AFTER another procession in the Premier League, another League Cup and probably another Scottish Cup to come too, Glasgow City enter a different realm on Wednesday evening in Belgium when the Champions League begins in earnest.
The round of 32 is when the serious forces enter the fray – the Wolfsburgs and the Lyons, the Arsenals and the PSGs, the Malmos and the Frankfurts and, somewhere in the middle of all this, sit Glasgow City. So dominant in domestic competition that their results make you go dizzy, but still a minnow among the giants of Europe.
There is one fully professional player in the Glasgow side and she is sitting in a coffee shop in the Merchant City part of town.
Jess Fishlock is from Cardiff and is captain of Wales. For a short while she is on loan from her parent club in America, Seattle Reign, where she was Most Valuable Player last season, while also making the team of the year in the newly constructed National Women’s Soccer League. Most kids don’t get to realise their dream. Cheerily, Fishlock will tell you that her life is everything she ever hoped it would be from the age of seven when she started to obsess about football above all other things.
She is on a short-term deal with Glasgow, partly to do with her wanting to keep fit for international football while still in the close-season in America, partly to do with Glasgow wanting an experienced and classy player to try to get them to where they have never been before in this competition.
“We’re playing Standard Liege over two legs,” she says. “I know a bit about them. Wales played Belgium not that long ago and most of the Liege players were on that team. We drew 1-1 and then beat them 5-2. They’re good, but it’s definitely a tie we can win.”
She’s tiny, but she’s wily. She scores goals, creates things, can see danger coming and knows how to avoid it. She can see negativity coming, too, and handles that in the same way. Brushes it off like any other opponent.
The hullabaloo about Tam Cowan and his column about women’s football is not something that has bothered her unduly. “I read it and just forgot about it,” she says. “There is always the thing about something like that stimulating debate but I honestly think women’s football is past responding to things like that, which is a great sign for us. People can say what they like, but we are more mature than that, we are in a more self-confident place than we used to be.
“The reason women’s football is successful in other countries and why it has struggled in the UK is that people are so hung up on the men’s game that they can’t view the women’s game as [having] a separate identity. We play football but it’s a different game to the men. I think we’re more tactical and, at times, more technical than the men. It’s slower but it’s going to be slower because our physical attributes are so different. Men are stronger, faster, more powerful. So you have to view the games differently. That’s why it’s so successful in America, because they view it as its own sport. In Germany and Sweden and other countries as well.
“When you get people who do that, who go and watch it and don’t compare it, then they enjoy it. There will be rubbish games and there’s nothing wrong in saying that a game is rubbish. We’re past the stage where we have to be overly positive when a game doesn’t deserve it.”
Fishlock’s brief experience of Glasgow has been wholly positive. She eulogises her team-mates, particularly her captain, Rachel Corsie. She says there is no way that she can articulate the respect she has for Corsie or the way in which her captain inspires her. It’s not something that she has ever said to Corsie directly but it’s something she’d like to mention. “It’s a physical game in Scotland and I’ve had more kicks playing for Glasgow than anywhere else,” she smiles.
“I don’t know why it is, maybe a bit of envy towards our team from other sides, but a lot of people aren’t shy in leaving their studs in a little bit later than usual. That’s OK, though. You can deal with that. And now we’ve got Champions League.
“Here’s what I think we should do. For the second leg in Glasgow we should live-stream it for free on our website. People would watch. I know, for sure, that people in America would watch. Promote it on Twitter. When I went to Seattle first, I tweeted that I didn’t have a telly and a fan of the team tweeted me back saying ‘I’m driving from Canada to bring you a flatscreen’. And he did. A 42-inch flatscreen just because he was a fan of the team. That’s America. Incredible place.”
As a kid growing up in Cardiff Fishlock knew what she wanted out of life at a very early age. She wanted to be Mia Hamm. When she was seven years old, an American soccer camp came to town and her mum signed her up for the full week. That was the trigger, the realisation that a life in football might not be possible in Wales but that it was out there somewhere and all she needed to do was go and find it. Her mum still has the newspaper cutting of her daughter at the camp. Focused on the future at the age of seven.
Her older brothers gave her an edge. She reckons that the way she plays the game now is because she started off by playing against boys. She was one of the lads. “I got knocked about and got back up and got on with it. It gave me a physical presence which I still have even though I’m only small. So when I went into the senior women’s game I was used to it. It didn’t faze me. Sometimes girls go to senior level and all of a sudden they get a hit and they don’t know if they like it. But I had that from an early age, especially from my older brothers who came to realise that their little sister was a better footballer than them.” She was a Bristol player when Seattle came calling last season. Laura Harvey, the hugely successful coach of Arsenal, had joined Seattle as manager and wanted Fishlock on board. Her reaction was to text Harvey back and say “Yes. Done”. There was no mention of money. It was just “sold” and that was it.
“It was just our first year as a team and the first year of the league but we achieved a lot. We had a terrible start and lost a load of games but finished strongly and we might have to move to a new ground because our current one is probably not big enough. It has a capacity of about 5,000. We had to put in extra seating before the end of the season. The league is phenomenal. We went to Portland and the crowd was nearly 17,000. We live stream all our games for free. You can have 70,000 people watching some of the matches live online, so things have started really well.
“Our team will do better next season. I mean, we’ve got outstanding players, some World Cup winners and Olympic gold medallists, we’ve got Megan Rapinoe, who is just a fantastic footballer and Hope Solo, our goalkeeper, who’s a superstar.”
Solo, an edgy character, is box office right enough. She’s appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, has been on with Piers Morgan, has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and Vogue and any number of other magazines.
“We would get off flights and there would be 100 people waiting for Megan and especially Hope,” says Fishlock. “We would go for our pre-match breakfast and Hope wouldn’t be able to eat because of everybody coming up to her. People have their opinions about her, but she is so professional and dedicated. The easiest thing to do is to find the negative in somebody, but that’s just the way of the world.”
That life awaits Fishlock next spring, when the season in America begins anew. For now, it is all about Glasgow City and Standard Liege and the pursuit of something special in the Champions League with her adopted team in her home from home.