Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.
Women's Football

A week behind the scenes with Aberdeen Women: Game-plans, the unsung heroes and S Club 7

We spent the week with the Dons ahead of their league clash with Hamilton Accies.
Sophie Goodwin
A graphic which shows Aberdeen Women players in training, manager Clint Lancaster and the club's training ground sign Cormack Park.
We spent the week with Aberdeen Women at Cormack Park. Image: Clarke Cooper/DCT Design.

What does it mean to be the full-time manager of Aberdeen Women? What work goes into playing at the highest level of the women’s game in Scotland?

I was granted access to Cormack Park to spend the week with Aberdeen Women ahead of their SWPL clash with Hamilton Accies.

Tuesday: Match-day -5

The team meet up for the first time on Tuesday evening at Cormack Park, and ahead of their arrival I join manager Clint Lancaster in the office he shares with the youth academy coaches.

He talks me through using Wyscout and Hudl – platforms which allow coaches to analyse match footage – and tonight will see him review the Dons’ previous game – a 3-0 defeat to Motherwell on March 31.

Coach Claire Garrett and goalkeeper coaches Cameron Jarvie and Dean Lawson arrive and the staff begin to share ideas on a game-plan against Accies.

As we all natter in the office, Lancaster steps out to greet the players who are heading in for their strength and conditioning session in the gym with Murray Collie.

Clint returns boasting about his choice of work-out music for the players and we can hear it from the office next door – S Club 7.

With S Club booming from the gym, Lancaster is back to business.

He is glued to his screen which shows an 11 v 11 line-up and he discusses different scenarios they might encounter against Accies.

Although Lancaster is the manager, it is clear he values the opinions of all of his staff and wants to hear their thoughts on how their rivals could react in different situations.

Following the gym session, the players chat as they walk down the corridor, passing the men’s first-team changing room and offices, and flood into the media room back near the front door of the building for the analysis session.

The chatting continues as Lancaster plugs in his laptop, but when he is ready to start, the talking turns to whispers before it goes completely silent.

I am at the back watching on as Lancaster pulls up the first of his clips from the match at K-Park, but before the analysis begins, he sets the tone for the meeting.

“We want this to be a statement performance,” Lancaster demands of the squad.

Aberdeen Women Clint Lancaster delivers an analysis session to his players ahead of the SWPL
Aberdeen Women Clint Lancaster delivers an analysis session to his players in preparation for the match with the Hamilton Accies in the SWPL.

“We are playing at home and we all said playing at home is something we want to have pride in.

“We really need to go out on Sunday from the front foot and be aggressive – and we will set up that way.”

It becomes clear this meeting is not a way for Lancaster to lecture the players. It is interactive, and he repeatedly asks them questions to help them better engage with and learn from both the mistakes and the positives against Motherwell.

“Why does this become a bit of a problem?” Lancaster puts to the room as he pulls up his first out-of-possession clip. It is the first of many questions throughout the meeting.

“Where did you go from here?” he asks defender Lois Edwards, which makes her think about their decision-making in possession and then their position once they’ve moved the ball on.

He asks the question to the players, works with them to find the issue and to identify if things went wrong, where and when they went wrong, and talks them through a possible solution.

Immediately, after the Motherwell game, he described their performance as terrible and was scathing of his players’ efforts.

However, it is clear the reaction was in the heat of the moment as Lancaster signs off the meeting by reminding the players of the standards set of themselves.

“We have to learn from it and move on from it,” he says. “I can count on one hand how many times we’ve dropped the standards this season.

“I am not annoyed at you – ask me if I’m annoyed on the day and I am, but I like to think we all are. We all have to make sure we come back in this next game and be ready to go.”

We are all out on the pitch just before 7.30pm and training focuses on shape and phases of play which Lancaster does tonight with luxury of a full-pitch.

It is not something he takes for granted – as the women’s team sometimes have to train on half a pitch due to Cormack Park being used by other teams and clubs.

Aberdeen Women manager Clint Lancaster explains a drill at training ahead of their SWPL clash
Aberdeen Women manager Clint Lancaster explains a drill at training ahead of their SWPL clash against Hamilton Accies.

The manager tells me how that means it can be hard to replicate and work on match-day scenarios – such as the weight of a players’ pass – as he compares it to a snooker player only practising using four pockets.

An 11 v 11 match drill, which involves the under-18s and sees them line-up how they expect Accies, too, takes up the bulk of Tuesday night’s session.

Wednesday: Match-day -4

On Wednesday, I see first hand one of the key advantages of Lancaster being Aberdeen Women’s first full-time manager – a training session during the day.

I arrive at 10.15am, 45 minutes before the players, as the manager explains his plan to review footage of their opposition and start to prepare a game-plan for tomorrow night’s preview meeting.

The day session is attended by eight players, and involves passing drills and a 6 v 2 exercise with four players in the centre of a box and one on each side of the perimeter.

Skipper Stewart is a rare attendee at these sessions due to her job as a teacher – but the Easter holidays means, when Lancaster asked the previous night who would be along the next morning, she was the first to shoot her hand up.

However, she maybe regrets her decision when she is nutmegged during a drill and Lancaster teases her, saying: “That’s what you get for not being at school.”

I ask Stewart how she feels the entire team have benefited from working with Lancaster, including at extra sessions like these, since he was appointed on a full-time basis ahead of their third season in the top-flight.

“It has been massively important and I think you can see from our performances that it is,” the Dons captain said.

“It is not a heavy session, but it gets the legs moving and it has played a big role in our development over the course of the season.

“The girls who are university students or the girls who have moved up from England especially benefit from it and it gives them another session under their belts.”

Aberdeen Women captain Hannah Stewart.
Aberdeen Women captain Hannah Stewart. Image: Shutterstock.

The extra session has also helped bring the squad closer, as Stewart added: “It is a lighter session than the evening and we have a laugh.

“We’re a close group and are all friends. I think these sessions have helped that a lot.”

Having heard Stewart’s perspective, I was interested to find out from Lancaster how he felt the squad transitioned to working with a full-time manager.

“I think it is good for them to know that someone is a constant and is always there focusing on the women’s team,” he explains.

“The benefit I have got and the players have got with me being full-time is that they can reach out to me at anytime and ask me anything.

“We can speak about football or anything that is going on in their life away from football. I just want to support them as much as I can and I think that has helped them big time.”

Before we return to training in the evening, another one-hour session between 6pm and 7pm, Lancaster is off to a meeting with sponsors.

The meetings, he says, are vital to help “bang the drum” of the women’s team and promote them as much as possible.

“When you become a football coach you probably spend a lot of your time behind a screen when you actually want to be outside working on the pitch,” adds Lancaster.

“But we spend a lot of time doing the admin and meeting because it is really important.

“It is important you are banging the drum for the women’s team in every single area and encouraging sponsors to get behind us.”

Thursday: Match-day -3

On Thursday, much like Tuesday, I meet with Lancaster in his office about an hour before the squad arrive for a gym session at 6pm.

And we are all treated to another song of Lancaster’s choice as 5, 6, 7, 8 by Steps blasts through the corridor from the gym.

“He loves the cheesy songs,” coach Garrett looks to me, jokingly shaking her head.

The game-plan against Accies, Lancaster explains to me using the analysis whiteboard behind his desk, will be to exploit the wide areas.

I decide to speak to Francesca Ogilvie, Aberdeen Women’s vice-captain, who has featured as a wing-back this term.

Although winger is her preferred position, wing-back has been a new role for the 22-year-old this season. The manager has been pleased with her performances, some of which came during a challenging period.

Lancaster tells me how Ogilvie struggled when Hannah Stewart was given the armband when club captain Nadine Hanssen announced her pregnancy and was ruled out for the rest of the season.

Francesca Ogilvie on the pitch
Francesca Ogilvie. Image: Shutterstock.

Following an analysis meeting in the media room, where Lancaster tells the squad how important the wide players are going to be on Sunday, Ogilvie and I stay behind to chat.

Did she hope to make the step up to captain after being vice for the last two seasons? How did she feel when that wasn’t going to be the case?

She answers assuredly.

“Clint pulled me aside after we were told the news and I had an inkling he was going to make someone else captain,” Ogilvie explains. “At the time, I overthought it.

“I thought: ‘What have I done wrong to not be named captain?’ But, Clint reassured me it was not anything I had done.

“He wanted a more experienced player, and although I’m experienced for my age, Hannah has a lot more experience and has played in the Champions League, so I couldn’t really argue with that.”

After hearing how vital the manager expects her to be against Accies – who sit bottom of the SWPL, I ask if she relishes that kind of responsibility.

It is clear she does. Her smile and eagerness in speaking about it suggests she wishes it was match-day now.

“If I play, I know I am going to be involved a lot and I am going to have to be focused the whole game,” Ogilvie says.

Something Lancaster mentioned in the team meeting – and it is what the team work on in training this evening-  is being confident in one v ones.

How does Ogilvie feel about that?

“When I’m playing, I want as much of the ball as I can get and recently I haven’t been getting it as much as I would like,” she adds.

“An area of my game that I want to improve is definitely one v ones. I want to be able to run as far as I can down the wing, so in a game like this where that is going to be the majority of our focus – I am really looking forward to it.

Lancaster explains a drill to his players in their Thursday night training session
Lancaster explains a drill to his Aberdeen Women players in their Thursday night training session ahead of their SWPL clash against Hamilton Accies.

“Being able to get at them in the one v ones is motivation.

“I know myself I should be better than the players we’re going to come up against and as a team we should be better.

“We have the motivation – but there is also the pressure to go do and deliver on Sunday.”

We finish chatting and Ogilvie re-joins the group who are already out on the pitch doing the warm-up ahead of the session, which focuses on hitting the wide areas and getting the ball moving quicker.

Friday: Match-day -2

Friday is a day off for the players and as they attend work, or sit in university lectures or make the most of the Easter holidays, I catch up with Lancaster.

Today his main task is to put together match packs for the squad, which include reminders of the game-plan against Hamilton, responsibilities on match-day and their identity as a team.

Over the course of the week, Lancaster and I have spoken about his staff, all of whom he holds in the highest regard. He says it is vital he has “good people” around him.

There are two women he is keen to tell me more about – with both having played their part for almost as long as Aberdeen Women have existed.

First-team coach Claire Garrett has been on board since Emma Hunter and Gavin Beith’s tenure, and physiotherapist Beth Walker works with the women’s team on top of her full-time role with Aberdeen’s male under-18s.

“I care about Claire a lot,” Lancaster beams as he tells me. “She is the sort of person if you ever needed anything then she would be there to help in a heartbeat.”

He goes on to provide an example of Garrett’s selflessness as he recalls a time he was due to fly home to the south of England to visit his wife and young son, but found out his flight his 6am flight on Friday morning from Aberdeen was cancelled.

Without hesitation, Garrett was willing to drive him down to Edinburgh after training on Thursday to get a flight from the capital early the next morning to make sure he lost no time with his family.

“She is just such a caring person,” the Dons boss adds. “She does go under the radar, because she doesn’t look for the limelight and doesn’t search for praise.

“If every club had a Claire, they would be a much better place!”

It is something I saw first hand at training over the course of the week as Garrett works with the squad, some of whom she has coached since they were only 10 years old.

Aberdeen Women manager Clint Lancaster, centre, and coach Claire Garrett, left.
Aberdeen Women manager Clint Lancaster, centre, and coach Claire Garrett, left. Image: Shutterstock.

“Miss Aberdeen” is how Lancaster describes Walker – never has he met someone who goes above and beyond like she does.

“Beth is a massive asset to us,” the manager says. “She is one of a kind and has a heart of gold.

“She loves the club and does everything for the club. She works for the under-18s, but would work with the men’s first team, the boys’ academy, the girls’ academy and our senior team.”

With her being a full-time member of staff at Cormack Park, Walker has become a close friend of Lancaster over the course of the season.

“I’ve got such a good relationship with her,” he adds. “We’ve got a good bit of banter between us.

“She is very witty. We’ve got a similar sense of humour. I laugh a lot when I am with Beth.”

Having spent the week with the team, Lancaster asks how I have found training and we agree the players have engaged with what they have worked on ahead of the Accies clash.

“It has been good this week,” the manager says. “We have had a lot of emphasis on trying to play and exploiting the wide areas. I feel like the players have trained well.”

Sunday: Match-day

Match-day arrives and I again meet Lancaster in his office at the training ground before he travels to Balmoral Stadium.

He talks me through his routine on a Sunday when they play at home which sees him settle on the starting XI and printing off examples of set-plays which are to be stuck on the changing room walls for the players.

We arrive to the stadium around 11.45am and physio Walker and captain Stewart are also there bringing kit into the dressing room.

The rest of the players start to arrive just after noon and they sit beside their corresponding match shirt which are hung up in the order of who will be starting today’s match.

It is a very chilled out environment with the players going out for a quick stroll on the pitch around 12.30pm.

But when the players are back in, it is time to focus as Lancaster delivers his pre-match team talk.

He begins be reiterating what he has said all week. He wants to see urgency in the way they play.

“We don’t come here and sit off them,” he says. “If they try and play, we do not let them breathe.”

Aberdeen Women's changing room.
Aberdeen Women’s changing room at Balmoral Stadium.

The Dons boss goes on to remind the players of how they want to exploit the wide areas and of their positions and the responsibilities in different match scenarios.

He ends by demanding a fast start and hammers home the importance of putting the game to bed early with Wednesday’s clash against Montrose already on the horizon.

But, within five minutes, Aberdeen are 1-0 down after Melissa Reid scores from close-range.

There were glimpses of the Dons’ game-plan to attack the wide areas – and that is how they pull level through Ogilvie.

She cuts inside down the right flank and unleashes a curling shot to make it 1-1. Game on.

Josi Giard fired Hamilton 2-1 in front on the 30-minute mark, leading to a firm but fair half-time talk from Lancaster who unleashes some loud, stern words.

Lancaster seems to be most annoyed by a lack of togetherness and response. The team had struggled to rally together despite going behind twice.

“There is nobody pulling anybody up for anything here,” a riled Lancaster bemoans to the players at half-time.

“You have to take responsibility. You are losing 2-1. You are losing 2-1 and it was 4-0 when you beat them here before.

“It is nowhere near good enough. There have been elements of panic, but get your foot down and play.”

At full-time, it was a different story, as the manager hails his side’s character after coming from behind to win and secure all three points.

The Dons won 3-2 thanks to a Bayley Hutchison brace, which moves her onto 20 goals in all competitions with 19 of those being in the league.

Standing together in a circle at full-time, the Aberdeen manager admits it wasn’t the statement performance he had asked of his team at the start of the week.

Aberdeen Women celebrate Bayley Hutchison's winner in the SWPL match against Hamilton Accies.
Aberdeen Women celebrate Bayley Hutchison’s winner against Hamilton Accies.

But, there is little time to dwell on that as it will soon be time for Aberdeen to do it all again.

And Lancaster tells his players, it is a new chance to put in that “statement” performance he was so desperately looking for.

“Enjoy this, but there is not much time until the next one,” Lancaster says referring to his side’s league clash at Links Park against Montrose on Wednesday night.

“Montrose will watch this back and fancy themselves even more. We need to turn up on Wednesday night with a better attitude than we had out there today.

“We need to go out and make a statement against them.

“Well done on the win – I am delighted with the three points – but we know we can play better – and we will look to do that on Wednesday night.”