Paul Brownlie took over at Fir Park as head coach and head of women and girl’s performance at the end of the 2020/21 season, and right away set to work on a massive overhaul.
The women’s team at Fir Park had suffered a tumultuous year, with the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic contributing to a season where survival was all that mattered.
They would achieve their objective, finishing third-bottom of the table, four points ahead of Hearts who ended last, though there was still a great deal of work ahead.
Recruiting former Scotland international Leanne Crichton as player/assistant manager was Paul’s first big addition to the setup and over the months leading up to the beginning of the campaign, he would continue to bolster his squad with a whole host of new additions.
The Women of Steel would go on to perform well in Brownlie’s first year in charge, finishing one place higher in the league and registering a significantly better points tally.
Much of their improved fortunes could be put down to a strong ending to the season, and Brownlie admits that preparations for their first game this time round have been significantly different.
“The challenge for us at Motherwell is how we kick on this season and the players know that,” said Brownlie.
“The players have got short, medium and long term objectives in terms of what it is that we want to achieve going forward.
“There’s a real sense of belief now things are settled. It’s a totally different environment when you compare it to last season when we were preparing for the Glasgow City game on the first day and didn’t feel settled at that stage.
“The players were given off- season programmes, which was something that they didn’t have last season due to the timescales. It has also given us the opportunity to meet up with the players too and discuss areas where they did well and where they can improve.
“It’s testament to the players and to their characters, they’ve created a real environment and they
push each other in every training session.
“We know it’s going to be difficult, there’s been large investment across the board, however we’ve invested well too. At Motherwell we don’t have that professional model as yet, but what we do have is players that have a professional mentality and that’s going to be really important for us going forward.”
Motherwell ended their pre-season preparations with a 6-1 victory over Gartcairn, taking their record to four wins and one defeat in five preparation fixtures during July.
As well as performing well in matches, Brownlie has been thrilled with the dedication of his existing squad and recruitment of new players over the summer months.
Most of the core of the squad have remained in ML1 for the new season, and the Well boss has
also added Brogan Anderson, Emily Mutch, Emma Lawton and Lucy Ronald to the ranks.
“The players have been excellent, they’ve really bought into what myself, Leanne and other staff has tried to implement,” he added. “Last season we were trying to build a team, it was a massive transition then compared to this year where we’ve been able to focus much more on how we are going to approach things tactically and work on our principles in and out of possession.
“There’s not been a big overhaul in terms of the playing group, the players we’ve identified, we’ve managed to get which is excellent. There were some players who left the club, but we feel that quality has got a lot better, which is the ongoing target.
“Everybody we wanted to keep stayed, even when some had offers where they may have been better off financially. They’ve stayed here because I think there’s a real buy-in to what Leanne and I are trying to achieve.
“In terms of our transfer strategy, we’ve got two approaches, the first is the academy which we are trying to build, bringing youth players through is so important – we’ve had five players in over the summer from the academy and they’ve got good time as well.
“From there it was about identifying other quality, SWPL2 has always been part of the strategy in terms of who they best players are in there. We’ve been able to go get Brogan Anderson and Lucy Ronald, who were two of the best players in that league.
“We were also able to get in Emily Mutch, we knew the goalkeeping department was going to be absolutely huge for us this season and knew we had to get it right. That’s no disrespect to the goalkeeper who was here before, but to bring Emily in was a huge a signing for the football club, the fact she’s still so young, but she’ll bring in so much quality too.
“I think it was signing that showed the distance this football club has travelled, certainly during my time anyway, she’s a fantastic talent with a great future ahead of her.”
As well as signing players with exciting futures ahead of them, the future looks bright with a number of prospects emerging from the youth academy.
London Pollard and Jemma Hughes will both join up with the Scotland’s Under-19s squad in the midweek for a training camp, and Pollard has already made an impact for the national team having scored twice and making three assists during wins over Kazakhstan, Estonia and Kosovo.
Brownlie believes that international honours for his players demonstrates the huge strides the club is making.
Having previously worked with the Motherwell elite academy at Braidhurst, Paul is keen to put that experience into building a pathway for young female players to excel.
“Jemma has come through the youth system here, and London established herself in the squad last season,” Paul explained.
“By all accounts her performances were excellent, she got a couple of assists and a couple of goals.
“The challenge for her is to go cement her place in the team this year, and can she add it to that? Can she improve her goal tally? Go embrace the experience of what youth international football gives you?
“For Jemma the target is to get into the squad as well, she was in and around a couple of the training camps, but never quite made that final jump into one of the squads until now.
“That has to be a realistic target, especially with the quality she showed at the end of last season, everyone at Motherwell certainly believes she is good enough to play at that level.
“We’ve made huge strides, it was a big part of the remit for me when I walked through the door here. I quickly recognised we had to make a performance pathway to help young girls play at this football club.
“I think everyone knows the success that Steven Hammell and the guys have had within the elite academy. I was fortunate enough to work alongside them for a year, and wanted to build something similar for the girls. We’re around 10 months into the process of building the project and the strides we’ve taken have been phenomenal.
“We’ve tried to be different in terms of what we offer young players and think at this time, the academy is evolving really well – there are some brilliant young players who in time will be future first team players and future Scotland players as well.”
After a season playing at Alliance Park, K-Park in East Kilbride is set to be the new home of Motherwell women in 2022/23.
In April, Fir Park hosted almost 800 supporters as Brownlie’s side took on Hamilton.
It was a demonstration as to the interest in women’s football in Scotland, though the Well gaffer realises they have to carry on that momentum.
This summer’s European Championships may not have featured Scotland, but given the widespread attention the tournament has received, Brownlie insists the landscape for women’s football north of the border has never looked better.
He also praised key figures behind the scenes at Fir Park, for driving the highest standards both on and off the pitch.
“The people who work behind the scenes here, they’ve got a real passion for this football club and they are determined to do whatever they can to make it successful,” added the former Scottish FA high performance manager.
“I’ve had real support from Alan Burrows and Steven Hammell – I try to convey their passion to the players, and they all recently attended the Sligo home game.
“We want to be fully integrated within the football club, which we are, and everyone is working on striving to make the women’s department bigger and stronger.
“Something we encourage the first team and academy players to do is go watch games. I think that’s a unique way to learn. We’re constantly telling the kids at the club to watch players who play in their position and to find their role models.
“That’s something we’re trying to do in the first team here as well, we want players at Motherwell who youngsters can aspire to and look up to.
“We had a fantastic event at Fir Park last season where the team played in front of just under 800 fans, and how we engage with those supporters moving forward is going to be crucial – they are going to be part of our journey.
“The quality we’ve seen from start to finish at the Euro’s has been fantastic, and it’s important that these young players aspire to get to that next level. There’s much more opportunities in this country now, some clubs are going full time and others adopting hybrid models – I’m sure over time that’s something we’ll be doing at Motherwell as well.”
Following tomorrow’s trip to Dundee United at Thomson Park, the home of Lochee Juniors, Motherwell
will host last season’s runners-up Glasgow City.
It is sure to be a stern challenge, but an impressive end to 2021/22 and a strong pre-season has given plenty of cause for optimism.
The team won their final two league matches and also contested two matches against eventual champions Rangers where they lost both fixtures by a single goal.
A look back on previous results against some of the tops teams shows that a one goal defeat is certainly positive progress, and Brownlie and his staff continue to try further steps forward.
“We finished last season on a real high in terms of the last five games we won three, and lost to Rangers in the other two narrowly – we had a bit of momentum,” he continued.
“We know Dundee United’s qualities and have made sure we have done our homework as a staff group.
“There isn’t a team that train any more than what we train, the volume of training here is getting players better every single training session and that’s the target for them.
“We’re quite hard on them in terms of the intensity of the training sessions, but that is what is needed to compete with the top teams – we’ve trained five times this week in the build-up to the Dundee United game.
“We’ve got our targets internally, we made good use of our time on the bus to the friendly at Sunderland to discuss with the players what our aims were, breaking it down monthly.
“We know the challenge, but it’s one that all the players are up for.”