JUST as the advent of professionalism brings many benefits, inevitably it also has downsides. Forfar Farmington, like similar size clubs in England and elsewhere, have now discovered that to their cost.
Friday’s confirmation that they don’t have a squad capable of competing in SWPL1 this season was a dreadful denouement for a club which had been a member of Scotland’s top league since 2006. Six years later they finished runners-up to Glasgow City, with Celtic and Hibernian a point further behind.
If 2012 was their best season, the Angus community club have always punched above their weight. Even nine months ago, under head coach Ryan McConville, they entertained hopes of finishing fourth. But the subsequent suspension of women’s football triggered a catastrophic chain of events.
McConville’s exit in January was followed by a trickle of player departures, which became a flood over the summer. While Donna Paterson rejoining Aberdeen was understandable, many others signed for lower league clubs, including Cassie Cowper and Lauren Perry who moved to Dundee United.
Forfar’s 10-0 defeat to the SWPL2 side in the League Cup last Sunday demonstrated just how hopeless their plight had become. According to those who witnessed the mis-match it could have been 20-0, with Forfar being forced to field two players who had turned out for their under-17 side in the morning.
This from a club which has developed full Scotland internationalists and once boasted players of the calibre of Rachael Boyle, Lucy Graham and Celtic captain Kelly Clark.
So where did it all go wrong? The reasons are myriad, but there was certainly a domino effect as players saw friends and team-mates leaving a tight-knit squad which had been demoralised by several heavy defeats and a rapid turnover of head coaches.
Ironically, the much greater broadcasting exposure when the league resumed in April may also have been a contributing factor according to a club official. The players had to contend with negative comments on social media and elsewhere as more games – including the big losses – were streamed live and became part of a weekly highlights package.
The club hoped appointing former Glasgow City, Celtic and Motherwell head coach Eddie Wolecki Black would steady the ship, but although he brought in the hugely experienced Suzanne Mulvey to assist him the opposite happened. Players continued to leave and potential new signings wouldn’t leave the comfort and opportunities of the central belt.
Forfar’s isolated – in league terms – location was undoubtedly a factor, but while the club’s committee may have made mistakes, blaming them for “lack of ambition” seems harsh. They have lived within their means, continue to run performance age group sides, and at some point will rejoin the senior pyramid and settle at their appropriate level.
Just like Stirling University, who were once a force in SWPL1, the quickly changing landscape makes it far more difficult for Forfar to compete with well-resourced top Scottish clubs. Not only have Aberdeen had a double promotion back into the top flight, but near-neighbours Dundee United could be up there soon as well.
Forfar Farmington were formed in 1980 by Colin Brown, whose energy, drive and hard work made them a club with enviable training and playing facilities. Now aged 77, two of his daughters, Nicola McBride and Alison Garrigan, are members of the committee which must forge Forfar’s future destiny. But whatever happens the club will remain a huge asset to the local community and provide a welcoming environment for young players to develop.
All in all, it was an eventful first four days for new Scottish Women’s Football chief executive Aileen Campbell. Partick Thistle – who along with Hearts were punished for fielding ineligible players last Sunday – have been promoted at Forfar’s expense, leaving just seven sides in SWPL2.
AND ANOTHER THING . . .
CELTIC will play their first Champions League game on Wednesday when they face Levante at the Koteng Arena in Trondheim.
The Spanish side finished third in the Primera Division last season, behind tournament holders Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It’s a tough debut for Celtic, who have lost 2020-21 player-of-the-season Lisa Robertson and top scorer Sarah Ewens.
The four-team group in the new-format competition is hosted by Norwegian runners-up Rosenborg, who play Minsk earlier in the day.
All the games in Glasgow City’s group are at Broadwood. There is a 10am kick-off for their opener against Maltese champions Birkirkara on Wednesday, with the other two sides, BIIK Shymkent and Slovan Bratislava, meeting in the afternoon.
Both City and Celtic will have further games on Saturday to determine which sides progress into the second round.