotland or 169 rest of UK, Freesat Channel 9, Freeview Channel 7 Scotland.
Impetus will have a report on the game tomorrow.