Rachael Boyle showing up the 'uneducated' with motherhood, Hibs and Scotland

As social media served up a deservedly derisory response to the incendiary ignorance of former referee Mark Clattenburg and his comments on women’s inability to juggle a football career with motherhood, the age old maxim that it is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt sprang to mind.

Rachael Boyle helped launch the Playmakers football programme for young girls developed by UEFA and Disney. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

“It was uneducated,” says Hibs and Scotland player Rachael Boyle, who took some time out in 2018 to have her daughter but has returned to her best at club and international level.

The 29-year-old was one of many players who tweeted about Clattenburg after he had highlighted ‘the problem’ with female officials.

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“They have to make this choice: do they want to be pregnant or do they want to be referees?

Hibs' Rachael Boyle celebrates scoring in the recent 3-0 win over Hearts at Easter Road, played in front of a record crowd of more than 5000 (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

“We can’t have people in our sport being told they have to choose between being a mother and a footballer. People like that should not be telling women they can’t do this, or they can’t do that!

“I think we need to change the mentality and not buy into the mindset of certain people.

“For me, I have lived it. I have had my family and I have come back to the sport that I love and there is no reason why other women can’t do it.

“I have said it before, it shouldn’t have to be a choice for women; in football, in any sport, in any walk of life. I don’t know where those comments came from but, from my point of view, I don’t let things like that get to me. I just carry on living my life and, to be honest, I am quite proud of the way I have done that.”

Rachael Boyle in action for Scotland during a World Cup qualifier against Faroe Islands at Hampden Park last month. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

But at a time when so much work is going into growing the women’s game and convincing girls that it is a sport for all, Boyle says that ill-informed comments could be off-putting, which is why Clattenburg’s musings were worthy of the countless rebuttals.

While countless women have proved the body’s capacity to bounce back from childbirth, across a range of sports, and returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines was not exactly unheard of for sportsmen and women.

“My husband [Martin, who plays for the Hibs men’s team] had a serious knee injury and was out for six months, came back and got another knee injury and was out again but he came back. So these things happen in football. I know girls who have missed a year or two because of injury and not pregnancy.”

Boyle is honest enough to admit that she harboured some apprehension when she found out she was to be a mum. She always knew she would return to the game but was unsure at what level.

She had a point of reference, though.

“It helps to have role models that other women can look to and who know more about it than [Clattenburg] apparently does. For me, that was Julie Fleeting. She came back into the national team and brought her child with her! That was an inspiration to me, to know that was possible, and while I didn’t know how my body was going to react and it was a bit daunting at the time, I’m glad I did it.”

Amelia can now look up to her mum. “I love to come home and show her or tell her what mummy has achieved. My aim is to provide her with the platform to do whatever she wants in life and to teach her she doesn’t need to choose between a family and doing that.

“She comes along to the games now and she does enjoy it but, to be honest, I think she loves the occasion more than the football. She loves the stadiums and seeing the people. She is not really tuned into the football yet.”

Which is where the new Disney Playmakers project can play such an enticing role, according to Boyle, who was at the SFA launch this week. For girls aged 5-8, the project is inspired by academic research showing the positive role of storytelling in helping children take up sport and it is hoped it can double participation levels in girls and womens football across Europe by 2024.

Three year-old Amelia is not short of footballing role models. Mum Rachael has accumulated 39 caps for Scotland, while dad Martin is an established member of the Australian Socceroos squad closing in on a 2022 World Cup slot – “I have been fighting for her to be Scottish when she is older. She has a Scotland strip with mummy on the back and that is so special for me” – but they concede that the appearance of Frozen’s Elsa at a training session would prove far more inviting.

“For her it will always be Elsa,” laughs Rachael. “So to have something like this, where she can tap into her inner Elsa and kick a ball about or run around a cone or score a goal like Elsa will be great and something I’m really looking froward to.”

Growing up Boyle loved kicking the ball about with her brother and his friends and says that back then she didn’t even know anything about the women’s game and was oblivious to the existence of a women’s national team.

But so much has changed, even if some people’s attitudes have not.

Now there is a pathway and a dream that girls to pursue. With the help of Disney, princesses can play football and thanks to growing exposure, the likes of Rachael Boyle, or Erin Cuthbert or Claire Emslie can stand proud longside the likes of The Incredibles. Not all fairytales end the same way and not all superheros wear spandex and capes. Some of them wear football boots and chase international caps and world cups. And, by refusing to let anyone impose ill-founded limits, they can live happily ever after.

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