“It’s incredibly strange, hearing people talk about you.”
When Purple TV approached Laura Montgomery and Carol Anne Stewart (often known as Cas), founders of Glasgow City FC, about doing a documentary, the duo had no doubts over saying yes. The club’s story is remarkable, going from birth to the quarter finals of the Champions League and boasting 13 league titles in a row in a little over 20 years.
The documentary was shown on BBC Alba last month, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive – but it was still a little strange for Montgomery to see her life story playing out on the screen in front of her.
“As far as I’ve seen, everyone seems to have really enjoyed it,” she said.
“Purple TV, Margot McCuaig who produced and kind of wrote it has done a brilliant job. I’ve pretty much watched all of her documentaries, so Cas and I had no hesitation when she asked to do it, we knew she would do a very good job. I think that has been the case.
“It’s just a bit weird, it has been my life so how do you really judge that? In terms of the production though, I think Purple TV did an amazing job.
“It was also strange because we talked about an awful lot more. Cas and I were only interviewed together once and separately once, but out of those two they had hours and hours of questions. We spoke about a lot more than you actually saw in the end, but there’s only so much you can fit into an hour.”
Montgomery grew up in Paisley, and from an early age took a strong interest in football. She was usually found playing football on the playground at school, and her dad John volunteered for a local club, so being on the sidelines at the weekends were no different.
But not being allowed to play with the boys for the school team saw Montgomery focus on athletics competitively while growing up, getting to the stage where she was running for Scotland.
That changed after leaving school and going to Glasgow University, where Montgomery’s first love of football was suddenly opened up to her at the university team – allowing her to play organised football for the first time.
Her athleticism stood out and Montgomery was picked for a Universities Select, where lessons were learned that would stand her in good stead at first Maryhill Eagles and then Glasgow City.
“I was super excited,” Montgomery recalled.
“It’s interesting, I would love to have been able to play organised football when I was younger, and learned tactics from coaching. I was always quite athletic, and growing up at school I was always probably the best girl footballer. When I went to university, I was 17, and I then got selected for Scottish Universities.
“I went along to the first training session, and I remember the coach pulling me aside and telling me to stop running after the ball. Basically, even at the university, we weren’t really trained, we just kind of got together. This was literally my first couple of months of playing organised football.
“I very quickly learned, because I’m quite good at taking on information, but at that point I had never been coached. Naturally being really athletic, and because I had the ability to go from the back to the front with the ball, I was doing it. The coach was like ‘oh my god, we have a formation here, what the hell are you doing?’ That was the first and last time I ever did that.
“After that one training session, I very quickly learned. I was probably just a little bit too eager to try and do well. At Maryhill actually, we had a good coach that one year I played and I certainly learned loads. I got injured in the first game of my second season, and it was during those years out – I was injured for three years – that Cas and I reflected on what we could do better and do differently.”
That was when the foundations of Glasgow City began to be built. Montgomery and Stewart felt there could be a more professional approach taken to what was still a recreational activity for most. Funding, facilities, and media coverage were – and still are – major issues facing women’s football in the country as the sport gets dwarfed by its male counterpart.
With Glasgow City though, there was the chance to build a club with a different attitude, always striving to be better. From sitting in Stewart’s kitchen writing out plans on sheets and sheets of paper, to recruiting players and convincing them that theirs was a project that could go places, the club played their first game in 1998.
City won promotion to Scotland’s top tier in their first season, and never looked back. In 2004, they secured a first Scottish Cup, and the following year they claimed a first Premier League title. Since 2008, Glasgow City have won 13 leagues in a row including four consecutive trebles between 2012 and 2015.
Their success was not just limited to Scotland though, as little by little European progress has come too. Against sides with far higher budgets, they reached the round of 16 for the first time in 2011 and made it to the quarter finals in 2015 as well as the current season, before their scheduled matches against Germany’s Wolfsburg were delayed due to the coronavirus.
That elite level of continental competition is a far cry from Stewart’s kitchen when plans for the club were first coming together, but Montgomery says they always believed it would be possible.
“Cas and I are so similar, we’re both quite forward thinking, very ambitious,” she explained.
“We have different attributes that compliment each other really well, so I need to be brutally honest and say no, we never ever doubted it.
“There were probably other people at the time that said it was arrogance. I think Cas and I genuinely believed we could do things better. I had a massive motivation because I was injured at the start, so it was a great thing for me to plan and get behind. It was kind of a whirlwind for me getting involved in senior women’s football.
“I had just gone to university, I hadn’t played organised football, and then I was pretty quickly playing for Maryhill Eagles when I was still pretty young. Then all of a sudden I was injured, and before that I hadn’t really stopped to think ‘what am I playing in’, it was just so exciting to be playing in organised football. I pretty much only had that for one year, and then after that I was sitting back and trying to take it in, this is fantastic, I’m playing in senior football, but reflecting on it I think we can do a hell of a lot better.
“We probably naively did believe then. I say naively because at that point, we had no concept of what teams were like outside of Scotland, absolutely no concept whatsoever. When we first went into Europe, we thought we were a semi-decent team, and we had our eyes massively opened.
“Looking back now I think ‘how stupid were we to actually believe that’, because it’s so hard. It’s obviously become even harder with the amount of money that’s now in the game. At the Champions League stage we’re basically playing teams that are owned by small countries, that’s the reality of it. They have endless amounts of wealth, and that’s something we can never compete with.
“A big thing for me looking back is that I think it’s absolutely phenomenal that we got to the Champions League quarter final twice, Scottish teams should not be there. The budget difference between our club and the other clubs that we compete with at this level is astronomical. They can pay for and get the best players in the world, while we have players currently working day jobs fighting the coronavirus pandemic.”
As well as success on the pitch, football also brought Montgomery love. She met Katharina Lindner on a football pitch in Germany, the two got talking afterwards, and the rest, as they say, is history.
For a while, it was a long-distance relationship as Lindner was finishing up her studies in America, but in 2005 she moved to Glasgow to be with Montgomery, and quickly started donning the orange of Glasgow City.
Lindner, a lecturer at the University of Stirling before her tragic passing last year, made an immediate impact with her talent standing out from day one. After retiring, she would play a key role in the 2016 restructuring of the women’s game in Scotland as policy director of Scottish Women’s Football, but her entire time in Scotland and relationship with Montgomery stemmed from a chance first encounter.
“It was a really random story, one summer – and I can’t really remember why – but the Premier League seemed to finish up a little bit earlier,” Montgomery said.
“Cas knew a few of the girls that played for St Johnstone, who played in one of the lower leagues, and apparently Perth is twinned with the town of Aschaffenburg in Germany, so the teams had been playing each other. One year Aschaffenburg Kickers would come over and play St Johnstone, and the next year St Johnstone would go over and play over there.
“They ended up asking Cas if she and any of her pals wanted to go, so myself, Cas and another good friend of mine who also played for Glasgow City, we all thought it would be quite good. We were on a pre-season break from Glasgow City, and let’s face it, we hadn’t played fun football for some time, it was always pretty serious.
“The Kickers were holding a tournament that weekend for teams all over the country, but because we were like the special friendship, special relationship, the tournament was Saturday and Sunday but on the Friday night we played a bounce game against each other. Kat stood out a mile, like literally a mile. She was by far the best player in their team, and by far the best player on the pitch.
“In Germany they have fantastic facilities so despite being an amateur club they had the clubhouse and barbecues, multiple pitches, things that we only dream of in Scotland. We were having this joint barbecue between the two teams, and our captain stood up with a gift for the other team to say thanks for having us, the usual kind of pleasantries. Then Kat stood up, and regurgitated it all in German, and when the German captain spoke, Kat stood up and regurgitated it all in perfect English!
“I thought ‘oh right, ok, this is interesting’. We spoke from that night and took it from there, but I always think it was fate. Kat at that point was in Hartford, Connecticut, she had just finished her four-year soccer scholarship there, and she was about to start her masters. She had only come home for the summer, and the Kickers were the team she played with when she was 10 years old or something, but they were some of her oldest friends. They had done the same as St Johnstone had done to us, they asked Kat if she fancied playing that weekend, so it was random she was there playing for this team and it was random I was there playing for St Johnstone.
“I’m obviously incredibly biased, but without a doubt Kat is not just one of the best Glasgow City players, but one of the best players to ever play in Scotland. Particularly at the time she came, she really stood out a mile.
“Certainly to our club, she brought another level of professionalism, athleticism, fitness and dedication to what she did, which we hadn’t seen in Scotland. She really was built like an athlete, she had incredible technical skills, she was really two-footed and she had that unique ability to really be a winger. You could give Kat the ball at training, and nobody could get it off her. She was so technical, she could take everybody on, but she was so fit she just wouldn’t stop.”
Lindner was at the level Glasgow City as a whole were aspiring towards, but the growth in the team since those early days has been phenomenal.
The success of the first team speaks for itself, but behind the scenes City are also doing their best to safeguard the future of women’s football in Scotland with a youth academy. Over 170 girls train with the club across 12 teams, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Lindner, as well as Scotland’s 2019 World Cup stars like Lee Alexander, Erin Cuthbert and Rachel Corsie.
In many ways City have revolutionised women’s football in Scotland, with last year’s World Cup just the latest display of how the game has been progressing. With Celtic and Rangers announcing that they would turn professional ahead of the 2020 season, the hope is that progress continues, even if Glasgow City’s dominance could be about to come in for a renewed challenge.
As far as Montgomery is concerned though, their rivals can bring it on.
“Winning 13 titles in a row, I really think that has not been fully recognised,” Montgomery insisted.
“I don’t mean that for me and Cas, we haven’t done that, the team have done that. I think I managed to get four or five of them as a player, but to actually have a team that continually produces – and people think our league isn’t competitive, but it is. We’ve had some formidable opponents over the years at different points that have really taken us right to the end, it has been a huge challenge.
“I strongly believe, given that we’ve had to rebuild our team time and time again, it’s quite phenomenal. It’s difficult when you constantly lose your best players, and that has happened to us endless times. It started for us when we played Turbine Potsdam in the last 16 of the Champions League, they came and took Lisa Evans. It then happened when we played Fortuna Hjorring, they tried to take Jane Ross and Emma Mitchell. At that point neither of them chose to go, but it opened their eyes up to professional football, and they’ve gone on to have fantastic careers which is brilliant. When we played Eskilstuna, they came and took Fiona Brown who stood out in that game. It happened when we played Anderlecht, they came in and took Abbi Grant. It happened when we played Chelsea, they came in and took Erin Cuthbert.
“The list is kind of endless, but it’s great that our players are fulfilling their dreams and doing well everywhere else. We allowed that platform, but I don’t think sometimes it has been appreciated how challenging it has been to win the title every year, it has definitely not been easy.
“I think Sheila Begbie actually mentions this in the documentary, if you speak to most of our former players, they speak incredibly highly of their time at the club. I think that’s because they really believe in the values that we have, they feel that they were treated well, and they enjoyed it. They knew they were playing at a club that have incredibly high standards, and they also realise that it made them a better player and gave them opportunities that they are now managing to enjoy.
”Even at the World Cup, a player in the national team messaged me the night before the first game and actually said ‘listen, I just want to say a huge thank you, because you don’t realise that possibly without Glasgow City, Scotland wouldn’t be at the World Cup.’ I sat and thought about it, and true enough, there were 11 players in that squad who have been Glasgow City players. I thought that was a really lovely thing for her to recognise, which at that point I actually hadn’t thought of.
“But we’re always up for a challenge. Rangers and Celtic becoming professional hasn’t massively changed what we do, we will still always strive to do better and improve, and find ways to do that. our model is just our model, we’ll keep going and working hard as well as we can. We’ve been up against it for many years, the financial difference isn’t a new one, it’s maybe just a slightly bigger one.
“If clubs have professional marketers we just need to market it better as volunteers. If they’ve got professional recruitment staff, we just need to recruit better as volunteers. The model isn’t massively different, and I think it’s fantastic for the game that we’ve got more clubs putting money in. Hopefully it will mean that our league here will get stronger, we’ll attract better quality players, and players in Scotland will maybe want to hang around that little bit longer and over the piece we’ll end up with a stronger league. That would hopefully mean more commercial income coming in, and the game in Scotland would only benefit from that.”