With over 20 years of experience coaching in girls football, Jim Erwin has seen it, done it and got the t-shirt. But last October the former Hamilton Academicals and Glasgow Girls coach took on an altogether different challenge: creating Motherwell’s new under-17s team.
Less than a year on from that decision and Erwin’s fledgling team have exceeded expectations to finish in the top eight at the halfway stage of the season, meaning they’ll be playing the latter half against the cream of the crop, including Rangers, Celtic, and Glasgow City. But Erwin admits it hasn’t been an easy journey.
“Last October/November the idea was to put together a team by February so they could be registered for the new season. At first the numbers were very low and we only had three or four girls training and I was worried a little. But just through word of mouth and with the help from Motherwell, who have been great with the promotional side of things, flyers and social media, plus I did an interview with Youth Football Scotland to get the message out there that Motherwell were trying to push the women and girl’s game forward," Erwin said.
"Now we’ve finished in the top eight with a bunch of girls who had only met each other for the first time and from different clubs and different backgrounds. Some are travelling from Stirling, some from Glasgow and some local girls from Motherwell”
One of the first of those girls to get involved with Erwin’s team was former Glasgow Girls player Lauryn Reside who admits the strong start the club have made has taken even the players by surprise. “We didn’t expect to do this well because we’d just started up but all the girls have come in and done really well”.
A modest player who doesn’t keep track of the number of goals she has scored - although she admits it’s a “good few” and her manager says she is on the scoresheet “most of the weeks she plays” - Reside is a right-winger turned striker thanks to Erwin, who has been impressed with her progress this season. “She’s doing fantastic in front of goal this season, especially considering she hasn’t always played there and we’re kind of trying to develop her into that position,” he said. “She’s got a real eye for goal.”
Erwin says Lauryn’s father is “over the moon” with her progress at the club and, for many of the Motherwell players, football is a chance to get away from tough home lives, something Erwin is happy to help with. “It’s been challenging because this group of girls are all from various backgrounds, some have had a hard time and came into football as escapism. For others, like Lauren, her confidence was low when she came in, but now she’s one of our main players and it’s been really positive."
With the foundations in place and the team beginning to show promise, there’s new challenges on the horizon for the ambitious Erwin who is pleased that Motherwell are backing his aspirations. “I’ve been at the top and won everything with a couple of teams and I’ve found myself starting at the bottom and trying to keep the score down, so this is a fresh challenge. But what’s positive is Motherwell are putting in a lot of time and resources.
"Recently the Ladies team have signed about half a dozen Premier League players. They’re in the Second Division at the moment but they’re streets ahead and the Premier League is where they want to be; that’s the calibre of player they’re signing. It’s my job to make sure I bring through good players like Lauren who want to match that aspiration and who can deliver.”
With a top half finish guaranteed, and expectations already exceeded, Erwin is targeting a 5th place finish for the club while also beginning to bring through fresh blood from the under-15s for next season.
“In our region you’ll find probably the four Scottish Cup semi-finalists - Celtic, Rangers, Glasgow City, and Central Girls - so it brings new demands on the girls but they want to challenge themselves. It’s probably a two-sectional league now with them and then us, Kilmarnock, Hamilton and Clark Drive, so we want to finish top of that group and if we can nick a couple of points off the bigger clubs challenging for the title then that would be fantastic.
"For me, it’s about getting the under-17s off the ground and we’ve already started integrating some of the girls from the 15s. They competed against Rangers on Saturday at Toryglen and won 3-0, so there’s some really top players there including some who are involved nationally so I’m very keen to work with them. I’d love to be working with a 17s team that can compete nationally.”
Before he can look too far into the future, however, there is the small matter of a League Cup quarter-final against heavy favourites Celtic at Barrowfield on Sunday. After coming through a close fought 3-2 extra time victory over Dumbarton in the last round, Erwin is looking forward to this tie. “This is the girls’ reward for that win, and it will be a big challenge.”