TOMMY CRAIG, a grizzled veteran of the dug-out and the oldest manager in the SPFL Premiership, never thought he would see the day when a woman joined him within Scottish football's coaching ranks.

He remains even more astonished, though, by the Damascene conversion which has compelled him to predict that Shelley Kerr, now in charge of Stirling University in the Lowland League, will be only the first of several female coaches to arrive in the senior game over the coming years.

Craig admits that he was largely dismissive of women's football until recently. However, his opinions have changed slowly and the 63-year-old believes a process is now well under way which will lead to female coaches becoming commonplace in Scottish football within the course of a generation.

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"I had a very strong opinion maybe 20 years ago that women could never it cut it the way men do in football, but I have had to change my mind," said the St Mirren manager. "Over the last five years or so, I have watched women's football when I come across it on television. The technical ability is there. Two women challenging for a ball in the same way as the men's game, although not quite with the same force.

"The pace of the game is maybe not quite as high as the men's but it would appear, in the years ahead, that there is going to be an influx of female coaches who may want to become managers. I don't know if I will see it [happen], but it's heading that way. It will require a culture change within the game, but times do change. Sports change, like everything else. I have had to change my own mind.

"As time moves on, it almost becomes the norm to integrate. There is one [female coach] now and there will maybe be five in four or five years' time. It starts to take shape.

"For people who are one year old now, I think it will be part of the game and part of the deal by the time they are 20. I have to hold up my hands as someone who once thought: 'No, not a chance'."

Craig has warned Kerr, who had a spell as assistant manager at Stoneyburn Juniors and won three trophies in charge of Arsenal Ladies, that she will have to win the respect of some of her players at Stirling, with a significant importance resting on her ability to lay down the rules when the first inevitable flashpoint occurs.

"She will know, first of all, that results get you respect," said Craig. "Secondly, she will come across situations with a player in the dressing room and she has to win that battle, that argument.

"Whatever issues crop up - and there will be issues - she has got to be strong enough to go head-to-head with the first player who shows a bit of negativity towards her and come out on top. I would like to be there to see that one."

The stereotypically macho world of the football dressing-room may not be seen as a place for the fairer sex by some more traditional observers. However, Craig has little doubt that women will be able to hold their own in front of a squad of men.

"The lambasting of players in the dressing room that has been part of Scottish football for 100 years is something we don't seem to associate with the women's game," he said. "However, I'm sure, from time to time, wives and girlfriends have given us men a wee bit of food for thought on that front."