By Craig Edwards and Graham Falk
91:28, the story of how Glasgow City brought the Scottish Women’s Premier League title back to Petershill Park.
For the first time since 2007, Glasgow City started the season as challengers following a second place finish in 2021/22. Changes to the playing squad in the summer saw multiple signings across the pitch such as Chloe Warrington, Amy Muir, Dilan Bora, Desiree Monsivais, Emily Whelan, Kinga Kozak, Meikayla Moore and Erin Greening while Abbi Grant’s loan was made permanent. Meanwhile Sarah Gibb was promoted to the First Team.
The league itself changed over the summer too. Under the stewardship of the SPFL, the SWPL increased to 12 teams with Dundee United and Glasgow Women both gaining promotion to the top flight of Scottish women’s football. A split was introduced after each team had played each other home and away which saw another ten fixtures to play after the split.
The opening day welcomed the visit of Spartans to Petershill and so began the longest SWPL season ever…
A Clare Shine hat-trick helped City to all three points to kick off the new season with new signing Kinga Kozak scoring and Lauren Davidson scoring the first of 31 goals in all competitions.
After seventh heaven against Spartans on opening day, City’s first away game would not be so simple. Motherwell had a new home for this season as they moved to K Park and looked to mark their first game in new surroundings with a point and for 96 minutes - it looked like they would.
A look back at City’s history and late drama is indeed a re-occurring theme (more on that later). In the 97th minute, a Mairead Fulton’s inch perfect corner was met by the towing figure of Jenna Clark and City would snatch a dramatic and vital early victory.
Following defeat in the UEFA Women’s Champions League to eventual Quarter Finalists AS Roma, City resumed SWPL action with a midweek meeting against Dundee United. The Tangerines were unbeaten when they arrived at Petershill Park but goals from Emily Whelan and Niamh Noble - their first for the club - made it three wins from three - a few days later when Whelan would score again, this time the winner in a 2-1 victory over Aberdeen to make it four wins from four.
September saw an Edinburgh double following the postponement of the fixture against Glasgow Women with a first visit to Meadowbank Stadium. City would navigate the challenge of Hibernian with ease thanks to four first half goals before Clare Shine would announce her shock retirement from football and gave an emotional goodbye to the club amid a 2-0 victory over an ever improving Hearts side.
October began with a Sky Sports Cup victory over Aberdeen that welcomed new signings Beatriz Prades Insa and Aliyaah Allie to the fray before Hamilton Academical and Glasgow Women were dispatched in the league 6-0 and 5-0 respectively. City would progress further in Sky Sports Cup with a dominant 9-0 win over Glasgow Women that saw Sarah Gibb and Sophia Martin score their first goals for the club.
March up the table
Sat in third place in the league table since the opening day despite an unbeaten start, something had to give as City took on Celtic in the first of eight clashes between the top three. City landed the first blow when Lauren Davidson scored from the penalty spot after Emily Whelan had been brought down by Pamela Tajonar. Shen Menglu equalized for Celtic late on and it looked like the points would be shared until City snatched victory as the clock hit 90.
A quick throw-in from Amy Muir created an opportunity for Lauren Davidson but when her shot was blocked, the ball would drop to Hayley Lauder who drilled the ball low into the bottom corner to send the Petershill crowd wild despite the torrential rain.
It was the tale of two penalties when the SWPL resumed after a disappointing Sky Sports Cup defeat to Hibernian. City and Rangers would grind out a close fought 1-1 draw to maintain their unbeaten record while a Petershill Park derby victory over Partick Thistle combined with a goalless draw between Celtic and Rangers moved City to the top of the table - a position City would hold for a number of months.
The year would end with a comeback victory over Hibernian at Petershill as two corners helped to secure a 2-1 victory. Our final scheduled game of 2022 would fall foul to the weather as freezing cold temperatures made the pitch unplayable at Spartans.
Familiar face, new start
The new year would be welcomed in with a Scottish Cup tie against Hamilton at Petershill - and there was also a familiar face in the dugout after head coach Eileen Gleeson departed over the Christmas break. Leanne Ross, a 15 time SWPL winner with City and legend of the club, moved up from assistant to take over on an interim basis. Her era would get off to the perfect start too when Bea Prades, Erin Greening, a brilliant Hayley Lauder chip and Kinga Kozak secured an impressive 4-0 win.
A 4-0 win over Spartans in midweek gave Leanne Ross her first SWPL victory before the team headed north to the City of Discovery to face Dundee United. Four players scored hat-tricks during the season for Glasgow City and right back Erin Greening was one of them as she netted three against Dundee United in a 8-1 win. The other three? Clare Shine against Spartans, Jenna Clark against Glasgow Women and Lauren Davidson against Hamilton.
As January came to a close our first visit to Broadwood to face Rangers would once again up the ante in the title race. Rangers, who sat five points behind following their goalless draw at Hearts two weeks prior, were unable to claw back the points deficit in a game of few chances as the teams ground out a 0-0 draw.
January welcomed new additions as Miracle Porter, Linda Molthalo and Anna Oscarsson all signed up while Lisa Forrest and Sophia Martin were awarded with their first professional contracts after impressive cameos - the latter becoming the youngest ever female player to sign a professional contract.
Erin Ward and Rachel Wright, both part of the Glasgow City Academy, made their senior debuts this season against Dundee United and Partick Thistle as the City pathway continued to showcase its pathway for young girls in Scotland.
Rachel Donaldson’s goal for Partick Thistle in City’s 8-1 victory at the start of February was the last goal either Lee Gibson or Erin Clachers conceded for two months as City started to stretch their legs in the title race. Club captain Jo Love made her long awaited return after 17 months out in a 7-0 thrashing of Aberdeen.
SWPL victories over Hearts, Aberdeen and Motherwell would set up a tantalizing clash between the top two in March as City looked to stretch their three points lead over Glasgow rivals Celtic.
A solitary goal from Priscila Chinchilla secured a second SWPL victory over Celtic and an 11-0 win over Glasgow Women would hand City a handsome three point cushion over the Hoops as the league entered the split for the first time.
The start of the split
The newly introduced split began with a trip to the capital to face Hibernian at the unusual time of 5:30 on a Saturday night.
A first half goal from Bea Prades was added to by a penalty from Lauren Davidson to hand City a deserved three points. A second visit to the capital would also result in victory as an Amy Muir screamer saw City on to another 2-0 victory.
The fixture computer would present City with two crucial home clashes against title rivals Celtic and Rangers in the space of 72 hours next, while a Scottish Cup semi final at the National Stadium against Celtic awaited the following weekend.
The SWPL fixture against Celtic saw City suffer defeat for the first time this season despite Lee Gibson saving two penalties before Kirsty Howat scored in a stoppage time win for Rangers despite it looking like Jenna Clark’s 87th minute header would secure a point.
Natasha Flint’s first half goal was enough for Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi final at Hampden Park. With three defeats in seven days, Glasgow City would be presented with their biggest challenge yet and knew they had to respond.
A Petershill Park derby started a run of seven games in 21 days that would decide the destiny of the SWPL trophy. City bounced back from the three defeats with a 2-0 victory over Partick Thistle before two first half goals secured a 2-1 midweek win against Hibernian under the Petershill Park floodlights.
Hearts were up next and an early Claire Walsh strike along with a brilliant effort from outside the penalty area by Linda Motlhalo and another goal for Lauren Davidson gave City a five point lead with three games remaining.
Celtic Park would be up next as the top two went toe to toe in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Lauren Davidson’s 29th goal of the season would silence a record crowd, however, Celtic would fight back and take all three points on a tough night in Glasgow. Victories in the early kick offs for Celtic and Rangers meant the title race would go to the last day and, just as it looked like City may be dealt a cruel blow at home to Partick Thistle, an 86th minute strike from Priscila Chinchilla allowed City to head into the final game with destiny in their own hands.
Never say die City
The calculators were out and the permutations of just who could win the SWPL and how at the forefront of all three Glasgow clubs minds. However, for City at least, it was simple. Win at Ibrox and a 16th SWPL crown would be brought home to Petershill Park. A draw would be enough if Celtic failed to beat Hearts but the side from the east end of Glasgow, chasing their first ever SWPL title, were determined to do all they could as they defeated Gorgie side. As the seconds ticked down across Glasgow, City knew they had to win.
For Rangers to win the title, they knew they needed to match their rivals' result and as the second half wore on, Malky Thomson’s side would threaten Lee Gibson - though Scotland’s number one would stand firm. Defeat for City wouldn’t have just ended any hopes of the title, but would have seen City drop to third in the table and not have any European football for the 2023/24 season. The stakes were as high as they ever have been in the top tier of Scottish Women’s football.
As the referee’s watch struck 90, the electronic board would be raised above the fourth official’s head with the number four illuminated. Four minutes to destiny. The taxi holding the SWPL trophy on standby.
Akin to the winger against Celtic early in the campaign, an Amy Muir throw-in was played by Aoife Colvill, making her first appearance since January 2021 and into the path of Kinga Kozak. A first time ball over the top to the onrushing Linda Motlhalo saw the midfield drive into the box. With Lauren Davidson free in the penalty area, Motlhalo made sure she was found. First touch to lift the ball, second to volley it under Jenna Fife. One bounce and the ball nestled in its new home in the corner of the Ibrox net with 91 minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.
Cue wild celebrations from everyone in orange and black.
In a moment, City’s goal had demanded the taxi make a three point turn. The sat nav that previously read Celtic Park now insisted on Ibrox Stadium, 150 Edmiston Drive, Glasgow.
Was the drama over though? Not a chance. Rangers came forward deep into stoppage time. Maddie Nolf’s long range effort blocked by Lee Gibson, Sam Kerr’s effort from the centre of the penalty area deflected away, Kirsty Howat’s strike palmed into the sky before Kathryn Hill put the ball into the net, illegally. Lee Gibson echoed the thoughts of everyone involved with Glasgow City when she was caught on camera asking the referee “how long?”. It was high drama and football at its very best.
The Rangers captain’s challenge on Gibson saw the goal chalked off with Gibson having both hands on the ball and when the City legend rose back to her feet and took one swing of the right boot to put the ball into the Glasgow evening sky, the longest season in SWPL history was brought to a conclusion with one last blast of the referee’s whistle.
Players would fall to their knees, tears of joy would be shed but, and perhaps most importantly, the new SWPL trophy would be etched with a familiar name. Glasgow City, the 2022/23 Park’s Motor Group Scottish Women’s Premier League champions.