JOELLE MURRAY has witnessed first-hand the progress the women’s game has experienced over the past decade or so. 

The Hibs defender has been a mainstay at the top of the women’s football for over ten years and so knows only too well the positives that have come from more money in the women’s game, more media coverage and, most importantly, more success. 

However, she admits the past year, and the challenges thrown up as a result of the pandemic, have seen the women’s game take two steps forward, one step back in terms of progress. 

When talks began during the first lockdown of how to resume football, women’s football was grouped in with youth and amateur football while restarting the top flight of men’s game was prioritised above all else. And that was, admits Murray, disappointing to observe. 

“You’ve got the SWF and the SFA saying we’re a professional league but then we’re being grouped with youth football and potentially amateur football so in that respect, it doesn’t make sense,” she says. 

“Things can be quite disjointed at times and it seems that with progression, comes a setback which is frustrating because obviously you want to continue that upwards trajectory. 

“From a safety perspective in terms of Covid, I was quite happy that we stopped playing for a period. 

“But if we’re going to be branded a professional league, we can’t be put in the same bracket as amateur teams.” 

This season’s SWPL has been somewhat stop-start, with on eround of games being played before it came to a halt due to lockdown. Matches resumed at the start of this month, with Hibs currently sitting in fourth place. 

Despite the lack of competitive action in recent months, Murray has remained busy with her job as Hibs Community Foundation Girls and Women’s Academy Director ensuring she has had plenty to occupy her days. 

Preventing young players, especially girls, dropping out of the game is a challenge at the best of times, with lockdown only serving to make the task all the more difficult.  

However, Murray and her colleagues have done all they can to mitigate the damage done by the pandemic. 

“We, along with a lot of the clubs, worked really hard to retain that engagement with the kids,” the 34-year-old says.  

“We were really proactive - we were running twice-weekly zoom sessions, doing Q+As with the male and female first team players and things like that because we knew this was a pivotal time.  

“It’ll be interesting to see how many players have fallen away from the game as a result of the past year. 

“That worry is always there that this might mean more girls will drop out the sport. There’s a pivotal age where boys and girls can go one way or another and Covid and lockdown hasn’t helped so it is worrying to think how all of this might have impacted the young players.  

“But because we recognised that early and got our online delivery programme up and running, hopefully that drop-off isn’t too drastic.” 

Murray has rarely been bored during lockdown as, along with her own training and her work as Academy Director, she has recently joined forces with a new video platform, Recast, which goes direct to consumers with exclusive content that makes money for the club simply by fans watching and sharing it. 

It is, believes Murray, an opportunity for the profile of the women’s game to increase further and with Hibs heavily involved, she is hopeful about the benefits the platform will bring to the women’s game. 

“Hibs and Recast are working hard to raise the profile of the women’s game and support us as female athletes so anything like that is a very progressive step,” she says.  

“It’s very exciting to be involved in a platform that’s in its infancy but will hopefully, in time, hit the heights of Twitter and Instagram.”