Hibs Women target Rangers Scottish Cup scalp in first leg of 'quirky' doubleheader

Hibs Women coach Grant Scott is planning for a bright future - possibly in a new home for his team.Hibs Women coach Grant Scott is planning for a bright future - possibly in a new home for his team.
Hibs Women coach Grant Scott is planning for a bright future - possibly in a new home for his team. | SNS
Plans for a new home ground could help Scott's squad close gap on elite

In a changing landscape for women’s football, an environment where financial might has created a gap between the very best and the also-rans, any opportunity to close ground on the leaders is to be seized without hesitation. On the field of play, through a one-off knock-out tie. Or even by creating a match day venue that feels like a proper home.

Hibs manager Grant Scott, who leads his team into Scottish Cup quarterfinal action against Rangers at Meadowbank this afternoon, recognises that the Scottish game has been transformed by the Old Firm throwing proper resources behind their women’s teams. Celtic and reigning champions Glasgow City may trail leaders Rangers by just the four points – but there’s a 14-point gap between third and fourth, with Hibs a further three points adrift in fifth place.

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Scott, who won the Scottish Cup and League cup in his previous stint with Hibs, as well as leading them into the knockout stages of the 2019 Champions League, returned to East Mains just before the start of the current season. On the back of last weekend’s 3-0 home loss to Rangers in the SWPL, he’s not making any promises about securing the first leg of a men’s and women’s Scottish Cup double - Nick Montgomery's lads also take on the Light Blues in the last eight of the Cup at Easter Road later this evening - in their High Noon KO.

But he sees definite signs of progress in his squad. And talk of a bespoke home for the women’s team, floated at the AGM where billionaire Bournemouth owner Bill Foley’s £6 million buy-in was approved, obviously caught his attention.

“I would probably be wrong to comment on too much of the detail because I’m not privy to all the information,” said Scott. “But some of the stuff that’s been mentioned, it’s another positive indictment of the club’s policy to support the women.

“I’ve certainly noticed a big difference since coming back. We’re fully integrated, in the same building as the men’s teams, with access to all the same facilities we want.

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“Everyone in this building knows our result at the weekend, knows who we’ve got coming up. The one club vision is certainly starting to filter down.

“So mentions of that investment hopefully providing something for the women and girls here, it’s a positive nod towards what the club have been doing in the last few years. I don’t know the finer details but, if that comes around, it’s another thing to make us more attractive to players signing for Hibs.”

That’s a key factor for a club who, while employing players on a full-time basis, can’t always pay enough to prevent some from taking on part-time work. It’s just a fact of financial life, at the moment, that Hibs cannot compete with the biggest spenders in Scotland.

“Even going back to my last period at the club, we were all working away on an amateur basis,” said Scott. “A handful of players had what you could call a full-time role at the club.

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“The backing of Rangers and Celtic as football clubs, if they want to underpin their women’s team, it’s easier for them. So the landscape has changed.

“We’re playing catch-up after they came in with a bit of a flurry. But Glasgow City show what can be done, although they also have a good budget. We’ve shown that we can compete in one-off matches.

“Most of the players are full-time now. A few maintain a second job because, bluntly, it’s financial. The contracts we can offer are improving year on year, but a couple are still what you would class as the lower end of a working wage, so players need a second income. But they’re in here four days a week, then a match day on weekend. So it’s the same model as the men.

“As the game progresses and things are more professional, if you can offer the pay package so players don’t have to maintain a second job, the rest and recovery should go towards them being a better athlete.

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“The advent of funding and finances in the women’s game has changed a lot. There are a new generation who are coming in for the job, the career, the finance. Harking back to four or five years ago, even, players were committed to playing for no money. Sometimes some pocket money.

“Our successful teams winning trophies in 2018, 2019, competing in Europe, those players were never paid a penny. They did it for the enjoyment and love of the game.

“The players deserve the level of support they’re getting now, and they deserve to have a professional career in the game. I don’t begrudge them a penny.

“But we’ve got clubs who pay more than us. We have to offer them what we can, in terms of the best environment to practice and learn, as well as the monetary side.”

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Describing today’s Scottish Cup doubleheader with the men’s team as “kind of quirky,” Scott knows his players will need to up their game so soon after losing to Jo Potter’s team, admitting: “The game at the weekend, probably Rangers deserved to win the match. I don’t look at the stats regularly but, visually, their possession, the territory they played in, they probably created an extra couple of opportunities.

“But I don’t think it was a 3-0. That looks a bit more severe than it was, particularly for 45 minutes, where our players competed well and had a good opportunity to go in front, a good opportunity to equalise.

“The squad has improved since last year; we’ve made massive progress in terms of quality. But is it unrealistic to expect more of them? They’re still bedding in.

“Rangers are at the top of the league for a reason. They’ve got the biggest budget, I believe, and they are a tough opponent. So there is still a gap between ourselves and the top three. We’re closing that gap bit by bit.”

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