Rangers WFC – A new dawn

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Rangers Women’s side are making their final preparations for the new season, which kicks off this Sunday. Rangers host Queen’s Park in the SWPL Cup, having also been pitted against Hamilton Academical, Dundee United and Queen’s Park in Group B.

There will no doubt be increased scrutiny, as eager eyes cast over Rangers this season.Major investment and significant changes to the structure of the women’s side during the winter period has seen the club go full time.

Changes were afoot as far back as November 2018 when Chairman Dave King stated at the AGM that the women’s side would receive more attention in the coming year. King said that would include integration more effectively into the overall football structures and a substantial commitment from the board tripling the investment in this area.

The 8th July 2019 saw the first notable steps in the process as the women’s first-team and academy were integrated into the club’s football department. Women’s football would fall under the Director of Football’s remit going forward and Head of Academy Craig Mullholland would oversee the programme. A move that then DoF Mark Allen said he was “incredibly proud” of.

On the same day, the club also announced the appointment of former men’s team left-back Gregory Vignal as women’s head coach. Vignal only 6 months prior had taken on a new assistant role with the clubs Under 18s boys in addition to assisting with the Under 16 boys.His appointment saw current women’s head coach Amy McDonald become Women’s and Girls’ Football Manager. Sara Spiers also moved from her existing academy role to become Women’s and Girl’s Operations Co-Ordinator. This move from one full-time member of staff to three was a positive step on the journey.

Rangers finished the 2019 season on 17th November fourth in the Scottish Women’s Premier League, 26 points off winners Glasgow City who collected their 13thtitle in a row. 9 days later at the AGM the outgoing Dave King stated that the women’s team had “been neglected for far too long” and give assurances that the club would “continue to give disproportionately large investment increases to women players”.

King followed these statements up in an interview with Rangers TV where he claimed the women’s team “were not only treated like an unwanted step-child but were effectively ignored”. King went on to say he wanted to see Rangers women being the best team in Scotland and competing in Europe. He confirmed that they had given the women’s club a mandate in terms of player recruitment and there would be a “massive overhaul of the squad”.

The resulting evolution of the squad over the winter months saw the number of existing players departing the club surpass double figures. The club accompanied this with an offer to work closely with all of those players wishing to be supported to help find a new club. The ruthless nature of the exodus saw disgruntled players and supporters take to social media to express their disappointment. However one released player Ellis Dalgliesh, who scored the only goal in a 1-0 win in the final game of the 2019 season, took to Twitter to acknowledge that while getting released hurt it was the growth that the Scottish women’s game needed to take.

Another landmark step was the announcement at the beginning of December of international private equity firm DCP Capital as the first ever principal partner and new front-of-shirt sponsor. A quiet fortnight followed as the club worked hard behind the scenes to strengthen the squad and get deals over the line.

On the 17th December Northern Ireland international Demi Vance had the honour of being announced as the clubs first signing in a professional capacity. Scottish international goalkeeper Jenna Fife followed on the same day from Hibernian. Kirsten Reilly (Bristol City) and Megan Cunningham (Celtic) were also wrapped up before the Christmas holidays.

More changes in the coaching and staffing structure also took place in December. The club advertising for full time permanent posts, working exclusively with the women’s team, for a Goalkeeping Coach, Kit Controller, First Team Physiotherapist, Sports Scientist and Analyst. Malky Thomson moved from his role of Head of the Intermediate Academy in the boys Academy to become joint head coach alongside Vignal.

Three more new singings followed in the New Year, Megan Bell (Durham), Chelsea Cornet (Hibernian) and Sonia O’Neill (Fluery) all making the move to Glasgow. All three players with international pedigree, Bell and O’Neill at senior level and Cornet at U19.

The 8th and last new signing to date was Indian international Bala Devi from Manipur Police Sports Club. Bala joined following a successful trial with the club in November. The signing was possible thanks to the clubs partnership with Bengaluru FC. This signing was met with much fanfare as club legend and current ambassador Mark Hateley met Bala in Indian for a photo opportunity and a press conference. The move meant Bala becomes the first Indian woman to become a professional footballer.

Despite this influx of new faces, Amy McDonald was true to her word that she would not rule out any of the players that were currently at the club being rewarded if they were prepared to buy into the process and make the life styles choices required. 2019 players Brogan Hay, Emma Brownlie, Daina Bourma, Lisa Martinez and Captain Clare Gemmell were all retained and signed contract extensions. Academy products Freya Macdonald and Roise Mcquillan also signed new deals.

This complete overhaul comes at a time the women’s game continues to evolve with growing attendances, larger broadcasting deals and greater participation levels on the back of the 2019 World Cup. Rangers WFC expectations will undoubtedly be far greater heading into the 2020 season. This is an exciting and intriguing time for the women’s club and it be will be interesting to see if all these efforts bear fruit in the short term. It has been 10 years since the women’s side lifted a trophy and they will no doubt be looking to rectify this.

Roll on Sunday.

Laura Clarke.

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