Monday 16 March 2020, 10:18

Glasgow City: Excelling as the exception

  • Glasgow City thriving against big-name rivals at home and abroad

  • Scots reached the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-finals

  • Founder Laura Montgomery speaks about flying the flag for independent clubs

Glasgow City are well accustomed to being the odd ones out. But never has this exceptional club stood out as glaringly as they do now.

The quarter-final line-up for the now on-hold UEFA Women’s Champions League offers the perfect illustration. From Arsenal to Bayern Munich and Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, the tournament’s last eight is crammed full of household names. Or almost full. Because there, amid those handsomely-backed heavyweights, sit Glasgow City as the proud, prominent exception.

The Scottish champions have reached this stage once before. But back then, in 2014, they found themselves surrounded by other independent women’s teams from Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Now those sides are nowhere to be seen, with ever-increasing financial backing from major men’s clubs having transformed the picture at the elite level of women’s football.

“It’s incredible to see our name in that Champions League line-up and it’s a massive source of pride,” club manager and founder Laura Montgomery, herself a former Glasgow City player, told “I’m sure it upsets the apple cart a bit too because there will be people in the game who just want to see the big names.

“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.”

Laura Montgomery the co-founder of Glasgow City is seen during the UEFA Women's Champions League Round of 32 2nd Leg match between Glasgow City and Somatio Barcelona on September 27, 2018.

‘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 utilise their men’s team’s training centres, 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.”

Bullish on Glasgow City’s prospects once football returns from its Coronavirus-enforced hiatus, Montgomery is less enthusiastic about the wider picture for the Scottish women’s game. If there is a down side to her club’s achievements and the national team’s success in reaching back-to-back major finals, she says, it’s that it has allowed for the papering over of cracks.

“It's been a fantastic period,” she said. “But I do think the challenges in the Scottish domestic game over the past decade have been masked by the national team and Glasgow City punching above our weight in international competitions.

"My frustration is that I think some people have looked at those achievements and thought, ‘The women’s game is doing fine and doesn’t need more support and investment’. And it really does. If we're going to maintain the standards we've set in recent years, there's a lot of work to do.”

Being exceptional doesn't come easy. But if the necessary backing materialises, don't bet against Glasgow City remaining the odd ones out for many years to come.

 Nicola Docherty of Glasgow City celebrates with team mates after victory in a penalty shoot out during the UEFA Women's Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Glasgow City and Brondby IF.