With the bulk of the attention falling on the return of the SWPL this weekend, just a level below the newly created SWF Championship also takes a bow this weekend. Current restrictions mean that those in the South have to wait for their season to begin but in the North it is all systems go.
One of the sides looking forward to the forthcoming campaign are Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the performance arm’s most northerly outpost. Ahead of the new season Chris Marshall spoke to Caley Thistle manager Karen Mason to learn a little more about the Highland club as they aim high in 2020.
LTL: Welcome Karen, thanks for taking the time to speak to Leading the Line ahead of the new season. As a start, with Inverness Caledonian Thistle being a club we’ve not had a chance to visit yet can you share a little about the history of the club and how it came to be?
KM: Of course. As at team we have been around since the mid-2000s playing under various names including Inverness Ladies, Inverness City and now Inverness Caledonian Thistle and we have worked our way up through the ranks of Scottish women’s football before, including spells in the top flight.
Our change of name to Inverness Caledonian Thistle came about a couple of years ago now when I was approached by their Academy Director at the time. He had been impressed with our dedication and professionalism and was looking to find ways in which they could support us and the women’s game. They were keen to get us on board and they were able to offer us things we simply couldn’t do on our own so we were grateful to have the arm of support around us.
LTL: You mention there were things you couldn’t do on your own, how do you view women’s football in the Highlands at present?
KM: Women’s football in the Highlands is definitely growing, especially so in the past couple of years which can be seen with the introduction of the Highlands & Islands League (a competition that sits within the recreation arm of the SWFL).
We have been flying solo for many years as the only team in the Highlands competing at a national level so it is great to now see the start of more teams creating pathways and opportunities for girls and women to play and compete.
LTL: So what are the challenges, if any of being based in Inverness?
KM: Most would think that travel would be our main challenge but it is always something we have been used to and more than willing to do to compete at the highest level we can.
Although having players spread all over the north from Stronoway to Skye has its own challenges for individual players balancing work and football life.
LTL: The club made their debut in the 2019 season finishing 2nd in the SWFL1 – North finishing runners up to Aberdeen. How does the club view last season?
KM: Overall we viewed last season as a success. It was one place higher than the year before and with a very new and young squad it was a step in the right direction.
There were games where we didn’t perform as well as we should have and we lacked consistency too often where we were punished, something we want to make sure we put right this year.
LTL: SWF have launched a new performance arm. What benefits will it have for you as a club?
KM: The performance arm is where we see ourselves and where we want to play.
In doing so hopefully it will separate those that aspire to want to compete at the highest level and those who just want a social runaround on a Sunday afternoon. For us we have always played the teams that have been put in front of us regardless of ability and geography so we hope that by playing teams of similar and higher quality it will help us to grow as a team and as a club.
LTL: How did the club survive over the lockdown period?
KM: We all got through it relatively well thankfully. We had team challenges that were set weekly and then monthly as time went on. When we were allowed to have the small bubble sessions it was great to be able to check in with players face to face and enjoy the social aspect of being in a team once more.
LTL: Being one of the most remote teams in the league, how do you plan for the new season with new restrictions in place?
KM: We have all just been looking forward to getting the season started again so no matter the restrictions we will all just be happy to get out there again. Having no changing rooms and showers will obviously have its downfalls especially in the middle of winter but players will have to come as prepared for this as they can.
In terms of travel, we are fortunate enough to have most of our players who can, and are willing to, drive so travelling to games should not cause us too many problems.
LTL: You recently announced a partnership with Thistle Girls. What are the aims for that coming together?
KM: We were delighted to have Thistle Girls come on board with us to become part of our youth pathway. Our aims are simply to provide a pathway for girls from age 5 and up with opportunities to play football. Having this in place will then hopefully create the future players of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
LTL: That sounds great so, what is success for ICTWFC?
KM: Success for us is being able to sustain a team competing at the highest level for as long as possible. Being able to provide players with quality training and match day experiences that allows them to achieve our team and individual goals is really important for us.
LTL: What about looking back, what has been the biggest success to date?
KM: Our biggest success to date is winning the SWFL Division 1 League Cup on two occasions as well as being promoted to the SWPL. Winning silverware is something that we have not experienced for a few years now and something we want to change this season.
LTL: Who are the players we should watch out for this season as you go in search of that silverware?
KM: One of our new signings Lorna Macrae will definitely be one to watch, she is strong, fast and powerful and she will be sure to give any defence a torrid time from the first whistle to the last.
Emily Twaddle and Peigi Barker have both worked extremely hard over lockdown and have had a great pre-season, both players I feel will have a lot to contribute this season.
LTL: We’ll be sure to keep our eyes out for them, finally what are your hopes for the coming season?
KM: Our hopes for this season is promotion. We have our target set on winning the league and I believe that we have a special group of players who have together as a group, who have learnt from past experiences and who are willing to work as hard as needed to make this possible.
LTL: Thanks for your time today Karen, we wish you all the best in the season ahead.
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