Hibernian Ladies have been Edinburgh’s dominant force in women’s football since their formation in 1999, but that may all be about to change with rivals Spartans investing heavily both on and off the field during the close season.
After a disappointing campaign last year, where they finished fifth in the Scottish Women’s Premier League, Spartans have attempted to bridge the gap on their city rivals by tempting some of the Easter Road side’s key personnel along to Ainslie Park.
Scotland stars Kirsty McLaughlin and Rebecca Zoltie, along with youngster Lynsey Cowan and promising youth coach Allan Harkness, have all made the switch from Hibs since the end of last season.
With Scotland Under-19 starlet Stephanie Briggs joining from Hutchison Vale and Elliss Jenkins signing from Rangers, the Spartans squad is shaping up to be their strongest ever.
Midfielder McLaughlin believes that the future is bright for the club and she is determined to play her part in helping the club achieve success.
She said: “When [Spartans manager] Debbi McCulloch contacted me at the end of last season to ask if I would return to Spartans, I took my time before making my decision because I had enjoyed my time with Hibs and the coaches there had done so much for me. Yet, it felt right to rejoin Spartans because in some ways I feel I have unfinished business following my previous spell here. I made some very good friends during my time with Hibs and they were all very supportive of my decision to return to Spartans. It’s been a long time since the club won anything but we have been in the last three League Cup finals so we are not far away. We are capable of getting our hands on a trophy this season.”
Spartans took their first tentative steps towards realising their dream of silverware by beating Falkirk in the opening round of the Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup last weekend. Despite trailing 2-0 at one point, the Ainslie Park side produced a stirring fightback to force the match into extra-time before eventually winning 4-2 against stubborn opponents.
While naturally attempting to play down any talk of a power shift in the Capital, McLaughlin admitted Spartans are fast closing the gap on the Hibees. “Both clubs are still at slightly different stages in their development,” he said.
“Hibs have an established youth system in place and an evident presence of international players at youth level, whereas Spartans have only just completed their youth pathway. I don’t think it will be long before the players start coming through. There’s no denying that Hibs have more international players but Spartans are seeing more and more opportunities for their players to break through – it’s just a matter of time before someone does.
“Has there been a power shift between the clubs? I don’t know, but the game is always evolving and we will see at the end of the season just who holds the bragging rights in the city.”
McLaughlin feels Spartans have a point to prove after finishing fifth last season. “We’re determined to make amends for last season and remind everyone that we are still one of the top teams in Scotland,” she said. “We need to be back up the top end of the table, but the first aim is to make the top six. Clubs like Rangers and Hamilton have improved beyond recognition and we need to make sure we finish ahead of them this term.”
By getting their structure right off the field, Spartans are building for their future. It seems only a matter of time before they are challenging Hibs’ supremacy.
Meanwhile, Hearts Women begin their First Division league campaign with a home tie against East Fife tomorrow.