Unfinished Business At Petershill Park

22nd August 2020

When the coronavirus brought a premature end to the 2019-20 Scottish Premiership season in March, Celtic FC (with 8 games still to play) held a 13-point lead at the top of the table, albeit with their nearest challengers, Rangers, having a match in hand (and two further Old Firm games to play). As far as I am aware, most neutral observers agree that, under these circumstances, the decision of the SPFL Board to award the championship title to Celtic was the correct one, notwithstanding the mathematical possibility that the outcome of a fully completed season might have turned out differently.

This provided Celtic with their 9th consecutive championship success, equalling the feat of Jock Stein’s teams of the 1960s/1970s. For their part, Rangers won the title for 9 years in a row up to (and including) the 1996-97 campaign. It is a fairly safe prediction that, in the 2020-21 season, Celtic’s bid to take the unbroken run into an unprecedented double figures – and Rangers’ attempt to stop them – will dominate the Scottish football headlines.

Against this background, it is interesting to note that there is another Glasgow-based football side with an even longer run of domestic championship success: the Glasgow City women’s team has won the Scottish Women’s Premier League for the last 13 seasons (up to and including 2019).

Traditionally, the SWPL has run over the calendar year and the 2020 season had only just kicked off when the virus brought matters to a halt. The early indications were that Glasgow City might have some serious competition: the Celtic women’s team defeated them 2-1 in the opening league fixture in February. However, this campaign, which was initially put on hold after that first game, has now been declared null and void by Scottish Women’s Football. All being well, the 2020-21 season will run from October to May with a condensed League Cup competition in May and June 2021.

In the meantime, the Glasgow City side has had interests elsewhere: in Europe. Their championship success of 2018 took them into the UEFA Women’s Champions League for 2019-20. In this, they progressed to the last 8, defeating FK Chertanovo Moscow and Brøndby IF, the latter on penalties last October.

Glasgow City’s quarter-final tie against VfL Wolfsburg had originally been scheduled as a conventional two-legged affair in March. The cancellation of the first game at Petershill Park in Springburn was an early victim of the coronavirus in the sports spectating itinerary that I had planned for the spring and summer of this year. (The refund of my £14 ticket was made with impressive efficiency by the club manager, Laura Montgomery).

After a long delay, the Women’s Champions League has now resumed and the Glasgow City-VfL Wolfsburg quarter-final was played yesterday evening in the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian. (All the matches in this round, the semi-finals and the final are currently taking place in a mini-tournament in Bilbao and San Sebastian as one-off games behind closed doors). I took advantage of BBC Alba’s coverage to see how things turned out.

It is relevant to note, I think, that, apart from Glasgow City, all this year’s Women’s Champions League quarter-finalists have formal associations with their men’s counterparts – Arsenal, Barcelona, Paris St Germain, et al – with the advantages of technical support, use of facilities and access to sponsorship that these provide. Wolfsburg – similarly positioned – have a fine record in the competition, having won it twice and been runners-up on two other occasions in the last eight years. I was aware, therefore, that Glasgow City were facing a stern challenge in yesterday’s match. (The club’s only previous quarter-final appearance was a 0-7 aggregate loss to PSG in 2015).

The challenge turned out to be more than stern. Wolfsburg scored their first goal after 15 minutes and a second four minutes later. Two further scores just before half-time gave them a 4-0 interval lead. After the break, the goals kept coming at regular intervals to yield a final tally in favour of the German side of 9-1.

Glasgow City kept going until the end; their heads certainly did not drop. In the second half, Lauren Wade scored arguably the goal of the game with a spectacular shot from the corner of the penalty area, Leanne Crichton hit the cross-bar and Krystyna Freda sent a shot narrowly wide with the goalkeeper beaten. But, even allowing for the lack of match sharpness from this being Glasgow City’s first competitive outing for 6 months, there could be no doubting that – both collectively and individually – Wolfsburg were in a different league.

The Wolfsburg side had an enviable combination of athleticism and skill. They moved the ball out of defence with confidence, attacked strongly down both flanks, maintained a high quality in their deliveries into the penalty area – notably from Svenja Huth on the right-hand side – and, when possession was lost, were quick to swarm round the Glasgow City player in order to win it back.

The Danish striker Pernille Harder led the way, her four goals comprising two headers and shots from the edge of the penalty area with left and then right foot. She was denied a fifth (and best) goal – a shot on the turn from distance – by the cross-bar. I was also impressed by the commanding presence in the centre of midfield of Ingrid Syrstad Engen – the scorer of two first-half goals – and the neat footwork and distribution of Huth.

And so Glasgow City’s 2019-20 European campaign, which began in Moscow last September, has come to an end. Of course, the football tides do not cease and the club’s ebb and flow of transfer activity has seen four new signings – including the South African national captain, Janine van Wyk, who made her competitive debut yesterday – announced in the last couple of months. The new season – domestic and European – awaits. I hope that, at some point in its course, I can complete some unfinished business and take in a match at Petershill Park.

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