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Julie Fleeting dreams of playing in World Cup for Scotland, not Olympics for GB

HER name would undoubtedly have been one of the first on the squad sheet of whoever is appointed women's coach of the Team GB football team at next summer's Olympics.

However, Julie Fleeting's sharp-shooting is matched by her clear-thinking. She has become the first Scot to rule herself out of contention. It is significant news because she is the First Lady of certainly Scottish - and possibly even British - football.

Fleeting suspects she is speaking for the entire Scottish dressing room when she says that pulling on a Scotland jersey is all she cares about. She was straight and to the point when asked to address the issue yesterday, just days after the controversy had blown up again following a declaration by the British Olympic Association that it was all systems-go with regard to a fully-inclusive team performing at next summer's games. But nobody has contacted Fleeting for her opinion. They might now save the bother.

"My thoughts are these: first and foremost I am a Scottish internationalist, and that's the most important thing for me," she says.

"The SFA (Scottish Football Association] make all the decisions in terms of the national team. I would definitely not step out and say I would like to play for Team GB. What I am saying is I would like to play for Scotland for as long as I am selected for Scotland. I am delighted to pull on the jesey. That's the most important thing for me. I know it's the most important thing for all the girls that I play alongside. I would not want to jeopardise that."

It was presumed to be a doubly awkward dilemma for Fleeting, whose father Jim works for the SFA as director of football development. Earlier this year reports suggested she was one player who was seriously considering going against the SFA's wishes and declaring herself available for selection.

"I don't really talk to my father about it," she says. "But he would say the exact same thing. He is heavily involved in the SFA and is heavily involved in Scottish football and he would never want to see it jeopardised as well. But it's not something we have arguments about. We are both of the same opinion."

Now 30, the Olympics might have presented Fleeting with an only opportunity to test herself on a truly world stage. Fleeting has tried, tried and tried again to reach a major championship finals with Scotland. The latest effort came to a heartbreaking end last year, when Anna Signeul's side finished runners-up to Denmark in the qualifying group for this summer's World Cup.

It means the competition will be kicking off on Sunday in Germany without Scotland, and without someone who boasts one of the most prolific scoring records of anyone in football. Few men could hope to match her return of 115 goals in 117 appearances for Scotland. However, like George Best, she could finish her career without having stepped out onto the kind of platform her talents deserve.

However, the Olympics has never been a burning ambition of hers. She adores the spectacle but she firmly considers herself to be an armchair spectator. It is one event she will happily watch from afar - unlike the World Cup. "We missed out on that one, and it is going to be a huge event," she says. "I'll be tuned in. It's one thing I will be watching thinking: 'I wish I was there'."

This won't be her reaction when the Arsneal FC player and part-time PE teacher switches on coverage of the Olympics next summer. "I will be glued," she admits. "I love everything about it. The fact that it is so close to home this time around is fantastic. I haven't got tickets but my school (Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston, Ayreshire] have some so I am hoping I might get the opportunity to take some of the kids. I am excited about it but I am excited about it as a spectator. It's never been that I have wanted to play in the Olympics. That's never been a dream. Obviously the Olympics is a fantastic stage but I am Scottish through and through," she adds. "It might mean our girls would not have the opportunity to play for the national team in the future because some of us went to play for Team GB. That's not a risk any of us are willing to take."Fleeting was speaking at the selection trials for the Scotland women's Homeless World Cup team. The event will be held later this summer in Paris. She recognises the desire of all those present to pull on a Scotland shirt. "An ambition when you are growing up as a Scottish girl who enjoys football is to play for Scotland," she says. "I am very fortunate that I have had that opportunity. I want that opportunity still.

"I know there are young kids who are playing now and who are striving to pull on the Scotland jersey," she continues.

"There is a chance they would not gain that opportunity if we became Team GB. I have travelled to lots of different countries. These are opportunities I might not have had if we were Team GB, rather than Scotland."

Personal glory comes a poor second to making sure those who follow her can enjoy the thrill of representing Scotland.

And among Fleeting's successors could possibly be her own daughter, Ella, who turns two in July.

Fleeting was back playing just three months after Ella's birth. "I'd encourage her to do whatever she enjoys," she says. "She kicks the ball if it's there. But she'd rather go on the swings."

 
 
 

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