City Ladies’ Statement of Intent: Why the signing of England midfielder Jill Scott shows that MCFC mean business in the Women’s Super League.

November 20, 2013 in Women's Football by Emma Lucy Whitney

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Things are definitely looking up for Manchester City Ladies. A shock admission into next year’s WSL 1, at the expense of Doncaster Rovers Belles, caused consternation amongst some women’s football fans earlier this year; after all, City Ladies were not that long ago still struggling to keep pace in the Northern Division, whereas the Belles can look back on a proud, decades-long history in top flight women’s football. Nevertheless, being selected as one of eight teams for the inaugural WSL 1 in 2014 has provided the Mancunian club with a focus, a chance to both assess how far they’ve come in such a short space of time, and how much further they still want to go.

After the unveiling at the beginning of the month of new managerial duo Nick Cushing and Leigh Wood (First Team Manager and Head Coach respectively), City Ladies made a statement well and truly when they announced last Friday the signing of England international Jill Scott. Capped 74 times for her country, the powerhouse midfielder and former Everton captain will surely form the spine of a squad that was only officially affiliated with its male counterparts last summer. All Sky Blue eyes are on much bigger prizes than the Northern Division now, and with Scott’s help, City Ladies might just get ?em.

City Ladies' new signing Jill Scott at the Etihad. Credit: mcfc.co.uk

City Ladies’ new signing Jill Scott at the Etihad. Credit: mcfc.co.uk

26 year old Scott was born in Sunderland and despite showing promise in long-distance running as a child, the young Mackem decided to concentrate on football, beginning her senior career with Sunderland Women. Scott represented England at U19 level whilst with Sunderland, captaining the Young Lionesses for a total of 18 months; the Wearsider also won Sunderland’s Player of the Month award in September 2005, aged just 18. Scott made her senior England debut two months before leaving Sunderland for Everton, appearing as a sub in a 4-0 win over the Netherlands in May 2006. Widely respected amongst team-mates and opponents alike, Scott won the FA Tesco Player’s Player of the Year award in her second season at Everton, having been part of England’s 2007 World Cup campaign in China the summer before. The ex-Evertonian, nicknamed ?Crouchy’ by her colleagues because of her tall stature, was one of the first female players to be given a central contract by the FA back in 2009, and went on to play an instrumental role in that year’s European Championships, coming on as a sub in extra-time to score the winner against the Netherlands in the semi-final. Scott also represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, appearing in the 3-0 victory over Cameroon at the Millennium Stadium.

Scott has a wealth of international experience to bring to the City side. Credit: FA.com

Scott has a wealth of international experience to bring to the City side. Credit: FA.com

By any professional’s standards, this is a roll call and a half (and the silverware she won with Everton hasn’t even been mentioned yet), but for a player still only in her mid-twenties – her professional prime – this is especially impressive, and rather exciting for City. Signed on a two year deal, Scott told her new club’s website that she is looking forward to the ?fresh start’ that City Ladies will offer her, and is relishing the ?new challenge’ lying ahead. City Ladies are set to gain so much from this transfer, simply because a player of Scott’s talent has never pulled on the Sky Blue shirt before. It’s not just a wealth of playing experience that Scott brings with her fresh from Merseyside, it’s a wealth of winning experience, too, which is equally important. Having claimed the FA Women’s Premier League Cup with Everton in 2008, Scott went on to win the FA Women’s Cup with the Toffees two years later. As her new Head Coach Leigh Wood commented on mcfc.co.uk, City’s latest midfield acquisition is ?…a great signing for the club…If you look back to a few years ago to where we are now – signing a player of Jill’s calibre – it’s fantastic and will ensure that we are able to compete in the coming season.’ The professionalism of City Ladies also struck a chord with Scott, which is encouraging. City’s new midfield maestro showcased her level-headedness when she noted that ?…the club have a plan to make themselves one of the best teams in the league eventually.’ That last word is key: the City Ladies project is still very much a work in progress.

Started in the late 80s by a group of female City fans, City Ladies were in danger of fading out of existence by the mid-1990s, but pulled through, establishing junior sides for the first time in their history and becoming more and more closely linked with their namesakes, the men’s City team. The Blues play next to the Etihad, in the 6,500-capacity Regional Athletics Arena at Sportcity, and the club now has FA Charter Development status. The criteria which the FA looked at in order to choose the teams deemed eligible enough for inclusion to the WSL 1 next year included finance, commercial sustainability, access to facilities and coaching infrastructure; therefore, with the mega-bucks behind the overall City project, it’s no surprise that City Ladies are up there for the first time in their history, competing with the big girls for once – the likes of Arsenal and Bristol Academy.

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Whilst I think the focus on financial viability, coaching and training facilities is proof of how seriously the FA are finally taking the women’s game in this country, it can be argued that the decision to not include Doncaster Rovers Belles alongside City in the WSL 1 was a blow to the heritage of the women’s game, and a betrayal of the hard work the Belles and all those associated with them actually did to get women’s football restarted in England. That said, with the funding at our disposal, City have got an incredible opportunity to help raise the profile of women’s football even further in England, through investing in our women’s team and helping the WSL become more competitive. Events such as Kick It Out’s Raise Your Game, held last week at the Etihad, suggest that MCFC as a whole are thinking along these lines, and I for one am delighted. If the richest and one of the most successful, high-profile clubs in the world is aiming to have an equally successful, professional ladies side then this can only mean good things for women’s football.

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Ultimately then, the signing of Jill Scott is making a statement, both for City Ladies as they take their tentative first steps into top-flight football, and for the club as a whole, as they underline how serious they are about the women’s game and how committed they are to promoting it. Liverpool Ladies proved last season that funding, alongside more training and more professionalism – including joint training sessions with the men’s side – does reap rewards, and with another flush side joining England’s elite in the form of City, hopefully WSL 1 will be even more intriguing and exciting than this year’s WSL turned out to be.

It makes me so happy, and so excited, to hear people like Head Coach of City Ladies, Leigh Wood, say things like ?…Manchester City [are] fully committed to making the women’s team as competitive as it can be…we now have all the support we need.’ This is exactly what we should be doing, because, to put it bluntly, we can make this work, what with the marketing machinery and general infrastructure behind-the-scenes in east Manchester. I really expect to see City Ladies make one or two more high-profile signings before pre-season training starts up again; with defender Laura Bassett leaving Birmingham this week, and Casey Stoney still set to commit to a club for next season, very exciting times could be ahead at Sportcity. Whatever happens, I’m certain Scott will be in the thick of them.

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