Rangers and Celtic may have missed out on the Scottish Women’s Premier League 1 title to Glasgow City last weekend, but they go again this Sunday in a showpiece cup final at Hampden Park.
Hoping to pip Ranger’s city rivals to the Women’s Scottish Cup trophy is in-form No.9 Kirsty Howat. A qualified PE teacher, the 26-year-old forward ended the SWPL 1 season as second highest scorer with 20 goals.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a player who was hit by an anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2021, but has bounced back not just to help keep her club fighting for honours, but to share her ACL story with others too. She was speaking with Catherine Etoe, for SK…
SK: So Kirsty, you’re set for an Old Firm derby at Hampden, what would it mean to Rangers to win that trophy and complete a cup double?
KH: It would be amazing, the first time for Rangers, and it’s a new trophy so we’d be the first team on there. For us as a team we want to win as much silverware as we can so it’s something we want to bring back to Ibrox.
SK: You beat Motherwell in the semi-final at Hampden, does it feel special to play there?
KH: It’s so good for the women’s game to play [domestic] semi finals and finals at the national stadium. I know the national team has played there a few times so some of the girls have had that experience, but for the rest of us it’s new and it’s a great stadium. Hopefully it continues to grow the game in Scotland.
SK: You scored in the Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup Final win over Hibs at Tynecastle in December 2022, was it nice to see out the year like that after recovering from your ACL?
KH: Yeah, it was the first game in our league on Sky Sports ever and it was a big occasion and I had family in the stands. It was a nice moment for me and we were only 1-0 up at that point, so to settle the team and give us that cushion was really good after what had been a tough season and a year trying to get full fitness back.
SK: ACL injuries are big news right now, how does it feel when you see all these high profile players suffering from that?
KH: There’s been players in our league in the past few months as well. It’s heartbreaking and sad, a really tough injury. But I know that with good people around you, putting the hard work in, trusting the process, the small wins when they come and not looking too far ahead, you can get through it. You can get back to full fitness and playing again and I’m thankful I was able to do that.
SK: Scoring on your return in February 2022 against Hamilton must’ve felt great?
KH: I only got on for about 15 minutes and it was a cold, wet Wednesday night and we were ahead four or five nil, but I was so nervous to get on and was trying too hard. I could hear Malky [Thomson, manager] telling me to relax, then the ball fell to me just outside the box and I took a touch and hit it as hard as I could. You could see from my celebration how much it meant to me and all the girls were delighted. I always thought: ‘Might I score on my return?’ To be able to do it was so good.
SK: How was that ACL recovery time for you?
KH: I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, far from it, but coming out the other end of it, it definitely makes you appreciate playing and the backing of the staff, the facilities, all the girls around me, my family and friends all keeping me going and being there for me. It was a tough ride, but one that’s made me stronger, more resilient and determined.
SK: You were part of an event at Ibrox organised by student Rachel Mair to raise awareness of ACL injuries, how did you get involved?
KH: I met her because my wee sister plays for the Glasgow Caledonian Uni team and so does she. I would just go along and watch the games before getting roped in to coach them – I actually do a bit of coaching with them on a Wednesday. Rachel coaches Motherwell under-16s and one of her girls had done her ACL and one of her team mates had and she’d seen the effects it had on them. She asked me to speak to the girls and then it grew arms and legs and she set up an event.
SK: How did that go?
KH: We got one of the Rangers physios to speak, I did a presentation on my journey and then had a workshop. We got about 30 people, some were players that had done their ACLs, some parents, coaches, players whose team mates had done their ACLs and they wanted to support them. We reached out not just to the players but other people around it and we got good feedback.
SK: Would you do that kind of thing again?
KH: I would. I probably don’t know a lot about the physical side of it, but from a player’s perspective I’ve obviously experienced it so yeah I would. I was a PE teacher so it’s in me to lead and speak so I don’t mind doing something like that.
SK: And you’ve been working with the Rangers Academy a little too, enjoying that?
KH: I haven’t got my coaching badges but with my teaching background it’s good. I am going to do my badges, but for now I’m just doing a lot of the community stuff, after school sessions with tiny three to five year olds and older kids at Easter and Summer camps. It’s not loads, but I enjoy it, it’s something I’d look to do in the future and it keeps me in that teaching, coaching mindset.
SK: Did you work at a school before turning professional with Rangers?
KH: Yes, a mixed secondary school just outside Glasgow. It was good, some characters there and quite a big Rangers supporting school so they’re all following me.
SK: You were an inspirational figure for them then?
KH: I think even in terms of girls football there were maybe 10 that played and as I left there were 20 or 30. Even now, they’ve got girls-only school football so they get out of class to do sessions with coaches coming in. I go back from time to time and give them tickets so it’s really good.
Celtic v Rangers Women’s Scottish Cup Final Sunday, 28 May 2023, kick-off 1.30pm Hampden Park
Live on BBC1 Scotland from 1pm
Read more about Kirsty’s season, her thoughts on Rangers’ fanbase and studying at the same college as a Scotland legend in the new edition of She Kicks mag (#SK79) ➡️