Every day is a school day for Motherwell midfielder Gill Inglis as she mixes her career as a primary teacher alongside captaining the Motherwell women’s side in SWPL1.
It is a tough routine, but one that is going well, with children back in the classroom and Paul Brownlie’s side on a run of three straight home wins in the league – taking them into the top half of the table and within two points of last season’s points tally after just nine games played.
The last 18 months have not been easy, however, and through the more difficult periods of the pandemic, Gill believes that football was often her escape from the difficulties and stresses she endured.
She also points to the sacrifices made by female footballers during one of the most challenging times in the game’s history and hopes with a degree of normality returning to our everyday lives that women’s football in Scotland can continue to thrive.
“It has been challenging at times, it was hard working from home and doing online learning,” she explained. “I’m just happy things are getting back a bit closer to normal now.
“There are numerous teams in the league where players will still have full-time jobs alongside training in the morning, training at night and having games at the weekend. We are used to making sacrifices for football.
“We continued to work hard during the pandemic, and I think like it was for many of us, football was a bit of a saviour for us at times. It gave us something to focus on when things weren’t so easy in other parts of our lives.
“I think we are all delighted and grateful that it has been able to continue and was able to start back as quickly as it did.”
This summer saw wholesale changes in the women’s setup at ‘Well, with a new management team appointed and almost a complete overhaul of the playing squad.
Inglis captained the side during the 2020/21 campaign and shortly after the arrival of new head coach Brownlie, it was announced she would again lead the team in what is their third season in the top flight.
Inglis has over 10 years experience of playing club football at the highest level in Scotland and after her appointment as captain, Brownlie praised her leadership qualities and her abilities to work as a connection between players and staff.
The captaincy is a role that she has embraced and this season she has been assisted by the addition of a former Scotland star with great experience in the game.
Leanne Crichton was capped 72 times, with two of her three goals for the national side coming in games hosted at Fir Park. She joined the ranks at Motherwell in June as a player/coach and has already made a positive impact on the squad – scoring twice in nine appearances and playing a key role in helping the younger players integrate into the team.
“Being captain is a huge honour and something I am really proud of,” Inglis explained. “I love captaining the team – my aim is to do my best for the squad and I’m happy to help in any way that I can.
“Leanne is a great role model for us as a squad and for the younger players coming through as well. You can always learn; it doesn’t matter what age or stage you are at in your career – you always want to better yourself.
“She’s a huge factor in anyone that wants to play for Motherwell, playing alongside someone so experienced helps anybody, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been in the game.”
As the women’s game continues to gain increased exposure and respect, there has been increased importance on the players conducting themselves in a professional manner off the pitch.
The players have adjusted well to the increased media exposure as well as being aware of the importance of conducting themselves in the correct manner in the press and on social media.
“I think with the Scottish national team doing so well we need to carry that into Scottish football domestically,” the former Rangers midfielder said.
“Having the focus on social media and the highlights show on the BBC was a wee bit strange at first, it wasn’t something we were used to, but it is something as players that we have all embraced as players.
“The club having a dedicated press officer for the team shows how much the club is invested in us and we are aware of our responsibilities as players and how we conduct ourselves.”
In their first few seasons in the top league, there has been an element of frustration that the Motherwell women’s side have been unable to find a settled ground for their home matches.
That has changed this season with an agreement in place to host all home fixtures at Alliance Park, based in Strathclyde Park, and a settled home seems to be paying off.
‘Well have defeated Hamilton, Hearts and Aberdeen in their last three home encounters, while in contrast have yet to record a league win on the road.
Inglis feels like having a solid base has been integral in the team’s recent success and believes that the new management team at the club have brought with them a new lease of life to the women’s side.
“It is massive for us, we definitely feel a bigger part of the club and having a home ground that we can base ourselves at and can pick up positive results will definitely help us over the course of the season,” she added.
“Everything has completely changed; the manager has tried to bring in a mix of people – I think he has a mix of characters and is finding the best way to get the best out of us.
“You can see the positive changes that have been made. The staff are a breath of fresh air; he’s changed the squad and the way we do things.
“Our approach is different, the manager always says ‘trust the process’, some things he’s fixed in the short term, but there are still things he wants to change, and he has set long term goals for us. We now have a clear vision of where we are going as a squad and that definitely helps us.”
The change of management team has also brought an increased focus on the women’s academy at Motherwell.
As well as his role as head coach, Brownlie also holds the position of head of women and girls performance and he brings with him a great deal of experience from his seven years with the women’s academy at Celtic.
The vision of the women’s academy is like that of the men’s – develop young talent and integrate them into the first team reckoning and given the financial disparity between the top three teams in Scotland (Celtic, Glasgow City and Rangers) and the rest of the teams in the top two leagues, it is imperative that the chasing pack try to find ways in which they can bridge the gap.
“We are probably quite like the men’s team in that model, we want to have an academy and bring players through to the first team,” said Inglis. “If they can successfully make that transition from academy right the way through, then I think the club have done their job well.
“It is difficult because obviously there is a huge financial gap to the teams at the top and sometimes that can be evident on the pitch.
“The governing bodies want to push women’s football and a lot of focus is on the so-called bigger clubs – they bring in a lot of attention and media, but it’s about finding that balance of promoting every club and closing the gap between teams in the league so that it is more competitive – you will get a lot more viewers in if the league is more competitive all over.”
One occasion that was sure to increase interest in the women’s team at Motherwell was the first Lanarkshire derby of the season as the women of steel welcomed Hamilton to Alliance Park.
It was to be an occasion to remember for Brownlie’s side as they recorded a convincing 3-0 success to claim the local bragging rights.
Having spent 10 years at Accies, the result held extra significance for Inglis and it is one she hopes will help tempt more supporters along to future matches.
“It was great, we were firstly delighted with the win in the first derby,” she said. “We were happy with how large parts of the game went.
“It was great to see the media attention around the game and hopefully some of those who go see the men’s team will consider coming along and watching us one week too.”
With the first third of the season completed, Inglis has been pleased that Motherwell have recovered from a difficult start to the campaign.
After dropping out of the SWPL Cup at the group stage and losing their first four league matches, their recent run of 10 points from the last five league matches has come as a much-needed boost.
Behind the scenes, the team have been set targets, though the ‘Well captain is keen to stress that they must focus on continuing to improve and find an improved level of consistency.
“We had quite a tricky start to the season, but we are relatively happy at how we have played over the last few weeks,” she said. “Now the aim is to make our home ground a fortress – having three wins on the bounce there is huge for us.
“Everything is really positive just now, we are only two points off our total for the entirety of last season, when you compare this season to last, I think we have made huge gains.
“We just want to pick up as many points as we can, we obviously have certain targets that we will work on, though the main one is continuing to improve and show a level of consistency as well.”