The Future Looks Bright For Scotland
Updated Tuesday, 29th May 2012
Women's football is not content with what they have done to date. This is just the start.
Sheila Begbie, SFA head of girls and women's football, knows that change does not happen because one person wants it the happen. There are so many connections and people involved that you have to occasionally take the long route to get to your destination. Begbie is determined to see the women's game earn it's place in the mind set of those interested in sport and football in particular. In a wide ranging discussion when we met last week, Begbie explained the progress made in raising the profile of the game and the key roles, not just within the SFA, that have been filled in helping the women's game to grow.
Sheila Begbie, SFA head of girls and women's football. (c) Ger Harley | SportPix
Begbie said: "Where have we been since 2005; we appointed Anna (Signeul) in March 2005; we started doing a lot of work with the clubs and it took us a couple of years to really get the trust of the clubs back and their buy-in in terms of what we were trying to achieve in the game. 2007 we started our first tranche of integration, we integrated all the administration functions of the leagues into the Scottish FA. Internally, Julie Tudhope was responsible is premier league, first and second division and in the regions with all the youth leagues. I think that brought a level of professionalism and it took away the responsibility from people who were doing it voluntarily. In some areas, fixtures were only arranged for four or five weeks ahead whereas we now have fixtures arranged for the whole season and clubs know what the facility requirements are etc. We also do all the appointments of match officials. I think over the years we have built up a really good programme in terms of the work that we do with the clubs and what we say to the clubs is the major area for us in the game. If we can have really good clubs and strong competition; we have strong national teams at all levels as well. So by focusing on the clubs and developing the structure and organisation we are really working with the clubs on their development planning so at least they know where they are trying the get to. We are also working with the clubs regarding coaching. We are trying to up-skill coaches; give the coaches much more support in terms of education as we know that going for an 'A' or 'B' license can be quite expensive, so we are really trying to support them there. I think what has come from all the work we have done with the clubs is that we have a common vision, a shared goal. We know together what we want to achieve in the game and where we want to go. Of course, there will be a few bits of turbulence along the way in terms of the clubs but the reality is we know what the end game is and for us we are almost within touching distance of a potential goal for all of us which is about 2013 (European Championships). I think if we manage to qualify for 2013 it would really change the game significantly in Scotland in all levels, in terms of the number of players we have available, media interest, the number of investors in the game, the standing of the game, even within the organisation. It would really take a massive step forward. The whole idea of what was the national academy and is now the national performance centre and the fact that we have really worked hard at developing the programme for the players which is a real partnership between the University of Stirling, Scottish FA , the clubs and we have some Scottish Government 'winning students' funding going into this programme as well. When you look at the players who are involved in the programme, I have seen 99% of them improve in their own performance level, so that is a really strong programme for us. We are going to increase the numbers involved from 16 to 18 this year. I think what has been interesting is that in terms of the Scotland United, a 2020 vision, I think the Scottish FA and the consultants have looked at a lot at what we have been delivering in the women's programme and if you look at the programmes being delivered in our performance strategy they are exactly the same as those which have been delivered in the women's game. Working with parents for us it is really key that they understand they have a role in terms of our really talented players so they do support, they do understand the whole thing about food and nutrition, rehydration and sleep etc."
While families can help, much like how school and parents can work together to created a rounded individual, there also needs to be some professionals on hand to support and provide appropriate guidance on developing the players as well. This has not been let to the clubs alone, with the SFA finding the resources to add value to what the clubs are already doing. Begbie went on: "We can see the benefit in the whole area of our six specific club development officers for the girls and women's game, we consciously did not call them football development officers because we did not want them to be out there doing festivals, programmes etc. We what them to do some education but that is not their main focus, there should be others out there doing that sort of thing. What we are saying to the club development officers is that everything they are doing must be linked to a club. If it is not linked to a club, it is absolutely not a priority for us. We are also saying that they should not be considering establishing a club that is in close proximity to one that already exists. What we should do is work with a club to develop their optimum capacity and once they have reached that capacity; then they can start working on establishing new clubs. We have to focus on the people already involved in a club, the volunteers, and really trying to build that as big as we can."
While this is out there on the ground getting the nitty gritty sorted out, significant appointments have also been made at the top. I asked Begbie to consider if Scotland have the right people in the right places for now and the future. She said: "Since 2005, we have had two major appointments in terms of really focusing on the game and the first one was the appointment of (national coach) Anna Signeul. I think what Anna has brought to the game has been a real clear vision, a clear philosophy. She has built a great foundation in terms of where we are with the game. There has been a real major focus on working with the clubs and supporting the volunteers within the game. She has brought a real unity within the game to everything we do. The other significant appointment has been Stewart Regan (SFA Chief Executive) who has come in and, I would say for all of us working in the women's' programme, that it almost feels like we are working in a different organisation to the one we did two years ago. I think that is due to the women's programme being seen as an integral part of what the organisation do. Yes, we still have some hurdles internally that we have to overcome but in the main there is a real acknowledgment that women's football is part of what we do in the organisation. When Stewart first arrived, Anna and I had a meeting with him and showed him the women's development plan up to 2015 and Stewart was really interested in what we were trying to do and how we were achieving it. What he then said to heads of other departments was this is the kind of thing we have to do within the whole organisation. It is not just the women who have their plans. He did remind us that our plan has to be part of the integrated Scottish FA development plan. Our plan is therefore a working document to be checked regularly to ensure we are still heading in the right direction but focused in delivering Scotland United, a 2020 vision. The stuff we are doing with UEFA in terms of the marketing plan for the game is really significant. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to brand certain aspects of the game as we go forward. For us that will be about having a clear brand for the national team programmes, also looking at what we are doing with the competition programme and then potentially looking at what we are doing for the grassroots elements of the game. We are really focussed, we have done a lot of work building up the structure and we understand that things move in cycles and it is a five to seven year cycle before you see the fruits of your labours coming through. Anna being here since 2005 she is just beginning to see some of the results of her work. One of the key things for us in terms of continuity in Scotland is to retain Anna's services even is we do not qualify for EURO2013. We need some stability and to retain her would allow us to maintain the momentum to take us to the next stage. The future looks really bright for us in terms of Scotland. One of the key things for us going forward is that we need to get more players playing the game. What Anna has achieved with the national teams, including the youth national teams, taking into account the number of players we have available has been just short of a miracle. We would like to build a deeper pool of players for all the coaches to provide competition for places within the team and competition in specific areas of the national team. A big thing for us is in terms of media and profiling of the game. The game has been near invisible in Scotland and I have been saying for a number of years that we need to build a campaign about saying to young girls that it is cool to play football and we need to do a bit more work in promoting and marketing the national teams and the game in general. We need to get the message out that women's football is here and is a great sport for girls and women and it can provide lots of career opportunities as well. We have perhaps 12-14 women who are working full-time in women's football so there are opportunities in terms of employment but also opportunities in terms of some of the younger players and older players who are travelling the world to play for Scotland which is a fantastic thing to have on your CV."
After all the administrative things that have to be done are in place, ultimately the structure is there to find players who can do Scotland proud. Back in 2007, Begbie highlighted Kim Little as a player of the future. Not a bad spot as Little has now collected 68 caps for her country. n closing, I asked Begbie for names to watch for in the next few years. She said: "My stars of the future will probably be someone like Emily Thompson (Celtic Ladies), who has just come through from the Under 19s, and she made her first in Poland and she will be a major star for us. For me also Elish McSorley is a potential star if she gets her head focused and overcomes her injury issues. She is another big star in the making". You heard it here first.