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DAME, SET AND MATCH; WOMEN'S GAME IS MAKING THE GRADE.

Last time I trained on a chilly Tuesday night in Scotland was when I played for Stirling Albion 14 years ago.

Until this week, that is.

As part of the Daily Record's campaign to promote women's football, I trained with Cumbernauld United as they geared up for Saturday's League Cup final against Clyde.

I desperately wanted to be impressed as I joined in halfway through their two- hour session but the passing and skill level was very poor. Mind you, as I warmed up I did get better!

The girls, on the other hand, were making it look easy.

As the ball was being zipped confidently around the confined space of a school gym, I was genuinely surprised at the level of skill on show.

Bill Munro, the ex-Clydebank boss and now an SFA community coach, was overseeing a complicated keep- ball game that I have seen experienced hardened pros struggle to understand, never mind execute.

The intensity of the game was refreshing to watch. The only orders coming from Bill's mouth were warnings about the tackling.

Some of the challenges seemed to owe more to the National Hockey League in America as players were body-checked against the walls.

Cumbernauld are Scotland's finest women's team. Title winners, they are hoping to complete three cup wins in a row against Clyde ladies this weekend at Stirling.

They boast 13 Scottish internationals in their 16-strong squad and provide the current full international pool with eight players. A couple of their team have even played semi-pro in Italy.

But it is a struggle. Suffering along with every other football team from a lack of money, they must also contend with having no permanent home and players moving abroad to take up football scholarships in the States.

However, all these problems are forgotten as they work on their ball skills.

The control is good, apart from when it comes to my left foot which hasn't changed since I retired. It still looks as though it is only distantly related to the rest of my body.

There is no messing around from the other players - they are too focused on improvement. And that is one of the reasons Bill loves working with the team.

He told me: "They not only listen, they actually do what I tell them. That doesn't happen very often in football now.

"They are honest and desperate to do well. It is part of my job to help them, but even if it wasn't I would still do it. They are great to work with."

At this time he changes the exercise to a passing routine that, due to the lack of space, means accuracy is essential.

Some balls do go astray, but not as many as you might expect.

Bill, obviously not big in the ways of male solidarity, put me under immense pressure by matching me up against Cumbernauld's keepie- uppie expert Pauline Hamill.

As her team-mates cheered her on I felt I was flying the flag for male pride. In my defence, I should point out that Pauline has scored a hat- trick in every round of the cup so far.

As we juggled with the ball, the guy who looks after the hall was threatening to ask for overtime.

We both did a trick that the other couldn't do and decided on a politically correct draw.

One of Scotland's most-capped players, Hamill admitted the players sometimes get annoyed at the lack of publicity the women's game gets.

Last week she played in a five-a-side competition in Glasgow which featured teams from all over the world but she moaned: "It's going to be on Sky on New Year's day, but the turn- out was disappointing and there was very little coverage.

"It's been great to see the reports in the Record this week, but in general we don't get the coverage we deserve."

Women's football is growing, but still the game continues to run up against brick walls. Cumbernauld's main sponsors are Japanese conglomerate OKI who are based in the new town.

Encouraged by the increasing numbers now playing the game, team captain Shelley Valle believes they are beginning to see the benefits of the hard work of the volunteers who have been coaching young girls. Both Valle and Hamill hold SFA coaching badges.

When leaving, I wish them all the best in their cup final and they ask if I am going.

Shelley said: "Anyone who comes to watch us once comes back again. They are all impressed by the skills and open, attacking style we play. We just need to get more people to start coming."

And she might be right. I've seen a few lower league games this year and a couple of the players I trained with on Tuesday had as much skill or were more willing to use it than some of the guys I've watched.

If you don't believe me, get yourself along to Forthbank on Saturday. You might just get a pleasant surprise!

If you would like to get involved in women's football, write to Maureen McGonigle at the SWFA, 4 Park Gardens, Glasgow G3 7YE, with your name address and phone number. State whether you want to play, coach or even set up a team and a relevant information pack will be sent to you.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Colquhoun, John
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 11, 1997
Words:885
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