Glasgow City going for their 14th successive league title. Celtic and Rangers pouring big investment into the teams. Hearts joining the division. Hibs continuing to look strong.
If the Scottish Women’s Premier League 1 was previously a formidable league for Motherwell, that challenge has only intensified further in the last 12 months or so.
But despite that strength elsewhere, the women of steel also have plenty to offer. One of those things is the lack of fear when taking on the challenges that lie ahead.
With Eddie Wolecki Black at the helm, Motherwell returned to league action with a 4-2 loss at Forfar Farmington on Sunday.
Scottish women’s football’s most successful coach has made it clear to his squad that he wants more success in Lanarkshire.
“He’s very ambitious,” says forward Lori Gardner. “His message to the squad is just not to fear anything. We’ve got nothing to lose, go into every game to win.
“We’re not just there to take part. We want to compete and win in every game. And that’s his message in every training session, about how we can hurt teams in the league.”
Wolecki Black famously led Glasgow City to four successive domestic trebles between 2011 and 2015, and also took them as far the Women’s Champions League quarter-final for the first time in his final season.
He returned to the women’s game in 2017 and was instrumental in securing Motherwell promotion to the top flight and helping them reach the 2018 Women’s Scottish Cup final.
In December last year, he made the move back to Lanarkshire, hoping to improve on last season’s sixth-place finish.
He set to work strengthening the side all over the park with with the likes of goalkeeper Khym Ramsay, defender Lauren Gallon and midfielder Kodie Hay all joining, while he has added more firepower up front in the shape of Lisa Swanson and Nicole Pullar.
“We want to be competitive in every game,” said Gardner. “Last season I think we were just stuck in mid-table, but obviously this season we want to push on from that.
“We’ve got a lot of new players in, we’ve got a good squad. There’s no reason why we can’t compete with the top teams and get further up the league.
“I think it’s good to have a manager who’s got that experience. He’s brought in a lot of good players as well that have been at clubs he’s previously worked with. So there’s a good mix and there’s a good feel about the place.
“Obviously there’s other coaching staff there as well, there’s not just Eddie. There’s Stewart Hall and Willie Kinniburgh and they bring great experience. Stewart has worked in the women’s game for a long time and Willie’s worked in the men’s game. There’s a good balance around the club.
“All the girls get on really well which helps. Everyone is wanting to be part of a team. We’re all helping each other. It’s just a good environment to be around just now.”
In Motherwell’s next two games, they host last season’s top two Hibernian and champions Glasgow City.
The headlines around the SWPL have cantered on Rangers and Celtic going full-time, setting the stage for the most competitive season the league has ever been.
If Motherwell are to compete then the form of tenacious forward Gardner will be pivota. But it’s an expectation the Bellshill-born 23-year-old is happy to take on.
“Obviously I want to score as many goals as possible but I just want to help the team,” said Gardner, who made the move from Hamilton Academical in 2019.
“I’ve been playing up front for the past few seasons but I quite like playing out wide so, getting more assists to my game is something I look forward to trying to do this season.
“The strength of the league is good for the women’s game in Scotland. Rangers and Celtic are now pushing on with Hibs and Glasgow City. So there’s a more competitive edge to the league, especially for the title and Champions League spots.
“It’ll be good to be part of this year. It’s exciting with all the new players coming to the Scottish game.”
For now, games are being played behind closed doors due to the current pandemic, but when the gates do open again Gardner has pinpointed one team-mate fans should look out for.
“Abby Callaghan,” she said. “She’s in and around the Scotland Under 19 squad just now, she’s an exciting young player. I think she’s one to watch.”
By Andrew Southwick