In the rain, cold and dark, on the synthetic pitch at Alford Community Campus, you’ll find Huntly Women’s FC already back training after a hard-fought defeat the previous weekend. Despite this, they were back on th pitch and working hard to improve their skills. The team aged 15-22 trains twice a week and has been together for less than six months.
The benefit to all this hard works is that they sit in the middle of the Scottish Women’s Football North League table (SWFL).
The Women’s squad were put together in December 2022 in preparation for the 2023 season that kicked off at the end of January. At the midway point of the SWFL, Huntly Ladies sit in a comfortable fifth place.
Their first season having gotten off to a great start.
With players who’ve been part of Aberdeen, Donside and Deveronvale’s under-18 teams – some are getting back into the game after finishing further studies and some players have been playing since they were young, working their way up to the ladies team.
After their first game in January, which had over 500 spectators, the team have been travelling all over the North of Scotland as part of their mission to make a stamp in the SWFL competition, at the halfway mark they divide the top teams from the bottom.
Such support might not have been seen when Huntly’s men’s team was formed in 1928, considering women weren’t allowed to play officially until 1974 when the Scottish FA recognised women’s football after a UK-wide ban in 1921 and a further Scottish ban in the 1940s.
The sport has come a long way since then, notably the fact that this year’s Scottish Women’s Cup Final will be hosted at Hampden Stadium. The final for the Men’s game has been played there since 1903. It’s a huge win for the women’s game to get the same recognition and opportunity to play at a stadium that can hold over 50,000 fans.
The long-term plan for Huntly Women’s FC is to create a squad that empowers young women to get into the sport, sticking with it to a competitive level. And to start a youth pathway that will get girls from local teams into the women’s club, and to progress them through the divisions.
Raymond Henderson is the team’s new manager, he previously coached for the Aberdeen 18’s and has a clear vision of where he hopes the team will go next: “It was something I was happy to take on and to help move this young team up the Scottish Football pyramid. I think we can only move up from here, we’ve started off really well and are challenging the teams at the top – which nobody expected. I can only see us getting better as the bond of the team gets stronger.”
Rachel Bain, 17, plays centre-mid for the team and has been playing football since she was in Primary School, for Donside Girls. She helped win the Scottish Cup with the squad back in 2018 at only 12 years old: “Being part of a team, playing a sport I’m really passionate about is so special. Having played in girls’ teams to then moving up to the women’s team is something I never expected to happen,
“Seeing the women’s sport grow in its own right, and to be a part of that is amazing and a great step towards me being a professional player for Scotland one day”.
Elsa Stutter, 17 is the team’s centre-back. She came from Aberdeen’s u18 team along with six other players and their head coach. After coming from a bigger team, being part of the founding squad is giving young women a platform to encourage girls from the more rural areas of Scotland to get involved on the pitch: “It’s so good to see more women getting into a competitive sport. Events like the women’s Euros mean more girls are interested in playing. If we can make an impact on the younger girls to show them that there is an opportunity for them in the area then I think that’s a really big thing.”
A reoccurring theme here at SW/S is the lack of sponsorship for women’s sport. Research from Women in Sport UK suggests that between 2011-2013 women’s sports only accounted for 0.4 per cent of all sponsorship deals. However, more recent research shows that women’s European sport has had a 30 per cent increase in sponsorships.
Huntly WFC has seen this increase in practice, Dougie Graham, Secretary for Huntly Women FC explains: “I was surprised at the uptake of sponsorship we got, but people want to get behind this team. It’s as much, people coming to us as it is us going to them. The home and away strips got the same sponsor as the men’s team so that was a great start and from there we’ve been really lucky.”
Corparate sponsors within the sport are one the increase with Loganair – they are Scotland’s number one airline, and were the presenting partner for the 2022 SW/S Awards.
Corporate companies like these are taking the time to invest in young people and especially in young women trying to carve out a career in sports. To show their solidarity they have provided Shetland teenager – Katie Anderson – the opportunity to travel from her hometown of Burra to Dundee meaning that Katie can access further training with the BGK Academy to fulfil her dreams of being Manchester United’s next Goalkeeper. With direct flights, it means she can concentrate on her training and school work rather than having to worry about travelling around for games.
The team then faced their next hurdle – winning over the locals. Like I said previously the men’s squad have been playing in Huntly for almost 100 years but there is always the worry that they won’t be as welcoming to an entirely new team however as Henderson explains, they’re already breaking attendance records so these concerns can in reality be dimissed: “The support we’ve had from the town of Huntly has been incredible, to start a completely new team and at the first match there were more than 500 people turned up, which was the most that day for women’s football across Scotland.”
Rachel Morrison plays centre midfield. At 22 she is one of the oldest players in the squad, originally from Keith, Rachel is coming home to play a sport that she’s been a passionate part of since she was 15, having played for Deveronvale ladies before she took a break to study at university, she’s ready to make a difference in her home county and see the team evolve: “Coming back to a Huntly team brings me back home to play the game I love and it gave me the perfect opportunity to get the boots back on. Seeing how much the women’s game has grown in the last few years, it’s good to see that Highland League Teams are interested in creating a women’s squad. I am really invested in the team and just seeing where it goes.”
Looking back at the Lionesses’ performance at the Euros 22′ and all the young girls who were inspired to take up the sport, players like Charley Henderson, who is only 15, and plays right-wing back, is ready to kick things off for a whole new generation and will hopefully make sure that Scotland’s own team leave their own mark on the sporting map.
Charley expands on what it’s like being in the team and inspiring more girls to get into the sport: “It’s a big achievement being part of a ladies team when I am so young and something I didn’t think I’d be able to do. Because I didn’t start playing until I was nine,
“I used to play for Aberdeen but this feels like more of an opportunity because I’ve always played above my age group and this gives me the chance to play for Scotland and Rangers so I’m hoping to get noticed through this team. We went to go see one of the younger teams and they were really excited to see us, asking for photos and all that, it was surreal that they were actually asking us and especially when I’m only 15, that younger girls are looking up to me.”