When Lana Clelland won the Serie A Golden Boot a couple of years ago she was informed that she was only the fourth non-Italian to do so. But she was the second Scot.
Prior to her, Rose Reilly had blazed a trail and, given Reilly’s achievements and eventual inclusion into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, that path is one that 25-year-old Clelland is happy to tread.
A World Cup winner with Italy in 1984 (albeit an unofficial victor as the tournament was not rubber-stamped by Fifa until 1991), Reilly was also a star in France.
And after spending five years in Italy, starring for Bari, Tavagnacco and now Fiorentina, who won the Italian Super Cup in 2018, Clelland, who originally hails from Perth, is also looking to shine in France when the Scots make their World Cup debut – against England – this weekend.
On the night that Shelley Kerr’s squad were putting on one final show for the home support before heading to Nice – defeating fellow World Cup competitors Jamaica at Hampden in front of 18,555 fans last Tuesday – Reilly was in attendance along with some former team-mates receiving caps they should have been awarded decades previously.
But if recognition was limited back in 1972, when that first international was played, also against England, the Scottish women’s qualification for the 2017 Euros, followed by this successful and historic charge towards the greatest world stage, has proved harder to ignore.
Describing the moment the final whistle sounded on the team’s 2-1 victory over Albania in September, clinching the automatic spot among the 24 teams who will contest this summer’s major tournament, Clelland says it was the best moment of her life and there is a smile that spreads over her face as she talks about it that leaves anyone watching in little doubt that she means it.
She says she is proud to be part of the first Scotland women’s team to book a place at a World Cup and if there are any internal nerves, she does well to disguise them as she discusses the joy she feels to just “be kicking a ball about”.
There is more to her contribution than that, though. Her on-going footballing education in Italy means that she has had to become more nuanced as a player and find ways to adapt to a game that is less physical and less direct but instead asks players to plot a more scenic route to goal, solving puzzles along the way.
A striker who loves to score and grew up idolising “the Brazilian Ronaldo” because she saw in him the same thirst for goals, the end product remains just as joyful.
That advance in technique and in tactical awareness is something that she recognises in colleagues, as well, with more of the Scotland players now full-time. The professional opportunities have allowed them to hone skills and, added to a switch in manager and the growing belief that comes from the Euros, is bolstered by the relatively straightforward way in which they dealt with the World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I’m training every day with international players,” said the former Spartans and Rangers striker, who has netted three goals in 25 caps. “The league in Italy is a high standard. It’s a different style of football but that’s something I can bring to the national team. We’ve got a few girls who play in England as well.”
England provided a damaging start to the Scots’ Euros group stage, battering them 6-0. The fact they face them in the opening fixture of the group stage again is tough but Clelland does not envisage a similar scoreline this time. Things in the Scottish set-up have come too far to allow that, she says. There are statistics to back that assertion, with recent head-to-heads against teams ranked higher or, certainly near, England ending in narrow defeats.
Overcoming them remains a tall order but nothing has been written off by the Scots, who are looking for a morale-boosting outcome to fuel their further group matches, against Japan and Argentina.
“I absolutely believe that the gap has closed since we played England in the European Championships. We’ve grown so much in the last couple of years and we expect to produce a big performance.
“It’s not all about England, though. We want to get out of our group. We’ve said that from the start and we think we’re capable of doing that. So we’ll be looking to take points in every group game we play.”