Aberdeen Women’s place in 2021/22’s SWPL 1 is a result three-year journey which began in late-November 2018 when Aberdeen Ladies became officially associated with Aberdeen FC, and so Aberdeen FC Women was launched.
Since Aberdeen Women’s launch, the club has won back-to-back title wins in SWF Division One North and SWPL 2, taking them back to the top flight of Scottish football with Emma Hunter and Gavin Beith now at the helm.
Hunter took co-charge of the Dons for their inaugural season as part of Aberdeen FC, with the challenge of motivating a squad who had just been relegated twice and were no longer part of the elite SWPL set-up.
But she did exactly that as Aberdeen cruised to the SWF Division One North title, going undefeated for the entire season.
Having played in the same league as the Dons in 2019, I know how ruthless they were. In preparation for the games, everybody knew that it would be backs against the walls against the free-scoring Aberdeen.
Hunter’s side clinched the title well before the last day of the season, but their 6-1 victory against Dunfermline on the final day of the season exemplifies, in hindsight, how successful the Dons have been to reach the top flight.
The scorers that day were Johan Fraser, Chloe Gover, Eva Thomson, Bayley Hutchison and Eilidh Shore – all of whom are regular starters for the Dons in SWPL 1.
For the Reds to be competing with virtually the same side in SWPL 1 that they did two divisions below is an astonishing achievement.
The fact the team is the same is a reflection of the development under Hunter and the ‘one-club’ ethos that has seen improved investment and resources given to the women’s team.
Stop-start SWPL 2 season
The Reds were to face a different challenge when they made the step back up to SWPL 2 in 2020, and nobody could have been prepared for the season that would ensue.
Aberdeen started the season well winning every game until the season was put on hold because of the Covid-19 winter lockdown.
The Dons bid for promotion back to SWPL 1 was left hanging in the balance as uncertainty around the resumption of the league marred Aberdeen’s return to life in SWPL.
However on June 6 and 175 days later since their last fixture, the Dons promotion hopes were reignited as they beat Stirling University 7-0, showing that the break hadn’t affected their determination.
Much like their SWF Division One North season, Aberdeen went on to storm SWPL 2, only losing to now fellow SWPL 1 sides Hamilton Accies and Partick Thistle.
Hunter and her side’s SWPL 2 title winning achievement was made even sweeter considering they had to overcome the inconvenience of a global pandemic to complete this season – SWPL 2 sides played half of the season’s scheduled fixtures in less than a month.
Dons back where they belong
Promotion back to the SWPL 1 was what Aberdeen Women sought to do when the team became part of the elite environment of Aberdeen FC, and they did that at first time of asking.
But the ruthlessness of SWPL’s schedule continued as the Dons only had one month of between their last SWPL 2 fixture and kicking off their 2021/22 season in the league cup.
It’s not been an easy road back to SWPL 1, and life back in the top flight has already had its difficulties with heavy defeats showing the young side the harsh reality of the professional opposition that they will come up against.
However, this side has stuck together through relegations, promotions and to now be back in SWPL 1, they have created a strong foundation where the only way should be up.
They’ll not be naïve, and will be well aware of the difficulties and demands of life in the top flight, but they have proved they are well up for the challenge by picking up early points in the league.
Aberdeen’s aim should be to keep progressing on the pitch, to warrant development off it.
If the Dons can showcase that they are capable of competing in SWPL 1 this season and beyond, the club’s directors should be thinking about taking the steps of creating a professional pathway for the women’s team.
Baby steps might be the way, but even a move to semi-professional contracts would be a monumental decision for women’s football in the north-east.
When they announced the club, Aberdeen FC stated: “The rate of cahange in women’s sports is one of the most exciting trends in the sports industry right now.”
They were right, but things have moved on since even then with SWPL 1 now having four professional teams and receiving more media attention than it ever has.
I don’t think it would be unachievable for the Dons to be working within a hybrid semi-pro/professional medal within a few years, but SWPL 1 status will be imperative for that to happen.
Three years ago, Aberdeen were about to start their maiden season as part of Aberdeen FC in the third tier of women’s football, now they are playing against professionals and international players in the top flight.
The Dons have already proved the sky is the limit, and being in SWPL 1 means their ambitions and aims can only get bigger and better.