Aberdeen have made a statement with the historic move to appoint Clinton Lancaster as their first full-time women’s manager – even the Scotland Women’s camp was abuzz with the news.
When I read the announcement, I had to have a look online to find out the new boss’ background.
I think Lancaster’s time with the likes of Watford Women – who he took up to the second-tier Championship in England – places him really well.
Not just because of his track record of coaching at a good level, but also the experience of being a full-time manager driving a women’s programme where the players and the rest of the staff are only part-time, identical to the situation at Aberdeen.
I also take a lot of confidence from him moving from Hampshire all the way up to the north-east without his wife and young son (for the moment at least), as it shows he clearly sees enough potential in the project to make him determined to take it on and put his full focus into it. He’s made a show of intent.
The decision to get a full-time time boss in place, with Lancaster’s background, is a statement and it looks on the surface like the Dons have made a good appointment there.
I know Aberdeen’s head of youth academy Gavin Levey and there were a couple of reasons they wanted to progress to a women’s boss on a full-time deal.
They knew it would help them secure better, more experienced candidates, like Lancaster, and also because Gav, having spent the second half of last season in temporary charge, better understands how many hours it takes to helm the women’s side of the club and ensure there is continuous progress.
A great by-product of Gav having had the spell in charge is also that he got to see the professional and fully semi-professional sides who Aberdeen Women play against in SWPL 1 – Glasgow City, Rangers, Celtic, Hibs and Hearts – up close, and got a better insight into what it will take to get nearer to those teams’ levels.
Of course, with the stage of development the Dons Women are at, continuing to increase investment in and around the squad is crucial.
A full-time manager is a big step forward, but it was also good to see Maddie Finnie and Nadine Hanssen being put on to paid part-time contracts, which means there are now seven players on the club’s books being paid to play.
I have said this before, but the women’s team at Aberdeen have so much potential to be built into a sustainable, successful part of the club as long as the investment is there, including using existing resources in the wider club to create as professional an atmosphere as possible, like ensuring they have the access to the same training, gym, physio and nutrition facilities as the men get.
Aberdeen as a city only has one big club trying to build a women’s team, and there are plenty of local clubs and two universities for the Reds to draw talent from.
New manager Lancaster has said himself bolstering the squad is “priority one” ahead of the new SWPL 1 season kicking off on August 13 at home to Motherwell, and I am interested to see which players he can attract and the way his team play.
Hopefully reinforcements will arrive quickly enough for them to have the chance to gel with their team-mates, because, in an ideal world, they would have six weeks of preparations together for the new campaign.
It might not all go smoothly right from the start of the season, but, after struggling to get away from the bottom last term, I do think the ambition for the new full-time gaffer and his Dons Women side in the new campaign has to be to finish in the top-flight’s top-six.
Aberdeen Women should have a crack at beating Pittodrie attendance record in new season
It was pleasing to see SWPL attendances topped 100,000 last season, and hopefully they will climb again in the new campaign.
There were three occasions where new SWPL 1 records were set last term, with 8,000 at the Edinburgh derby in November, then 9,553 at Celtic Park for Glasgow City’s visit in May, before 15,822 watched Celtic beat Hearts on the final day.
Hearts and Rangers also set new club home records, with Montrose setting a new high mark for a game in SWPL 2.
In the new season, I would like to see Aberdeen back at Pittodrie having a go at beating the near-2,000 fans who watched them play Rangers at the famous old stadium in March 2022.
The Dons should try to replicate Newcastle United Women’s success south of the border – another one-club city, where the club seem to have converted a lot of fans of their men’s team into supporters who come to the women’s games as well.
When it comes to picking an opponent for a Pittodrie return, Aberdeen Women, unlike other teams, don’t have a local derby with the right amount of pulling power.
I think another Rangers game might be their best bet of creating an occasion which gets lots of fans invested, and brings a performance out of the team to match.
Ruled out for Scotland by ankle injury – but hopefully recovery period isn’t too long
I was frustrated injury meant I had to drop out of the Scotland Women’s squad for the friendlies with Northern Ireland and Finland.
Having only just returned to the national team fold following knee surgery last season, I was looking forward – during what can feel like a long pre-season – to taking part in a bit of competitive action and the team environment you can miss during the summer.
The injury was an unfortunate one.
I went in for 50/50 with one of the other players on the first day of camp. I planted my foot on her foot, which meant I ended up off balance and rolled my ankle as a result.
In the aftermath, I got sent for a scan because the medics were worried I could have a fracture. My ligaments felt fine, but I was getting pain at the top of my ankle bone.
The scan came back as ligament damage. However, I think this probably makes it seem worse than it is.
My ankle is swollen and bruised, but I don’t have much pain – and had the games in this camp not been friendlies, or had it been a crucial juncture in the season, I’d have probably been able to play through it.
However, given they are bounce games, it was better to let the injury settle so I can get back to full fitness more quickly.
I stayed around the camp for a couple of days to provide support to the girls, but then left when the squad travelled to Dundee for Friday’s Dens Park clash with Northern Ireland, although I attended the game.