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Just 15 months after playing their first competitive game, Locos Ladies secured the SWFL North title with 4 games to play in a dominant campaign in which they have yet to drop a point. It’s a remarkable achievement. Manager Stuart Wood is justifiably proud of his squad and knew his team would be in contention after a good showing in their first season. “It’s been amazing, honestly” Stuart said “The ambition was to go up because we wanted to do better than last season. That was the main thing but you don’t ever think you’re going to go through most of the season unbeaten, but if you look at the football we play it’s the best in the league so I think it’s deserved. It’s not a fluke.”

The manager admits though, that he didn’t foresee quite such a commanding campaign. “I did think it would be out of us and one, maybe two other teams fighting it out but as the season went on other teams were slipping each other up. Because we had momentum and we’d got our games in before other teams as well, we got the points on the board and I think when you’re three or four games ahead of everybody who are competing against you, it makes it look a lot bigger than it probably actually was at that time. When you’re 9 or 12 points ahead, even though teams have got games in hand it’s a long way to catch up and it’s psychological really.”

“If you look at the football we play it’s the best in the league so I think it’s deserved. It’s not a fluke.”

The Ladies secured the league title with four games to spare.
Photo credit: Ger Harley/Sportpix/Sipa USA

Playing the best football obviously helps in the pursuit of success but Wood believes that elements of their preparation also gave his team the edge. On top of regular training sessions, the players have an additional fitness and conditioning session each week, something that Stuart believes is rare at this level. “I think what we do with the players, what we’re doing with the strength and conditioning means we’ve not had many injuries this season. If we have had one, it’s been an individual one rather than a run of three or four players injured at the same time. I think the fitness of the team really does come into it, especially as you’re getting on in the season when other teams who are competing against us did have injuries. We’ve got a lot of young players who are naturally fit but we have done a lot to prevent injuries.” Stuart thinks this has also had a positive affect when there have been injuries as players have come back stronger. Niamh Anderson, who suffered a double break in her foot last January, was able to continue with strength and conditioning sessions while she couldn’t train and so was in a strong position when she returned this season.

Sophie Jamieson was voted Player of the Year by her teammates. Photo credit: Kirstin Gauld

He also credits the relationship that he and his coaches – Michelle Wood, Scott Graham and Carrie Doig – have with each other and the squad as having a big impact. “Because we’ve all been together now for a year and a half, I feel like the players can trust us. Even if it’s not speaking to me, you can speak to Scott or Carrie or Michelle. And we get on, that’s the main thing, we don’t ever argue. If we’ve got something to say we’ll say it, but I can’t think that we’ve ever had a falling out. We’re sort of new to this as well. Obviously Carrie has played before in Aberdeen teams. Michelle, Scott and I have coached but it’s always been younger girls, whereas with a ladies team I think you need that bit more communication.” As part of that communication, the coaches were careful not let the players get ahead of themselves. “The good thing was we never spoke about it with the players. It wasn’t ‘we’re doing this, we’re doing that’ or ‘we’re going to get promoted’. It just went from game to game really and we never spoke about that until probably a game or two before it was going to happen.”

With the title comes promotion to League One. As well as a step up in quality, there will be other changes to adjust to. Most notably, they will now be competing in a national league meaning that the distances they will have to cover for away fixtures will be far greater, with the majority of opponents likely to be based in the central belt. With that in mind, Stuart will be looking to add to his squad over the summer to help manage the additional demands. “We’re hoping to add probably two or three players. There’s going to be a lot of travel and there’s going to be players who won’t be available because of the travel and we don’t want to be at a disadvantage every away game because we’ve not got players. The tough thing is, there’s no roll-on-roll-off subs anymore. You can name 18 players but only 16 can play so there’s going to be 2 people disappointed because of that. We’re looking for a squad of 20. We wouldn’t really want any more than that, or any less, because it gives us cover for injuries or work commitments.” Of course, it’s not just the players that will be facing a new challenge and Wood says it’s one he’ll relish. “I want to get the best that I can be. We’re looking in future years to step up again. It’s pushing me to be a better coach.”

Stuart Wood celebrates with Grace Grimley.
Photo credit: Ger Harley/Sportpix/Sipa USA

Wood says he hasn’t really seen anything of the teams they are likely to come up against. “Because of the distance, we’ve not been able to go and watch them like we did before we came into this league. But the cup game [against Ayr United] where we played a team from a higher level, it was tough. It’s more physical and quicker but by half time I felt we got ourselves into the game, we adjusted and that was a Championship team who are in the play-offs to go up.” In preparation, pre-season matches have already been arranged with Forfar Farmington, who have just been promoted to the Championship, having won the SWFL North title last season, as well as Dryburgh Athletic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle who are already playing at that level.

Stuart’s desire to keep progressing is evident and whatever next season brings, he and his squad are going to continue to enjoy the journey and will look to maintain the professional approach that has served them so well this season. “We’ve always tried to do it as professional as we can in everything we do with the team, whether it’s the minibus, whether it’s the training, whether it’s matchday where we’ve got all three coaches doing individual things for warm-ups. If you prepare well you’ll play well, it’s that old adage ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. It’s all about the one percent, doing those little things correct to make one big thing.”
Here’s to more big things to come for Locos Ladies next season and beyond.