Renfrew Striker Gail Hawthorn Interview

Renfrew Ladies FC striker and coach Gail Hawthorn, gives a very honest and full interview about her career in Scottish women’s football.

Can you think back to your very first football memory? My earliest memory of football was when I was about 6. I was out the front of our house, kicking the ball around the grass with my dad who played junior football at that time. I had no sense of position and little more than the sheer determination to run the ball past him and shoot straight through the trees which acted as our goal posts. But I knew I loved it, and it was all it took to light the fire.

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What team do you support and why did you start watching them? The famous Glasgow Rangers. They are my first love that never left. My whole family are Rangers fans, so we often watched them together. Although I must say, football of almost every description was always on one of our televisions. Watching players like McCoist, Albertz, Laudrup, Gascoigne and the endless list of legends, made it impossible to support anyone else, so it was Rangers from the start.

Best match you’ve been to and best moment as a fan? The first Old Firm match that I went to with my partner Jane. It was special not only because we won, but because it was the first time I had shared the experience with someone I loved more than Rangers! It was a magical experience and the whole performance was positive on top of an electric atmosphere created by the fans.  Nothing could top that day I think.

Worst moment as a fan? I would have to say watching as Rangers were forced down to the 3rd Division. Although we have had some pretty awful moments especially on the way back up to the Premier League, but I would have to put that down as the worst.

Favourite all time player and reasons why? There are so many players I just love and for various reasons. I would say in the men’s game it would have to be super Ally. He may not have been the best all round player, but as a striker he was prolific. I spent my early childhood willing the ball to drop to him in the 6 yard box.

In the women’s game I would have to say Abby Wambach. Again another prolific forward, but I admire everything about her and her contributions to the game. She is a huge inspiration to me and to other women in general. She played at elite level and made sacrifices in her own life to do so without the financial gains of the men’s game. As an open lesbian, she took a media hit to help pave the way for people like myself and encourage everyone to be who they truly are, proving that it ultimately can’t hold you back from reaching your goals.

Which youth sides did you play for as a youngster? I started off in a 5 a side girls league playing for my village team Dundonald as a result of low numbers, but as the years went on I found myself the soul female of numerous boys teams in my area including the school team. I found my feet playing for Prestwick Caledonian where I was exposed to a couple of national trials. Although in the end they proved unsuccessful, it only gave me more grit to improve and find my potential at whatever level that should be.

The first Ladies set up that I was part of was at Troon Ladies F.C but that ended early into the second season due to ill health. I tried in short flurry’s to get back into the game but ended playing recreational  5 and 7 asides until I finally got my illness under control. Short spells in other teams pushed me to find a team to settle in for the 6 year awaited return. That team was the former Viewfield Rovers LFC and now Renfrew. Despite a 2 and a half year set back due to an ACL rupture, I have happily been a part of this team for 5 years.

How did you get into ladies football and what are your thoughts on the experience so far? I probably answered that in the last question, but just to add to it, the reason I ended up in ladies football was simply because the rules no longer allowed me to be part of boys’ teams. I found that hard to accept at the time, however as an adult I can see that the anatomical differences not only separated me from them physically, it also redirected my game entirely. Before the transition I had tried to play like I was one of the boys, only realising after the move that the women’s’ game is set up to enhance the anatomical strengths of women and is in fact a very technical game. It may not be as fast to watch as a spectator but it is by no means less entertaining and definitely not less physical!

I love playing and coaching in the ladies game, but equally love to watch men playing at any level of the game too. I often miss coaching the boys too as I found even the boys at 7 and 8 tend to be incredibly receptive to my own methods.

What has been your favourite ground to visit/play at and why? My favourite ground to visit would be Ainsley Park in Edinburgh. We (Renfrew) have had completely contrasting results on that park but notably winning the second division cup a couple of years ago. The park itself is big but perfectly flat with just enough spring, and the Spartans facility is completely desirable at most levels. Arriving there gives me instant butterflies.

My favourite ground to play at is New Western Park. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to benefit from a beautiful, new facility that Renfrew Juniors and all involved have worked so hard to achieve. The park is the perfect size and seems to bring out the best in our play, as well as encouraging an ever growing crowd of supporters along.

Best player you’ve played alongside and against? Best I’ve played against is easy; Rachael Small. This is the most professional, talented and frustrating player I’ve come across to date. She played for both Forfar Farmington Ladies and Hibernian Ladies during Scottish Cup matches in which we suffered our biggest defeats to date. She was instrumental in the breakdown of our usually skin tight unit. Her movement off the ball was overwhelming and her performance on the ball was the closest to perfect I’ve witnessed. Since the 180 minutes against her I’ve never once watched her lose the ball or misplace a pass. Incredible just doesn’t do her justice to be honest.

In terms of the best player I’ve played alongside, I must say I have been spoiled at times. From the likes of Mandy Burns, Stacey Cook, Clare Docherty and even our very own Claire Rae who has scored an unimaginable tally of goals for us this season and last, it is hard to choose just one player! However, if I was to think in terms of best all round player and contributor to the game I would have to say my best friend and captain, Janice McIntyre.

I can barely believe she never kicked a ball competitively until the age of 33, and now at 50 has just captained our team to our first ever league title victory. She is a tower of professionalism with more than a touch of class. Her body is conditioned to the degree of an elite athlete and she is as fit if not fitter than the rest of our team, leading by an incredible example. Our team respect her and can count on consistent performances every week. I can only hope to be a tenth of her calibre in my playing career.

Are you in favour of the league structure? The structure of the women’s game has recently changed and it seems no coincidence that Anna Signeul and her Scotland side have just qualified for their first ever major tournament, securing a place at Euro 17. For years it felt near impossible to get out of the second division but it seems the addition of a second tier 1st division and Premier league has presented a clearer and more attainable level of football for improving teams who might not have the financial support to make the transition into the highest level of the game in Scotland.

Are there any rule changes that you’d like to see introduced to the game? To be honest I have only just accepted the recent rule changes!! Obviously goal line technology would be great but of course this is not feasible by the majority of teams. It would be great if it could be implemented when there was any question on the matter but it is fairly unrealistic.

Traditional grass pitches or artificial surfaces? I know this is a huge debate in football but as far as the women’s game, it has to be artificial pitches. It puts an end to the majority of reasons for pitch call offs, resulting in less catch up games and league results rolling on. More specifically, it forges the physical differences between women and men; it speeds the game up; allows for the technical aspect of women on the ball; assists cleaner strikes and switches of the ball and; hugely minimises the risk of ACL tears which is the most common injury to women. Uneven grass and poorly conditioned muscles surrounding the knee and ankle cause various issues for women, and even more so post-surgery from these injuries which can often delay or halt the return of players entirely.

Funniest thing that you’ve seen in a football match? I have witnessed a fair few comical moments in football such as a referee heading home a goal and having no idea how to right his unplanned mistake, and a couple of elaborate celebrations often gone wrong. But I think I would have to say it was back in my coaching days for the 2002 team. In the same game as a 7 aside goal fell forward and trapped our goal keeper in the net, a Port Glasgow player put in a hefty slide challenge on one of my lads who managed to jump the players trailing legs but still went down in a tear filled heap. He then refused to get up until I gave him a cuddle as I had allegedly promised at a training session prior to the game that it would help ‘fix his injury’.

My recollection was of course somewhat different, since I was encouraging our boys to be strong and not to cry (we had a real problem with them at that point), saying that a hug from their mum wouldn’t make them feel any better and that they would get one from me that would fix their problem, as I raised the back of my hand. I was of course joking around with the kids, most of which laughed. But somehow this little lad had taken it a bit too literally. I’m not sure the opposing coaches approved of my ‘womanly’ approach…enough said.

Who has been the biggest influence on your football career? To be honest I have had so many influences throughout my time in football. From my dad, to my childhood coaches, players I’ve watched and played alongside and managers in recent years. Jane has acted as a huge influence as she has played a part in my football ventures since I came into the women’s game at 17. But honestly, overall, I think I would be a liar if I didn’t say myself. I have been the only person to ever hold myself back, and the main trigger into mentally move forward. I have higher expectations than have often seemed attainable, but it forces me to never stop learning and taking on information. I am a huge spectator of the game which I think is an influence in itself!

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Best manager or coach you’ve worked alongside? I have been incredibly fortunate to have been educated by some great coaches and managers. I have never been one to hop from team to team so it’s a gift that each one has had loads of experience to share. However all that goes out the window when it comes to the best. I can’t deny that prize goes to my current manager Aldo. He is far from perfect and wouldn’t deny it, but his love and passion for our team is tenfold of any other. Our team is an integral part of his everyday life.

We have had lots of ups and downs together and it has been far from easy, but for once I have had a massive mutual respect from a manager. He has never claimed to have all the answers and probably just as well), but he has always been driven and wanted the best for us. He’s tried to be as fair for the most part and has never been afraid to ask for help. We have a long way to go and must be prepared to take on new learning opportunities in the form of courses and meetings if we have to compete in the division above. But I have every faith that he wants to step up to the challenge. He’s a good guy and invaluable friend.

Your ambitions for the club and as an individual? My hope now is that we can go and seriously compete in the 1st division. It’s a huge step up for us and we have had tasters of that in Scottish cup games. We just have to find our finished way of play and work hard to maintain it next season. I would like to think that we can now get the girls sections up and running, now that we have a league championship under our belt to attract in other girls wanting to get into football.

For myself I would simply like to get fit. And by that I mean well and truly match fit. I’m under no illusion that I’ve been done a few favours in having a small squad at times this season, but would like to believe I can get myself up to a standard that merits playing in a higher division.

Are you any good at any other sports? As a youth I was regional (Ayrshire) champion in short tennis, and managed silver in the doubles badminton. But it’s been a long time since I have given any time to a sport outside of football. Most of my attention to fitness is all with football in mind and how to benefit my game.

Proudest moment in football? On Sunday 25th September 2016. We beat Ayr United 4-3 to win the SWF 2nd division South West League. This is the first in the clubs history and in mine. By far my proudest moment in football to date. And even better to have done it with my much better half, best friend and a team full of the greatest people I’ve met. I just love our Stallion Family.

What is your pre match routine and meal? I’m actually relatively inconsistent, which is something I hope to change going forward. I have cut out caffeine completely now and try to avoid red meat and bread before games. I never ever consume alcohol before a game and spend Saturday nights in tanning and watching Saturday night television with pasta for two with Jane.

Any interests outside of football? Football takes up a huge part of my life, but I do love sport in general. I love MMA and UFC, particularly Rhonda Rousey who I think has been instrumental in the uprising of the sport and is an inspiration to all sports women and the ultimate role model to all girls that want to participate in sport.

What is the day job? I actually work in the family funeral directors.  It’s a real contrast to football as a past time but I often hear great stories from families. We are based in Renfrew, so this also means I have had the pleasure of building relationships with various members of the Renfrew Juniors committee of past and present.

Favourite all time movie and current favourite? Three I can’t choose between are, “Pay It Forward”, “As Good as It Gets” and “300”. It’s been a while since I watched a really good movie but I have just finished the “Wentworth” series which was absolutely phenomenal!

Do you read and if so what do you read? To be honest I tend to read a lot of sports articles and just the other day read a piece by Julie Fleeting. It was pretty interesting and mentioned some great points about managers and their pitch side demeanour and how positivity spreads onto the park and encourages players. I am part way into Ronda Rousey’s book and have Gareth Thomas the rugby players to tackle next. But everything I do generally migrates towards sports of some description. I have an HND in sports science so I weirdly also still pick up my old coursework every now and again to refresh.

What type of food do you enjoy eating? I love all the wrong foods but then I think sneakily everyone does. I have a huge sweet tooth but in reality I have to try and balance it a bit better than I do. I really appreciate good food but my condition can often limit my choice.

Any words of wisdom for youngsters getting into football? Simple – if you love it do it. Try to take on all the information that you are given and never stop trying to learn. You can never know enough and even the best players in the world have to train every day to stay on top. Knowledge is power. Power brings success.

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