WEE Hazel Irvine, my favourite girl let alone sports commentator, once chided me for referring to ``Ladies'' football. I chided her back. In those days it was officially the Scottish Ladies FA. Now it is ``Women's'', but if you ask me they are still ladies at that.

But what has changed is the standard of football and if it started off being seen as a novelty it isn't now. Though Scotland is far away from professional women players, it is, just as happened with the footy boys a century ago, a nursery for pro-footballers elsewhere in the UK and in Europe, and increasingly, Maureen McGonigle of the WFA told me, in the United States where soccer introductory meets are as equally subscribed by women as by men.

In fact, there is an anxiety that American colleges might try to cream off the best women players in this country with unrefuseable offers of sport sponsorship and academic opportunities.

Maureen's colleague, Sheila Begbie, gave me the solid statistics of the remarkable success of women's football. Five years ago there wasn't a team for girls under 16: today there are 2000 players to draw from with a 700% increase in coaching meaning 3000 women going through coaching courses, many of them women taking boys teams in fact.

Scotland did well at the European championships this year and play Wales next week at Ayr's Somerset Park. Next month they go off on a ten-day tour to Brazil, which country invited them and who will pay expenses which would clearly be impossible for the girls because women's

football in Scotland is shamefully impecunious.

But Maureen and Sheila are clever women, too. They know that for football clubs and organisations to get their slimy mitts onto Lottery money they will have to display equality policies which, however distasteful they may be to the men, cannot help but assist the women's game.

Who did we find assisting the women's game on Saturday at Livingston FC's magnificent brand new stadium, Almondvale, where a smallish crowd saw Cumbernauld humiliate Clyde

6-0 in the Scottish League Cup final, but the SWFA national coach, and long-time Queen's Park player and coach Miller Hay, who was saying what I did at the start of this report: ``Women's standards of play surprised me when I started at first, but each new triumph shows the skills, and the enjoyment in watching as well as playing. They play a damned good game.''

There was a lot of skill, as well as the sort of sportsmanship one hasn't seen in years in the little boy's big game. True, Clyde, a Govan-based team, were outclassed by a strong Cumbernauld side which, just to confuse old chaps like myself, were sporting the old Clyde strip.

Also confusing is that Cumbernauld are affiliated, of course, to Clyde FC. What wasn't confusing was the result but that makes up for the 1993 final when Clyde beat Cumbernauld 6-1. (I hope you're still with me on all this). Hardly surprising when you consider that Cumbernauld fielded an entire team of internationals save one, Kirsty Hoggan, who will undoubtedly be capped soon.

It was a surprisingly fast, open, match with virtually no foul play (policed as it was by assistant referee Wilma Anderson, a cyto-screener in Pathology: I always knew referees were pathological and now there's proof), and the last score would be worthy of inclusion in any goal-of-the-season TV competition when Cumbernauld's Pauline Hamill, whom we have met before in my occasional sojourns into women's soccer, scored with a beautifully cool-headed chip over the incoming Alison Barbour's head.

No shame to the Clyde 'keeper; Yashin couldnae have saved that. Some of you might have seen it on telly, too, for the `Sportscene' cameras were there. And who else was fronting that but Hazel Irvine. Which is where we came in.