On Sunday they will be the bitterest of enemies, but only days later the girls of Hibs Ladies will be cheering their rivals from Galsgow City to the rafters as they travel to face Chelsea in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
The exploits of the team from the West of Scotland in previous years in the competition have ensured two places available for Scottish clubs for the first time next season – and the Capital club will be taking one of them after ensuring at least second place in the Scottish Women’s Premier League,
Hibs needed just one point from their remaining four games to join the Glaswegians in qualifying and did so with a 2-1 win over Celtic at their home ground, Broxburn’s Albyn Park, at the weekend.
But now coach Chris Roberts is intent on going one better by wresting the SWPL title from Glasgow, Scott Booth’s side three points ahead and enjoying a vastly superior goal difference with only three games left, making Sunday’s clash, in all reality, a “do-or-die” effort for Hibs.
He said: “If we end up with Champions League football and second place it will still have been a successful season, but winning the league and the Scottish Cup have been our priority all season.
“Qualifying for the Champions League wasn’t a complete surprise – we’d known about the second place for a while although it was only made official recently. It’s the first time in nine years the club has been in the Champions League, Joelle Murray, our captain played then, while Lisa Robertson, who left us for Glasgow City but is now back, played at that level while away.
“We’ve got a young team, a great bunch of girls so everyone is just delighted for them knowing how hard they have worked and how big an achievement it is. I can’t imagine there being too many younger teams than us in the competition.”
Roberts admitted his Twitter account had “gone ballistic” with good wish messages, many from other clubs in the SWPL. He said: “We pride ourselves on doing things the right way. We’re an attacking, flamboyant team playing an exciting brand of football and a lot of people respect that. We genuinely have a great bunch of people at the club, through the staff and the players, and they are really popular with other clubs.
“The clubs in the SWPL are quite close, it’s a small league and the coaches are quite close to each other and there’s a lot of good work being done by Anna Signeul and Ann-Helm Grahm. They bring the coaches together to work on training and last year, for instance, they took us to Germany where we worked with the likes of Wolfsburg, Frankfurt and Bayern Munich.”
While Roberts’ immediate focus is on Sunday and the remainder of this season, thoughts will turn to next year – and Europe – on Monday where a club meeting already pencilled in to discuss finance with now the obvious additional burden of competing with the continent’s best.
While Glasgow City go into this season’s Champions League seeded, entering the competition as they do against Chelsea in the last 32, Hibs will face a qualifying group involving three other clubs.
Roberts explained: “There will be quite a lot of support from UEFA but it depends if you play at home or away.
“The teams will be put into groups of four and one of them might say they are willing to host the games, if not UEFA will decide. As a club we’ll need to put our heads together and raise enough to ensure the girls are well looked after and that they can go and play without worrying about anything else.”
As an SFA development officer, Roberts appreciates the opportunity hosting such an event would play in raising the awareness and profile of women’s football but he admitted: “There’s a downside to that. We don’t have full time staff or players to manage that, the organisation and looking after three other teams while they are here could become something of a monster.
“Going away would mean that, in effect, the players would be full-time for that period, staying in a hotel, training without having university or work between games. They’d be able to focus solely on their football.”
But if Champions League is something of a stranger to the current Hibs Ladies’ side, international travel is not, as Roberts revealed. He said: “We have a well-travelled young squad. Most of the girls have been involved with Scotland at one level or another.
“We had four away last week with the full squad in Austria last week and four in Slovenia with the Under-19s at the same time. So that aspect of it won’t be anything new to them, but for both them and those who haven’t, the Champions League is going to be an exciting experience.”