The email confirming Scott Booth’s departure from Glasgow City to take up the role of Head Coach at FA Women’s Super League side Birmingham City felt like it came out of nowhere, an announcement signifying the end of a hugely successful six year spell culminating in a 14th successive SWPL1 title for the Glasgow club this May.
It was an email that caught many, including this guy, off guard but as the day progressed the decision taken by Scott Booth to grab the opportunity of a new challenge at the end of a season where he had faced some of his biggest as City boss started to make more sense.
He leaves with a title winners medal from each season of his six in charge, two Scottish Cups and having led City out for a UWCL Quarter Final in 2020, defeating full time outfits FC Chertanovo and Brøndby IF along the way, the penalty shootout victory over the Danes at Petershill Park providing a particularly heady evening of football-focused drama. The heavy mid-pandemic defeat to Wolfsburg which occurred months later in an eerily empty Reale Arena was less disappointment and more a signpost to the elevated level Booth’s side had reached.
The draw for this season’s Champions League takes place on Friday and with the ill-tempered exit to Sparta Prague in last season’s competition still stinging, his squad at the time still recuperating from the departure of key trio Kirsty Howat, Rachel McLauchlan and Sam Kerr to Rangers just a couple of weeks previous, there must still have been a part of the now former boss who fancied one more go at breaking the elite.
However, City once again enter the draw in the early rounds, this time as part of a newly re-formatted competition, their path to the lucrative group stages looking more treacherous than ever and the notion that Glasgow City, or any Scottish side for that matter, will get as far as the Quarter Finals any time soon seems fanciful as UEFA start to bring down the shutters on Europe’s smaller leagues in favour of the commercial entities run by the oligarchs and billionaires within Europe’s big five who are belatedly awakening to the potential of women’s football.
Whilst leading City in Europe will have raised his profile in a broader sense it is the relentless nature in which Glasgow City have remained dominant domestically, a success complemented by City’s ability to attract the best of Scottish talent afforded by the standards that Booth has maintained, that will have kept him firmly on the radar of sides with bigger budgets but that doesn’t mean that the last six years have been plain sailing.
In 2018 the SWPL1 title race would go down to the final day as City would hold off old rivals Hibernian, a 2-1 win for City against the Edinburgh side in the penultimate game of the season handing Hibs their first defeat and City the chance to secure the title on the final day, an opportunity duly taken. City’s league dominance would continue unabated in the season that followed but in the cup competitions it would be Hibernian that would more regularly claim the honours during Booth’s time in charge.
After a penalty shootout loss to the Leith side in the SWPL Cup final early the following season a late Clare Shine strike would claim a second Scottish Cup in 2019, her last minute winner sealing a 4-3 comeback win in front of a modern day record crowd for a club game in Scotland against, you guessed it, Hibernian. A moment of particular satisfaction for Booth who would go on to win Manager of the Year at the end of season awards and will no doubt be one of the main contenders this season too having claimed the league title once again at the end of a season where challenges both on and off the pitch were never far away.
Having come into the campaign as 13-in-a-row title holders the new interest taken by Rangers and Celtic in their women’s teams saw many question whether this would be the time that City, SWPL1’s only club not to have a male affiliate, would start to get left behind but, despite possessing a squad shorn of numbers, City managed to stay in the race, winning their first six games before a 5-0 humbling at home to Rangers before Christmas highlighted the deficiencies of the threadbare squad they were trying to maintain. The defeat a domestic reverse previously alien to the defending champions given City’s decade plus dominance of the women’s game in Scotland. With just two fit substitutes named that day new faces had to be acquired if success was to be continued, faces which arrived thanks to shrewd recruitment supported by a well placed scouting network and the newly formed side blew away Celtic when the season finally returned in March as their title rivals from across the city doubled down on what they already had.
Players such as Costa Rican live wire Priscilla Chinchilla, Finnish title winning striker Ode Fulutidulu, internationals Arna Sif Ágrimsdóttir and Niamh Farrelly and a fully fit Janine van Wyk regularly grabbed the headlines but it was the way Booth got the best out of some of his squad’s younger talent that was equally influential as City chased down a 14th consecutive title.
Australian born Aoife Colvill, who arrived pre-pandemic as a raw attacking talent, would go on to emerge as City’s top goalscorer, her performances in orange leading to an end of season call up in green for the Republic of Ireland and the turnaround in fortunes of Scotland U19 international Lauren Davidson was another notable feather in his developmental cap. The attacker had spent the preceding season drifting in and out of the Hibernian starting line up with her arrival in Glasgow raising curious eyebrows amongst regular watchers of the SWPL but come season end she had transformed from bit part substitute to a regular starter, using her pace and physical presence to provide the ammunition for Fulitidulu whilst adding goal contributions of her own too.
In a season like no other he also emerged undefeated from the games that would define the destination of the title during a hectic second phase. Across the fourteen games contested across just a two month period a rejuvenated City comfortably defeated Rangers twice, and came away from double headers against Celtic and Hibernian undefeated, the 0-0 draw at K Park against Celtic played with an addictive level of intensity that you hope the league will bring more of as the game continues to grow.
The fact that the game hasn’t grown fast enough is a frustration for many and one that Booth wouldn’t shy away from when the inevitable question would come during press conference Zooms. Away from the pitch Booth “gets” women’s football, the requirement for investment, the potential for accelerated growth and the need for conversations around the women’s game in Scotland to happen without the pussyfooting around that still blights so much of current discourse. On announcing the news Glasgow City Chief Executive Laura Montgomery noted that, “His dedication to the job has been faultless and he got our club and ethos the moment he joined Glasgow City.“
As somebody who often gets billed as a journalist without actually being one you would never quite know which Scott Booth would greet you both before and after a game, but a good soundbite was never too far away. As I write this a press conference ahead of Glasgow City’s Champions League tie with Valur last November springs to mind, a call where he spoke with passion about his dismay around the SPFL being allowed to return to play with testing while his side and the rest of women’s football were left to flounder. Perhaps there was an element of being tired of that particular battle in the decision that led him to take up a very different challenge at Birmingham City.
It will take some getting used to, not seeing the man in black with an unwavering dedication to a gillet no matter the weather, take his seat in the dugout with a folder under his arm only to spring from it mere moments after the game had begun whether it be a pass gone astray or an official that hasn’t quite seen things his way. I’m sure he’ll still pick up the odd yellow card or two even if the league he’s coaching in has now changed.
I wish him all the best in his new challenge at St. Andrews where the need to develop youth and regenerate a squad appear to be skills that he will be required to flex. Successful transitions from the SWPL to the WSL and beyond can only be good for the profile and growth of the Scottish game but a footnote to this tale is that the move south finally removes him from the running for an SWNT job that despite his success both at home and on the continent he never seemed to ever come under real consideration for, a stance which remains to this day a little bit odd. Being part of the self-proclaimed biggest league in the women’s football is a pretty good alternative destination all the same.
City are already actively recruiting to fill the vacancy and I would be lying if I said I had an insight as as to where they’ll go next. A move for a domestic based coach seems unlikely, certainly within the women’s game and so you would imagine the same network that has seen on-field talents from across the globe make their way to Scotland will also help to engineer perhaps City’s most important move to date as they look to continue to hold their rivals at bay replacing a coach that has delivered everything they would have wanted and perhaps even more.