This weekend not only sees the launch of the newly formatted SWPL Cup but the opening round of fixtures in the SWF Championship, the latest addition to the updated performance arm of Scottish Women’s Football competitive structure. Amongst the 26 sides that will being make up the regionalised North and South divisions are six names new to the women’s football fixture list with two of those sides coming head to head at the Tony Macaroni Arena this Sunday as Livingston take on fellow debutants Edinburgh City.
Leading the Line editor Chris Marshall spoke to those connected with the West Lothian club to learn a little more about a move that saw the Lionesses find their roar.
Whilst the association between the name Livingston and the women’s game is seemingly new a Livingston Ladies side was competing under the umbrella of SWFL’s Blackburn United last season but a conversation between then United boss, Paul Jaconelli, and Livingston assistant David Martindale soon lead to a potential opening.
“The reason we came along to Livingston was to broaden the horizons for Blackburn United.” explains Jaconelli. “We needed a facility where we could bring young players and eventually make it to Premier League standard. I was aware that Livingston didn’t have a women’s club and that’s how it started and things took off from there.”
Jaconelli has stayed on as boss at the new side in a move that sees Livingston compete in the newly formed SWF Championship – South with Blackburn United remaining key in the development of future stars. It is a partnership that Football Development Officer for both parties, Connor McCloskey, can only see as beneficial for all.
“The attraction of the facility, the name and getting to play in the stadium is a real attraction for the girls.”
“We had to get more professional to be able to challenge at the other end of the table and Livingston gave us the opportunity to do that and it was one that we couldn’t turn down. Moving forward in the future, it provides our budding stars at Blackburn United a real goal to play in a Premiership stadium every week when they get to that age and level.”
It’s a partnership that certainly seems to have captured the imagination of the local community with a reported crowd of 300+ at the side’s inaugural fixture against Hamilton Accies and the level of support has taken those at the club somewhat by surprise, “It has been incredible from everyone, much larger than what we expected.” continues McCloskey.
“We have made it on to STV and we have had a lot of media support from Callum Carson at the West Lothian Courier who is publishing our match reports along with a few snap shots. The men’s supporters have been brilliant too, we get a lot of messages from them and many showed face at the Hamilton and BSC Glasgow games which is great to see. These people are a fan of Livingston FC regardless if it’s the men or women’s team and it’s fantastic to have that support and unity.”
With the increased level of competition in the SWF Championship – South some reinforcements were needed and the Lionesses’ haven’t messed about with the capture of SWPL2 title winner Rachel Walkingshaw from Heart of Midlothian.
Despite the drop in level it was an easy decision to make for the former Spartans midfielder who could have ran a Goal of the Season competition all of her own in 2019 as the Jambos sealed promotion to SWPL1.
“When the opportunity came up to join my childhood club it wasn’t something I could turn down. I wanted to get the enjoyment for the game back in my life whilst balancing it well with my work (as a school teacher).“
Having never had the chance to play for the club she idolised as a young fan until now it was a move that clearly resonated with Walkingshaw, “It might sound cheesy but it’s my dream to play for this club and I never thought the day would come. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to join all the other teams and seek promotion. I can’t wait for the season to begin on Sunday and start the challenge.”
Walkingshaw may be the headline but improvements have been made across the playing squad along with the backroom additions of experienced Stevie Dickov as assistant and Sharon Hughes-Lee as fitness coach both seen as “massive” by McCloskey.
The Development Officer takes a pragmatic approach when asked what Livingston’s aims are for 2020 though. “We’ll take each game as it comes. If we can start games quickly then that will be helpful. We want out this league as soon as possible but we will not get too far ahead of ourselves. One at a time in the short term. Longer term we will be looking to develop the squad and get to SWPL2 and attract players to our club to help everyone push on and develop. First and foremost though – let’s enjoy it and see how we go.”
Whilst enjoyment is at the forefront of McCloskey’s mind for Jaconelli ambitions have been pitched that bit higher, “We need promotion, it would be silly not to think that, that’s the goal I want to set. I know it’s going to be difficult, and realistically mid-table would be fine, but that’s not the ambition I want to set.”
Fans will soon get to see first hand just how realistic Jaconelli’s ambitions are when they take on the Citizens this Sunday with entry free to spectators, but for now the early momentum seems to be in Livi’s favour. Whether that lasts the course of the season only they, and the teams they will face, can decide.
The SWF Championship season gets underway in both the North and South this Sunday 9th February and a full list of fixtures can be found via the Scottish Women’s Football website so if you have a game nearby why not go down and take a look.
SWF Championship North Fixtures: https://scotwomensfootball.com/league-competitions/champ-north/
SWF Championship South Fixtures: https://scotwomensfootball.com/league-competitions/champ-south/
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