u COME hail rain or shine, Emma Lyons will play football.
The Falkirk Ladies captain has just been crowned Player of the Year in the Scottish Women’s Premier League at the end of the second summer season.
The award was a pleasant surprise in a season of surprises for Lyons’ team. They were inducted at the last minute to the Premier League after closure of one of the existing teams created a vacancy they were only to happy to fill.
“It was a tough season, but it is very nice to be recognised,” she said. “But I think I stood out because I demand to take all the free-kicks, and I shout a lot, and I am the captain and I make myself known.”
The voting structure sees managers nominate a most valuable player for each game on their own team and the oppositions’. ‘Kirky’ as she’s known to her team-mates, came out on top earning her the overall title at a gala awards event to add to the player of the month award she received in June.
But even if she was drawing attention to herself on the pitch, she was also exerting her leadership as captain of a young Falkirk team thrown in at the deep end of Premier League football a fortnight before the big kick-off.
“We have very young squad. But they have a year’s experience now and there are younger players coming in for next season,” she added. Emma knows because she’s recruited them.
As a teaching fellow of undergraduate Sports Studies at the University of Stirling she has identified four players to bolster the Falkirk Ladies’ squad for the season starting in March.
In the study centres and lecture halls of her day-time occupation, she looks into the culture of sport, management and media - rather than the scientific side of the more common-place sports science degree courses.
But as a sideline she’s also on the sidelines running the uni’s female football team. That’s given her insight into potential players, and she’ll be playing beside a few in March when the summer season kicks off.
Only a fool would predict the Scottish weather, even in summer, but judging by the weather when she meets The Falkirk Herald on Tuesday, the change made to the women’s game a couple of years ago where the fixture calendar shifted back six months, appears to be a good one – but that’s not the case for Lyons.
“I actually prefer the winter schedule – I like the tradition. Football is a winter sport.”
Being a midfielder, going box-to-box, she also prefers running when the air is cooler. “I don’t like playing in the heat. I actually am not a fan of the reasoning behind the swap.”
And, with a nod to her sporting studies, there’s a good argument.
“One factor was to use the summer to play on pitches in their best condition, when the grass is growing and at its’ best – yet, the teams in the Premier League and First Division, use rubber crumb 3G pitches, or astro-grass, which are synthetic surfaces for all weather use, that combat the natural effects of winter.”
There was plenty of winter weather with gale-force winds sweeping across the uni pitches carrying biting pellets of rain and sharp stings of hailstones.
But rain, hail or shine, she’ll play in it, she insists, and when The Falkirk Herald took her into the middle of the pitch at Stirling in mild monsoon conditions, she proved it.
That hardy attribute, while maintaining her enthusiasm, is remarkable, unusual and is evidence of the mentality that gives Lyons an edge against less resilient, or weather intolerant, opponents.
And as the weather deteriorated during the season’s wind down, who else but the Falkirk captain and Premier League player of the year to score a vital goal that kept Falkirk off the basement of the SWPL?
Lyons hit the opener against Kilmarnock, who were relegated, on the last day of the season in early November.
“It settled us down, but it wasn’t the winner. Cheryl Gallagher got that straight after. It was an important goal but it was always going to be a difficult season for us, coming up as we did.
“It was all about experience and we got a lot of that, and performed well and surprised ourselves with the way we played against some of the bigger teams.”
Lyons says more will be expected of the Ladies’ young squad, and of herself.
She has previous Premier League experience having played for Newburgh in Fife until the club folded.
“My manager there, Alan Palmer, is manager now and there is more expected of us to help the new girls through, but a lot will depend on the other younger girls who have a year’s valuable experience to pass on.”
‘Kirky’ switched to Falkirk where she became captain, falling in line for her nick-name, being a fan of the initial series of Star Trek.
Some might well go down that route and describe her efforts for Falkirk Ladies last season as ‘out of this world’, but the hard work has already started for her reign as Premier League player of the year. And that’s beginning in the howling wind and fierce rain experienced through this part of the world recently.
“It’s not the best doing pre-season in the winter - that’s another reason I preferred the old season schedule. There’s more motivation to run in summer,” she conceded.
She may not keen on it, but the summer schedule seems to suit the Scottish Women’s Premier League player of the year.