THE resumption of the Scottish Building Society SWPL season next Sunday is likely to find Hearts in better shape than they were when they began in October.

Their final two games before the winter break produced considerably better outcomes than the opening five.

A 1-0 derby win over Hibernian – by a distance the most unexpected result in the top flight – was followed by a narrow 2-1 loss to Spartans. Even then the winning goal came in time added on, and after Hearts had been reduced to 10 players because of a late Rachel Walkingshaw injury.

Given their first five games, which included a 10-0 home trouncing from Celtic, resulted in 26 goals conceded and only one scored, it was a positive turnaround. Hearts remain bottom of the table, but only narrowly on goal difference from Motherwell.

Roger Arnott, who is academy manager at the Edinburgh club, says unforeseen circumstances were responsible for the poor start.

In addition to the pandemic, these included the unexpected departure of Kevin Murphy, who was first team manager and in charge of the women’s programme, to join Rangers.

Andy Kirk, the former Hearts and Northern Ireland striker who had once temporarily been in joint charge of the men’s first team, was Murphy’s replacement and it would have been understandable had he harboured reservations.

Kirk’s appointment came at the end of a summer of turmoil for Hearts, which saw them relegated to the men’s Championship by the SPFL after the 2019-20 season was called off.

“There was probably an element of truth in it,” Arnott admitted of rumours that Kirk had not initially been filled with enthusiasm about his new role. “We were in the middle of lockdown, a new men’s manager has come in, and Andy has found himself in a position where he’s either out of a job or he accepts something new.

“It was a big decision for him, but I would never, ever, say his heart wasn’t in it. I’ve been working with him solidly for the last few months and he has put so much enthusiasm and effort in. 

“Speak to the girls here and they’re loving it. Andy knows how to look after players and develop them. Every player here is better now for him coming in. There hasn’t been one ounce of negativity from him, other than with some of the performances, but that’s natural in a manager. He didn’t enjoy the 10-0 obviously. He could have been out the door the next day – or that night.”

Despite the seismic events of the last 10 months, Arnott says Ann Budge’s commitment to the women’s programme remains intact. He does, however, acknowledge short-term challenges.

“There’s going to be an impact on the domestic game across the board with the cuts that are happening at the SFA,” he said. “Any money coming in from the men’s side is going to hit a black hole.

“There was a real build-up of positivity [in women’s football]. Everything seemed to be building and growing. This could set us back a little bit.

“We really haven’t got started on our programme – we began it last January, played one league game and that was it. Ann wants to see a progression over the next three to five years and head towards a professional set-up. We’re a long way off that at the moment.”

Arnott admits the departure of Murphy, who arrived from Manchester City to oversee the women’s project, was a setback.

“For Kevin to have started the programme and then left was a bit disappointing,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I understand why he went with the investment Rangers are making, but we lost some players off the back of him leaving as well.”

Hearts, whose revival was helped by loan signings from Celtic, might have preferred easier opponents than leaders Rangers on Sunday. It will, nevertheless, be an immediate test of how far Kirk has been able to take the team in a short time.


THE FA WSL players who thought it was acceptable to take jaunts to Dubai amidst a worsening pandemic have caused massive inconvenience to both their team-mates and the clubs affected by this weekend’s postponements.

Although Manchester United have no Covid cases, their manager Casey Stoney had the decency to apologise for letting some of her players travel.

So far there has been nothing from the three Arsenal players who breached tier four lockdown restrictions in London – and spare us the risible cover story that some of these mini-breaks might have been essential business trips.