Why Hearts women are playing catch up as they turn semi-pro
The Hearts announcement that their women’s team will now be paid as the club makes the transition to semi-pro status was warmly welcomed and came as little surprise.
It’s been the direction of travel for the women’s game in Scotland for some time. Celtic and Rangers are already full-time professional, while Glasgow City operate with a mix of full and part-time players.
Hibs handed out their first semi-pro contract more than two years ago and have an increasing number of players who are paid.
Spartans also made the change last summer, handing key players Alana Marshall, Rachel Harrison, and Robyn McCafferty semi-pro contracts for the first time.
So in many respects, Hearts are playing catch up and that is reflected by their current league position.
Head coach Eva Olid has a very young team and although performance levels have improved throughout the season under her reign, a run of poor results in recent weeks leave her team second bottom of SWPL1.
Fortunately for Hearts, there is no relegation from SWPL1 this season as part of the expansion of the league as it moves to become part of the SPFL.
That allows Hearts to plan for next season without fear.
Staying up is essential as they put in place a semi-professional structure for the long term and build towards becoming fully professional.
Hearts sporting director Joe Savage has made it clear this week that going semi-pro status doesn’t just mean paying the players they already have, but recruiting better ones. Getting that right this summer will be key if Hearts are to progress.
There are clearly a number of talented youngsters at Riccarton, as evidenced by the number of players called up by Scotland Under-19s, but experience has been lacking and will need to be addressed.
Hibs are soon expected to reveal more about their plans to invest further in their women’s team and Spartans know they need to spend to remain competitive in the top flight too as the top two divisions move to become part of the SPFL set up.
It all means budget sizes and player recruitment this summer will be more important than ever before – with Hearts, Hibs and Spartans all competing for the best talent in the Edinburgh area and beyond.
Like the men’s professional game, money makes the difference.
It will still be difficult for the Capital trio to compete at the top end of the table with Glasgow’s big three over the next couple of years. But it will be fascinating to watch them try.