CELTIC’S women’s team face a crisis with a number of top players having left the club and others threatening to follow. Scotland captain Gemma Fay departed earlier this week while two of the team’s best young prospects, Chloe Arthur and Heather Richards, yesterday joined rivals Hibs.
It is understood that further first-team players are in talks with other clubs, while former Scotland stalwarts Julie Fleeting and Suzanne Grant have not committed for next season.
Adding to the mystery, Scotland goalkeeper Fay yesterday refused to comment on her reasons for leaving after five seasons at the club. Although her 33rd birthday was on Tuesday, it is understood that she has no plans to retire from club or international football.
Fleeting, who has two young children and will be 34 later this month, said she was waiting until after Christmas to make a decision on her future. Grant, who has one child, said she would be meeting Celtic officials today and might need to be dissuaded from retiring from football at the age of 30.
While Fleeting, Grant and Fay are approaching the end of their careers, Celtic’s hopes of closing the massive gap with Glasgow City depends on keeping players such as Arthur and Richards. Both told the Hibs website yesterday that they were delighted to have made the move east.
Richards, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder, was in the full Scotland squad earlier this year and came off the bench to make her debut against South Korea in March. “I’m delighted to have signed for Hibs and I feel this is the right move for me at this point in my career,” she said.
“I had offers from other clubs and it was a hard decision, but I know I’ve made the right choice to come here. We want to put real pressure on Glasgow City and challenge for the league and cup competitions.”
There was a similar tale from Under-19 cap Arthur, whose father, Gary, was one of the victims of the Clutha Bar disaster. “I needed a new challenge, and I felt that Hibs were the team to motivate and develop me,” she said. “I needed to get out of my comfort zone because I had been with Celtic for six years, which made it a hard decision to leave the club. Hibs know what it takes to be successful and I felt this was the right environment for me to push on.”
While neither player was critical of Celtic, their comments suggest that the Glasgow club couldn’t match their ambitions. The club itself seems to have no desire to follow in the footsteps of Manchester City, Liverpool and other English clubs who invest significantly in their women’s teams.
The team regularly loses its top players to other clubs, albeit never on the scale that is threatened now.