25 Years of Glasgow City: with Laura Montgomery and Carol-Anne Stewart

Chris Marshall
10 min readMay 14, 2024

This piece was first commissioned for the Scotland edition of Glory Magazine which you can purchase here.

Credit: Glory Magazine

91:28.

A title winning goal at one of Scottish football’s most storied venues, Ibrox Stadium. In injury time. On the final day of the season. Where one of three sides could have secured their trophy lifting spot in montage sequences for the next season to come.

A season where everyone had just begun to write off a dynasty of success has just reached the most dramatic of conclusions.

Unlike the men’s game, on 21 May 2023 it would not be the red, white and blue ribbons of Rangers or Celtic’s green and white that would be tied around title trophies.

In the women’s game, those colour schemes are just developing flecks where the palate of success has been definitively orange and black. As the end credits seemed set to roll on an historic season, one last narrative twist sent the supporters of Glasgow City into a frenzy. as Lauren Davidson’s injury time winner hits the back of the net.

Glasgow City, who the season previous had seen a 14-in-a-row Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) title streak brought to an end, were back at the summit of the women’s game in Scotland. Improbable drama, made reality.

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A few months later I’m sat in Glasgow City’s offices; a short, hop, skip and a jump from their Petershill Park “home” (we’ll come back to those quotation marks later) talking to the club’s founders Laura Montgomery and Carol-Anne Stewart, who for 25 years have been the driving force behind Scottish women’s football’s most successful club.

The SWPL trophy won that day, a 16th in total, sits on the window sill of City’s third floor office, those ribbons of orange and black reflect across its silver sheen as it faces northwards across a skyline where the urban sprawl meets the green, lowland hills that overlook Scotland’s biggest city, I knew we were going to win”, says Stewart, “I was probably the only person, even in the 92nd minute, I was calm as a cucumber. I knew we were going to score”.

“I think for me that that’s my best experience (involved with the club)”, follows up Montgomery, ‘we had been so far ahead and then to get clawed back. Basically, everyone had written us off”.

On pitch success has kept the club at the forefront of the women’s game in Scotland and across Europe. They approach their 25th anniversary with 16 league titles, nine Scottish Cups, six League Cups and two Women’s Champions League quarter final appearances to their name. But it is not just the titles that have seen Glasgow City become one of the most important clubs in modern football.

“We say it a lot; we champion women’s and girls but we really do”, explains Montgomery who was captain for the first four of City’s 14-in-a-row title run, before transitioning to a range of off field roles where she currently operates as CEO, “that ethos is at the heart of it all. When we’ve got a tough decision to make we take a step back and ask, ‘Okay, if you’re a club that values women and girls, is that the stance you should take?’” It’s an ethos that has endured since the club’s nascent days.

The co-founders first crossed paths on the football pitch while at university. Both would end up running their respective sides but come the late 1990s there was a feeling that the football landscape for women in Scotland could be so much better.

“We just got frustrated with everything really”, says Stewart who currently acts as Director along with being the pilot of the remote control car that carries the match ball onto the pitch for home games, “we decided let’s just get our own team. Let’s try and make it better. We sketched out what we wanted to do and gave ourselves a list of five objectives, including winning the league, to get to play European football and becoming the best team in the country”.

In 1998, Glasgow City were born.

“The first year the biggest challenge was that we had to target players that we knew were capable of winning the league in one attempt”, continues Montogmery, “only the champions got promoted and you can only survive so long with good players before better teams pick them off.”

It worked. The title and promotion arrived in that first season as a squad composed of former team-mates and more established players from the leagues above, asked to buy into the Glasgow City dream, started to make waves in a women’s game ready for a revolution.

During the two decades that followed City would complete their rise to the top and become the standard bearer for success in Scottish women’s football, at a time when most of the country’s biggest football institutions rarely gave women’s football the light, and fair opportunity, it deserved.

There would be challenges of course, many of which still run through the women’s game around the world today, but if a competition existed in Scotland, Glasgow City won it.

Between 2012–15 every league and cup title available would land in the arms of the country’s dominant force. “Winning does become a habit.”, smiles Stewart, “and that’s kind of in the DNA of the club that, if you’re not a winner don’t come here because we don’t want to be anything else”.

That DNA soon established the club as a key stop off point for many of the women’s game biggest stars of today, particularly in Scotland and across the Irish Sea; Erin Cuthbert, Denise O’Sullivan, Katie McCabe and Rachel Corsie are just some of those who will have lines dedicated to Glasgow City when their career retrospectives are committed to writing.

Not that City haven’t been known to add an exotic flourish to their ranks in an attempt to stay ahead of their rivals. In recent years players from Costa Rica, South Africa and New Zealand have arrived in Glasgow.

Montgomery has remained at the heart of that scouting network that started in university classrooms, although the process has come a long way since the days of squinting at fuzzy YouTube clips accompanied by headache-inducing techno drums. “For a long time it was me scouting players and showing them to the Head Coach. It’s been more of a joint effort in the last while and now we’ve got a formalised recruitment process we go through. But ultimately I still do a lot of looking at players”.

Last summer, in an attempt to improve that process even further Glasgow City’s CEO asked players past and present to give their assessment of life at the club, “I asked a number of our foreign based players to put down on paper their experience of the culture of Scotland and the club. Good or bad. I know I’m the wrong person to ask because I’ve lived and breathed this and truthfully I’ll probably be slightly biassed. What was evident through all the players was a feeling they’ve never been so well treated and that they’ve never had a club work so hard to allow them to perform at the highest level. I think that’s because for a lot of them, until they arrived at City, they’d not been at a women centric club”.

Names such as Priscilla Chinchilla and Linda Molthalo will attract wider intrigue but it’s growing the game within the city that the duo call home that will hopefully provide a sustainable future both on the pitch and off of it for the club. Early in 2023 Sophia Martin became the youngest female footballer in the UK to sign a professional deal just a few days after her 16th birthday.

“We’ve got 250 girls now under the Glasgow City Foundation, with teams starting as young as Under 8’s”, confirms Stewart more frequently addressed as CAS to those involved in the women’s game. “Sarah Crilly as a former player currently heads up that Foundation”, continues Montogmery, “Hayley Lauder (a current player and capped 103 times for Scotland) coaches at youth level, Leanne Ross our current Head Coach was a former captain and our most decorated player. We want people to continue their journey in football with us.”

There is no doubt it is a club that can get under your skin; “Once City, Always City”, a slogan that many associated with the City both past and present will often say.

Representing Glasgow City doesn’t just stop on the pitch or in the press room. There’s an expectation on players and coaches alike to be visible role models as women in football.

A fundamental thing of being a Glasgow City player is what we expect of them as a club who champion women and girls”, explains Montgomery, “we’ll ask them to go into schools, to engage in the community for free, to be involved in campaigns that promote positive conversations about health and societal issues that affect women. It’s hugely important that we continue to be role models and not only inspire girls, but also help change boys’ attitudes to women”.

That push has only become a full time concern for both in the last three years. Managing day-to-day jobs with the pressures and responsibilities of running a football club can take its toll, and when personal tragedies hit both in quick succession they nearly walked away.

“We did get to a point where we looked outwards to see who we would want to take it on”, reflects Stewart. “It was actually really difficult to find that great partner and I think we just came to the realisation that it was something really special, that we just had to keep it going and to win”.

When asked what they would be doing now if they had stepped back, her partner in crime is quick to reply with a laugh, “probably regretting it”.

After a quarter century, the challenges the club face seem greater than ever. The rise of Old Firm interest in the women’s game saw City go trophyless during the 2021–22 season as Rangers claimed the league title and Celtic a cup double. Having recovered their crown on the final day of the 2022–23 season, they were swept aside by Norwegian champions SK Brann in Champions League qualifying. Now they find themselves in a fight to maintain their place at European football’s top table, as the spots for sides from nations such as Scotland start to feel increasingly marginalised as the game’s administrators increasingly see the money signs spin in front of their eyes.

The unfulfilled desire for a true “home” is perhaps the challenge that continues to be the hardest to resolve.

Women’s football across the globe has always had an element of the nomadic to it and while the appearance every second Sunday of the black and orange bunting going up, of chequered flags, branded turnstiles and Trixie the Tiger strutting their stuff has meant that Petershill Park, a stadium they lease from the Partick Thistle Charitable Trust, has an authentically Glasgow City feel on a matchday, there is no escaping that come full time the party has to be packed away for another day.

“We don’t have our whole club in one place”, laments Montgomery, potential moves have come and gone but nothing has felt quite right. “We don’t have our academy in the same place. They get a couple of nights at Petershill Park and they can obviously use our gym but we’re still renting every bit of space possible in Glasgow and outlying local authorities to allow girls to play football. To have that all together and not have a stadium where we need to brand and non-brand it within a three hour period to be nice”.

As the search for a home continues, City are continuing to punch above their weight in other areas. Thanks to their participation in the Champions League, they became the first, and so far only Scottish women’s side to feature in the gaming behemoth EAFC 24 franchise, a point of particular pride and one helping promote them to a new audience. “The EA thing, they approached us and we wanted to do it. It was lovely to have another first because it leads to small things. The other day we were going into a school and a young boy said to one of the players, ‘I’ve played with you’ that never would have happened before”.

As the last drops slip out of the Glasgow City branded mug handed to me at the start of our conversation I ask what the club means to them and what the future may hold for the next 25 years. “Well hopefully I’ll be retired and will be driving everybody mad as I drink cups of tea in a directors box”, jokes Stewart, “but the growth of the game is phenomenal at the moment. I mean, it’s exponentially exponential. It’s not just a phrase. In 25 years the game’s going to be huge and hopefully Glasgow City are a big part of that. A women owned club, run by women, for women”.

“We are a very unique, kind of unparalleled club”, adds Montgomery, “one that has always done things differently, always pushing boundaries and always making decisions on the basis of championing women and girls, run by passionate people who want to succeed”.

It’s that passion that shines throughout. What the next 25 years will bring for Glasgow City is impossible to predict as women’s football hurtles towards its future. It may bring more success, perhaps a final place to call home but one thing is for certain; for as long as Laura Montgomery and Carol-Anne Stewart are at the helm the future looks bright — some may even say orange — for young girls and women in Scottish football.

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Chris Marshall

Writer | Piehopper | Scottish Women’s Football Hype Man.