Glasgow and Edinburgh derbies, ultras and record attendance in store as SWPL prepares to take centre stage

The women’s game within Scottish football has made great strides across the last five years. There has been qualification for both the European Championship and World Cup. The national side has made Hampden Park its home and attracted big crowds, while players can be found at the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and in America.

Domestically there has been investment across the board. Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts have given more love and support to their women’s sides. Teams have been able to attract internationals to the SWPL 1. A league which is now part of the SPFL. Games are regularly televised live, the BBC have a highlights show and the Sky Sports Cup Final between Hibs and Rangers will be shown live by the sponsored broadcaster next month.

Some of the most difficult avenues of growth, but ones that are being chipped away at, are building a lasting and passionate interest on a week by week basis in terms of attracting crowds and altering the perceptions around the women's game which was treated with nothing short of contempt by the Scottish FA for so long.

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This weekend presents a wonderful opportunity to offer a showcase. The Premiership is on a break while teams from below the top flight take part in the Scottish Cup third round. The SWPL 1, meanwhile, presents somewhat of a derby weekend. Partick Thistle take on Glasgow City, Hamilton host Motherwell and Dundee United host Aberdeen. In addition, Rangers take on Celtic and Hearts travel to Easter Road.

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Season defining Old Firm clash

The match between the Old Firm is huge, even at this stage in the season 10 games in with one point separating the top three. Reigning champions Rangers lead the way on 28 points, ahead of Glasgow City on goal difference with Celtic tucked behind. Last weekend saw the top two drop their only points of the campaign when they drew 1-1. Between the three teams, they have conceded six and scored 132.

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When the top three are in such a position, levels above the rest of the league, it is the results between each other which are key. Celtic have already lost to Glasgow City and really, it has to be said, they can’t afford to lose. The league wouldn’t be over, not by a long way, but mentally and in terms of optics it would really show that it perhaps will be a two-horse race with Rangers expected to win the title again having assembled an impressive squad under Malky Thomson. The last Scotland squad had five Rangers players while Thomson can call on stars from America, Germany, France, Finland, Jamaica and the Netherlands.

Easter Road spectacle

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Hibs and Hearts will play in front of a record-breaking crowd on Sunday at Easter Road. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

That will act as the warm-up for Sunday’s big encounter in the Capital. At the time of writing an astounding 11,000 tickets for the Edinburgh derby have been snapped up, double the previous record set between the sides. Yes, it should be noted the tickets are free but the fact there is that demand is hugely encouraging.

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It should be quite the spectacle on and off the field. Hearts will be backed by around 2,000 supporters. Amongst them will be the newly formed Gorgie Ultras who have improved the atmosphere at Tynecastle Park and in away matches. They will be situated behind the goals in Section 28 of the South Stand. Up the other end, Hibs “agreed to host a singing section in the Famous Five stand to help bolster the atmosphere”.

“It’s so exciting," Hearts boss Eva Olid told Sky Sports. “I think more for women’s football in general. We hope in the future we can play every week in the stadiums and have more than 10,000 people watching us. It's a dream.

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"We see a progression. We know everything cannot happen in one year but it is a progression. If this year is 10,000 then next year 20,000. Young girls are now watching football games on TV and saying ‘I want to be there’. Before without anything there they couldn't dream. That's what we want to get, more girls playing football and to grow women's football.”

Rangers will host Celtic in a top-of-the-table clash on Saturday. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
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On the pitch it is set to be a fascinating encounter with the balance, going by the season so far, shifting towards the maroon and white side of the city. Hearts sit fourth in the table, four points ahead of rivals Hibs, having won as many games this campaign as they did last. That improvement is down to the work Spanish boss Olid has done on the training ground and in the transfer market. She has pinpointed the increased experience, especially in defence with just ten goals conceded, as key to that progression as she sets her long-term sights on steering the club to the Champions League. Hearts also possess one of the most promising teenagers in the country in Rebecca McAllister who made her Scotland bow earlier this year.

For Hibs, it will be about closing the gap and trying to show they are the city's top dogs. They have goals in them with Cypriot international Krystyna Freda and Eilidh Adams, as was on display last weekend when they hit Glasgow Girls for six. The Hibees have so far proved that on their day they can be a match for anyone having defeated Glasgow City in the semi-final of the Sky Sports Cup, Freda scoring twice against her former side.

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Sunday at Easter Road should be the climax to a big weekend for the women’s game in Scotland.

Both matches will be able to watch on BBC Alba, iPlayer and BBC online

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Eva Olid has led Hearts to fourth in the SWPL 1. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

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