As the Scotland women walk out onto the Allianz Riviera pitch and into the history books on Sunday evening, they will try to fill their minds with thoughts of their own personal route to the nation’s first appearance at a Women’s World Cup finals.
The biggest game of their careers, the players will tap into the advice of one of the country’s greatest sportswomen after Dame Katherine Grainger provided the squad with an inspirational send-off.
The five-time Olympian knows what it is like to have the nation’s hopes resting on her shoulders and now that Shelley Kerr’s squad are in the same boat, albeit figuratively, she met with them on Monday night to share her own experiences and divulge some tips she adopted in her quest for rowing gold.
“She talked about the pressures, about the fans, the expectation and all that brings,” said Manchester United forward Lizzie Arnot, who is looking forward to her first major finals, having been forced to sit out the Euros two years ago due to injury. “Her best message was to tell us that, if we’re ever nervous, we should just think about why we started our sport. That brought it home.
“The way she explained things, that would really get you focused. Because there’s a lot going on at a major event – so you have to get your thoughts together. And if you’re thinking about why you started this journey, it helps you understand how you got to this point
“I started playing football for the pure love of it. That was the main thing. It has always been a dream of mine since I was young, to be here.
“Katherine is an amazing speaker, so it was great that she came to see us. We could have listened to her all night, it was hugely inspirational.”
Arnot’s road to France has taken her via Edinburgh City, Hutchison Vale and Hibernian and sees her currently gaining even more experience as a full-time professional with Manchester United. Having romped the Championship, in their first season in the league, United have gained promotion to the Women’s Super League, and they were set on their way when Arnot netted their first ever goal, the winner in a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the League Cup, on 19 August 2018.
Giving them the recognition they deserved, the women were able to parade their league trophy inside Old Trafford on the last day of the [men’s] season. “You just feel you are treated the same which is nice,” said the 23-year-old.
A Manchester United star, she is hoping to upset another of that ilk, when Scotland kick off their World Cup with a match against Class of ‘92 member Phil Neville’s England side.
“I’ve not seen Phil Neville down [at United], although apparently he came to a pre-season friendly. That was when he was newly-appointed and I think that was just to watch some of the England girls
“It would be amazing if we could silence a Manchester United legend in that opening game but it is not at the forefront of my mind!”
Keen not to whip up too much hype, she is excited. But with a few days to wait until their tournament kicks off, she is attempting to keep a lid on it
“Maybe, in the odd quiet moment, a family member will mention it. But you have to take it in your stride and not build it up too much. You do try to visualise it but you don’t want to get caught up in it too early. There’s a mental side to feeling ready and confident.”
The team depart for Nice today and will do so full of self-belief and buoyed by the fact that they have awoken Scotland’s interest in the women’s game.
For Arnot, and the likes of Kim Little, pictured left, and Jen Beattie, this tournament also represents an opportunity to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the 2017 Euros, thanks to injury. A ruptured cruciate ligament, which necessitated a 14-month lay-off, meant she was a frustrated armchair spectator when the Scots opened those European championships with a disappointing 6-0 hammering at the hands of England.
If missing out on that squad was tough, Arnot says it was just as hard to helplessly watch that game unfold.
“I was at home just watching it on TV,” she said. “Obviously I was backing the girls all the way although it was devastating not to be there. But now I think everything happens for a reason.
“I felt a lot of sympathy for the girls that day. They weren’t in the best position to face such a strong side, with injuries. But we’ll use that memory, that disappointment, to make sure it doesn’t happen again – and that we create a new positive memory.”
An agile attacker, who loves to dribble and run at defenders, the 26-times capped Arnot fits in perfectly to the current Scotland philosophy of remaining disciplined but also showing a willingness to express themselves and take the game to opponents. These days there is a spark to their play which means that England can expect a more testing encounter.
“I think it’s going to be very different this time,” Arnot added. “It’s two years on. We’ve grown as a squad and are well positioned to challenge them. It was hard watching that two years ago. I didn’t like watching my team lose. But the girls have responded well, we’ve grown. We haven’t used it as an excuse, we’ve used it as motivation to push on.”