Aberdeen Women’s outgoing skipper Kelly Forrest reckons the state of women’s football is “night and day” from when she started, and hopes her club will continue to make progress.
Forrest, 33, retired from football after Aberdeen’s final game of the season against Motherwell last weekend, as the Dons finished the SWPL 1 campaign in fifth place.
Throughout her career, which spanned eight seasons over two spells, Forrest experienced relegation, promotion, title-wins and considerable progress as the women’s team became an official part of Aberdeen FC in 2018.
Now, having hung up her boots and the captain’s armband for good, Forrest has reflected on how the women’s game has evolved over the years, compared to when she first started out.
She said: “The growth of women’s football off the pitch is really important, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to be heavily involved in.
“Women’s football is growing exponentially and clubs need to keep up with that that.
“We’re getting opportunities now, and rightly so, that we wouldn’t have got in the past.
Two great AFC players brought their careers to a close this afternoon.
— Aberdeen FC Women (@AberdeenWomen) May 15, 2022
“When I started out, you’re riding on pure passion of volunteers to hold a club together – from then to now, it’s night and day.
“You’ve got to thank the people – the volunteers – who created the foundations back in the day.”
‘The squad has a lot more to come’
Forrest leaves Aberdeen in the best position it’s ever been in, as the club moves towards semi-professional football, putting their first ever female players on paid contracts.
On that development, she said: “It has to be the ambition of the club to create an infrastructure so the club can pay the full squad.
“The first five have deservedly received their contracts, but there’s many other people in the squad that purely based on this moment in time haven’t been offered contracts.
“Hopefully looking down the line in a couple months’ time, if they continue on their journey, then they’ll be offered semi-pro contracts as well.
“Providing players with adequate resources is vital, there is now an opportunity for them to become paid footballers so it’s super important that the girls feel valued.”
Forrest believes the Dons’ future is in good hands and with such talented young players on their books, the outgoing skipper expects bigger things to come.
“I say it with a big smile on my face: the group of girls that are at Aberdeen now, I genuinely think that the squad has a lot more to come,” she said.
“Their attitude and mentality – if they keep it up – and more players like that come into the squad, they’ll all go far.
“The backing of Aberdeen plays a huge part, but credit has to go to the team, and their desire to grow and grow is incredible.”
Increased investment and fan engagement
Forrest reckons that Aberdeen will be aiming for a place in Europe in the coming years, meaning they would have to finish in SWPL 1’s top-two.
If such an ambition is to become a reality for the Reds, Forrest knows that more work needs to be done behind-the-scenes to ensure a better future for the club and its fans.
“The ambition of the club is to get up there and compete for European places in the coming years,” she explained.
“Any team that has more leverage financially is going to be in a better position.
“But Aberdeen is still in a transitional period and the semi-professional side aspect of it is new to a lot of people.
“There are other things in women’s football that should be valued outside money, but you have to look at it from a business perspective, like a start-up – you need early investment and engagement.
“It’s important the club is consistent with keeping fans and supporters engaged, and to engage with the right people – the women’s game is heavily oriented to families.
“We need to keep riding on the momentum of the success that we’ve created over the last few years.”
Saying goodbye to the squad that has become ‘family’
Since announcing her retirement, Forrest has been inundated with so many messages from players and coaches that she hasn’t had the time to reply to them all.
Forrest knows she has made the right decision to call time on her career, but admits it’s been difficult saying goodbye to her teammates – who have become life long friends.
Forrest added: “I love football and it’ll always be there. I can go play football anywhere and watch it on TV anytime I want.
“The thing that gets me emotional is the people you’re walking away from. I said to the girls the other day, I probably see them more than I do my own family.
“This group of players are special – we’ve been together for so long and the bonus being we’ve achieved so much.
“It’s one of the things that make you question your decision. They’re what makes it difficult to leave – the coaches and the players.”