SWPL 2019: A falling giant, a new force & a Hollywood return

By Andrew SouthwickBBC Scotland
Plays from the SWPL teams line-up at Hampden
The SWPL season begins on Sunday, 10 February, running until the end of November

It's been said that 2019 could be a huge year for Scottish women's football.

In the summer, Scotland take part in their first World Cup with real hope they can reach the knockout stages, and both Glasgow City and Hibernian will be in the Champions League.

However, their places at the top of the domestic game could be under threat with increased investment promising an increased challenge from the rest.

The Scottish Women's Premier League kicks off again on Sunday, and BBC Scotland takes a look at what fans should keep an eye on.

Have Hibs missed their chance?

Glasgow City won their 12th consecutive title last season, but saw off their hardest challenge in years.

Defeated by Hibs in both domestic cups - and with a Champions League campaign straddling the title run-in - Scott Booth's side were on the ropes ahead of a winner-takes-all clash on the penultimate day.

Hibs had won every other game in the league, only dropping points in two draws with City. They won the SWPL and Scottish Cups with aggregate scores in the finals of 17-0.

But they lost 2-1 in the decider, with that single defeat costing them a domestic treble and what would have been an end to City's dominance.

It may have been their best chance to win the league. They go into this campaign with eight of their best players moving to England for full-time football.

And behind Hibs, others are already smelling blood.

"Those two Champions League spots are definitely up for grabs," says Celtic midfielder Kirsty McLaughlin. "Hopefully we can capitalise on that."

Glasgow City winning 12 titles in a row an 'unbelievable achievement'

Celtic 'knocking that door down'

Celtic have ambitious plans to field Scotland's first-ever full-time women's team, though it will not be in time for the new season kicking off.

In September, they appointed Eddie Wolecki Black as head coach. He is the man who masterminded four of those Glasgow City title triumphs, then led Motherwell to the top of SWPL 2 last season.

He has not joined Celtic to simply consolidate their best-of-the-rest tag and, after a gruelling pre-season in Germany, they are looking to break a stranglehold on the title that Wolecki Black helped cement.

"For the last four years we've been third," he said. "We've been knocking that door down for a while now, so this could be the season that we can eventually get through that door."

Return of the Hollywood super sub

Motherwell's Sarah Crilly
Sarah Crilly has signed for newly-promoted Motherwell

Sarah Crilly's exploits in 2012 had Hollywood on the phone.

The then 20-year-old was sitting in the East End Park stand watching Scotland against Norway, when a late injury crisis led to her being rushed to the dressing room at half-time.

She was given boots two sizes too big, and three pairs of socks to help fill them out, and found herself on the pitch to make her Scotland debut. She duly scored the equaliser.

Last season, Crilly was unable to play in the SWPL because of a conflict of interest with a role behind the scenes in women's football, but a change of post means she can make her comeback with Motherwell.

"It was mad," she said, looking back at her international debut. "It's a bit exciting really to be watching with a cup of tea in my hand and next minute being on the park, scoring a goal; it was a bit surreal.

"Thankfully I got a few more caps and a couple of goals, but then got a bad injury and I never got back to that level. America wanted to make a film about it and I was like 'no, this is too far'."

Sunday's opening fixtures in the top flight of the Scottish Women's Premier League
Sunday's opening fixtures in the top flight of the Scottish Women's Premier League

'A big step for women's football'

As well as Celtic announcing their intention to go full-time, other clubs have also began to show more ambition.

Rangers chairman Dave King wants to triple the Ibrox club's investment in their women's team, while Hearts owner Ann Budge will also make a six-figure contribution to their team.

Aberdeen, Dundee United and Partick Thistle have also taken more interest, with United head coach Robbie Neilson among a 500-strong crowd as they clinched the Division One North title in November.

Still a relatively new team, they have been marching up the divisions and will make their SWPL 2 debut on Sunday at home to St Johnstone.

"It's a massive step up, but that's always been our goal since we became a club three years ago," said defender Kirsty Oliphant.

"Being Dundee United and being under that badge, there's quite a lot of pressure, but it's pressure that all the girls enjoy. They want to be there and enjoy putting the shirt on."