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Woman of the week: Julie Fleeting, football heroine

WHATTAGIRL: When it comes to showing national pride, you can't beat a woman who gets a hat-trick in just 18 minutes – while playing with a broken foot.

Julie Fleeting, captain of the women's Scotland football team, may have a broken metatarsal – the same kind of fiddly wee bone that prompted an England-wide panic when David Beckham fractured one shortly before the 2002 World Cup – but that didn't stop her playing her part in the 4-1 victory over Portugal at the weekend, taking the national side closer to European Championship qualification.

The 27-year-old Arsenal striker, who has scored 103 goals in 105 caps for Scotland, may come from a sporting background – her father, Jim Fleeting, is a former Kilmarnock FC manager and current SFA director of football development – but her family could never have known when she put on her first football strip, aged six, just how far she would go.

Having made her debut for Scotland against Wales, aged 15 in 1996, while playing with Ayr United, Fleeting's talents would soon take her across the Atlantic. In 2002 she became the first Scot to play in the American pro league after joining San Diego Spirit.

Her time in the US saw her voted Most Valuable Player by her fellow players and coaches, and she was awarded the club's Golden Boot. But in 2003 the US league folded, prompting a return to Scotland for Fleeting, who signed for Ross County and became a PE teacher.

Fleeting, who is married to Livingston FC goalkeeper Colin Stewart, says her teaching experience has made her very aware of the sensitivities involved in persuading body-conscious, image-obsessed teenage girls to take part in sport, especially in mixed-gender classes.

As a young teenager, this self-described tomboy would much rather have played alongside the boys.

"Being the only girl didn't bother me and I gave as good as I got… I played for the local boys' club and was treated just the same as lads my age. But then at the age of 13 I had to stop playing mixed football and struggled to find girls' teams… (I] can see how easy it might be for a girl faced with that problem to drop out," she has said.

In 2004 Fleeting joined the Arsenal ladies' team where she proved to be an astute signing when she scored all three goals in Arsenal's 3-0 victory over Charlton in the FA Women's Cup final – just 24 hours after she had played for Scotland in Germany. The next year she was voted Player's Player of the Year at the FA Women's Football Awards.

Yesterday saw Fleeting put her injury concerns to one side again, as she took to the field in the 74th minute to help Arsenal in a 4–1 victory over Leeds to win the FA Cup and secure a domestic double. With form like this even while injured, we can only look forward to what she may achieve when Scotland takes on Ukraine on 28 May in their next qualifier.

 
 
 

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