Girls doing it for themselves

Hutchie Vale Ladies' top-flight status is result of blossoming girls' football scene.

The success of the Scottish Women's Premier League's newest member club has its roots in Edinburgh's burgeoning female football scene, with girls as young as eight now having a clear pathway to the top tier of the game in this country.

Hutchison Vale Ladies are the most recent additions to top flight senior football and represent a team that has been consistently drip-fed the finest young talent that emerges from the club's girls' section, founded in 1993.

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More than 100 players are aiming to steadily climb the ladder towards the Ladies' team, and youngsters have arguably more incentive now that they have Premier League first-team status to aim for.

"I think it makes a huge difference," says Ladies' team manager Neil MacRae. "We've had a good quality of player coming through before now, but they've often been enticed by other teams who are in the Premier. Now the girls know they've got a good stepping stone. They can be playing against the best players in the country, and that's the level we feel we should be at."

MacRae, a Hutchie coach for six years, has been able to augment his side using products of the Ford's Road club's thriving girls' section in recent years, although he says a more incremental approach to first-team football may benefit the young hopefuls.

"When girls get to the age of 17, it's quite a big jump for them to the first team, and it'd be good if there was another age group in between as it takes a wee bit of time to adapt.

"The standard is always improving and the girls' game's getting bigger. The numbers have increased, it's getting more competitive, and Hutchie seems to be getting more girls going to the regional academy."

Although the club has run a dedicated girls' section since 1993, MacRae argues that there are many positives to be gained from integrating young female players into boys' football.

"The girls I do know who have played in boys' football have tried harder and are out to prove a point. It's good for their development being in a more physical environment - they can hold up the ball a bit better and have a better touch. I think it shouldn't be frowned upon, I think it should be reintroduced.

"Perhaps you could have mixed training nights, which would mean better bonding among the boys and girls and more of a mutual respect among them."

Five years ago, the club distributed flyers to primary schools in an effort to recruit some fresh faces for their under-13 team after the previous batch graduated to under-15 level. On the first night of training, 80 girls turned up, forcing the club to rethink its strategy.

Assistant club secretary Les Trotter explained: "At the time a lot more girls were coming through. There's now a few girls who have been here for ten years, and for girls to have been here as long as that is brilliant.

"We've always had success with the boys' teams, but we want a strong girls' section and we recognise the important of that."

The club has frequently enjoyed success at overseas tournaments through its boys' teams. Sweden's Gothia Cup, a tournament that attracts 1,600 teams from all over the world, has proved a happy hunting ground in recent years, and the winning mentality of those in yellow and black was transferred to the girls under-13 and under-17 teams last year, who emerged as winners of the B Cup competition.

Trotter added: "Winning the Gothia Cup was amazing. It's a great tournament to go to, but quite an expensive tournament, unfortunately. You have to go, though. You're talking about playing some of the best players. Some of the best professionals from all over the world have come to Gothia. It's recognised by FIFA and is effectively a world youth cup."

International recognition hasn't been achieved only on the club scene, as Hutchie continues to supply international calibre players, including the current captain of the under-15 girls' team.

The work doesn't stop there, however. The club has approached the SFA to establish one of its bases, at Clermiston Park, as a School of Excellence for Girls. To be equipped with female-only changing areas, it is thought the initiative would be a first for Scottish football.