When you hear somebody say “Aberdeen FC”, what initially springs to mind? Do you think of Jonny Hayes bombing down the right wing? Is it Adam Rooney popping up at the far post to add to his ever increasing goal tally? Or do you think of Aberdeen Ladies Football Club?
For Stefan Laird, football and development coach at Aberdeen Ladies FC, it is without doubt the latter. After starting up over 50 years ago, the journey for the female Dons has been a long, yet increasingly satisfying one, as Laird told Youth Football Scotland: "My understanding of it is, the history of the club goes back 40/50 years, very much when women’s football was in its infancy.
"[It] started off very, very small, gradually getting bigger and bigger. In 2011 there was a merge with another club, East End in Aberdeen, and the two teams came together to form what is now Aberdeen Ladies FC, where the first team play in the SPL, all the way down to under-nines."
Laird’s side find themselves in a challenging dilemma, competing for both League and European places, it is always a tough ask.
"We do have a bit of a balancing act to be honest because unlike the rest of the teams in the region we have a team playing in the SPL and the ultimate goal is to get into the Champions League and stay there on a consistent basis, and do well, like you see Glasgow City doing," he said.
Football is not all about what happens on the pitch. When the players are not playing within the white touchline, their life outside it is just as important. With youngsters coming from all over the North and East of Scotland, this is something that Aberdeen Ladies are getting spot on.
"It’s a bit different to the rest of the country. You've got girls coming in from Fraserburgh up north, you've got girls coming up from Forfar, people meeting other people from different areas, new friends, social skills, teamwork," he said.
"Just as long as they’re enjoying themselves as well. We’re trying to create a good, fun, safe, friendly, environment for them."
For Laird, the female side of the game is on the rise and he hopes that the relationship established between the Aberdeen Ladies team and the senior men’s team will eventually benefit the youth system too.
"The partnership between the senior and the women’s is very much a senior thing just now. Helping out with the first team, with them trying to get into the Champions League, sitting 5th in the SPL just now doing very, very well with a lot of young players and that progression through the club, that’s really Aberdeen Football Club’s focus at the minute," he said.
"Whether that relationship will develop in the future, I’m sure it will, but it’s a bit much of a task to take it all in one, and it’s a gradual process. But it’s a massive help and a massive benefit and everyone’s very grateful for it."
Having recently received the Quality Mark, the club are gaining fantastic benefits, which in turn will only help The Dons to grow stronger. "Once you have that Quality Mark you can get people in there, give them a better education, and help with the badges. If they can use them here, fantastic, if not, you can go elsewhere, a better coach, with better experience, and the Quality Mark definitely helps with that," Laird commented.
Whilst league positions and cup wins may never be guaranteed, Laird knows that one thing is for certain: "I think all the clubs in Scotland are sort of waking up to the fact that women’s football is really picking up now."