SFA row and injuries fail to dampen joy at Scotland Euro bid

The European Championship being staged in Holland next month gives Scotland's women the opportunity to step out from the shadow cast by the men's game in this country. Pity, then, the build-up to a first major finals appearance in almost two decades by '¨footballers from within these borders has been overshadowed in other ways.

Scotland Women celebrate securing their place at the 
Euro 2017 finals in Holland,
Scotland Women celebrate securing their place at the Euro 2017 finals in Holland,

A sour note has been struck to the unspecified “terms and conditions” dispute between the women’s squad and the SFA that was eventually settled last week. And it is desperately disappointing that for the first tournament Scotland will contest at this level, the team will be robbed of their top performer Kim Little, and striker Lizzie Arnot, as the result of cruciate ligament injuries.

Jen Beattie was yesterday added to the list of casualties as outgoing coach Anna Signeul named her 22 for the 16-team extravaganza that will see Scotland open up against England on 19 July, play Portugal four days later and then complete their Group D fixtures by facing up to Spain on 27 July.

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The selection issues have been beyond the players’ control but not so their decision to seek “respect” and “parity” – euphemisms for financial recompense – from the national association and operate a media blackout while the row rumbled on.

It delayed the squad announcement, originally scheduled for last week, and was brought to a conclusion only on Saturday morning, 
following the intervention of PFA Scotland.

“Obviously the situation was not ideal but we felt we needed to take a stance and now it’s resolved we can move forward together and focus on the tournament,” said midfielder Joelle Murray, one of three Hibernian players in a squad drawn largely from Glasgow City.

“We knew our position had potential implications and that’s why we wanted to keep the terms of the dispute behind closed doors and not go public. We did not want our media blackout to overshadow the finals and we’re glad it has been resolved positively.”

The Scotland coach, who stayed out of the dispute entirely, yesterday wearied at being asked about a matter she suggested had been overplayed. “I’ve had no involvement and, as coach, have not seen any negative effect on the players in recent weeks,” Signeul said.

The effect that would be a delight to see for the Swede, whose 12-year tenure will end next month, was her side replicating the spectacle that ensued from Scotland and England facing one another on the football field the other week. The two late and luscious free-kicks from Leigh Griffiths in quick succession that sent Hampden into a ear-shattering frenzy the like of which is rarely witnessed. Signeul would settle for simply matching the 2-2 scoreline Gordon Strachan’s men were forced to accept after conceding a 93rd minute equaliser, the English among the favourites and Spain a stern test in a tough section.

“Not many sporting occasions in Scottish history can ever compete with those 
closing moments against 
England – some supporters have said it represented the best three minutes of their lives,” she said.

“The joy of 2-1? It’s impossible to top that, but our target for the Euros is to get everyone in our squad performing at their absolute best. If we do, we have a really good chance to do something special. We know England and Spain are top sides but we can show our passion and do our absolute best, just as the men did.

“I’ve spoken at a meeting of the Tartan Army and we might have up to 100 coming out to support us in Holland. We have a tremendous community around women’s football in Scotland, but this could be a breakthrough moment in persuading the Tartan Army to come and watch the 
women’s team.

For striker Lisa Evans, about to return to the UK after spending the past two years with Bayern Munich, the Griffiths show three weeks ago can serve as inspiration. Evans, indeed, considers it a football thrill to rank alongside that provided by sharing the celebrations for league-winning honours at Munich last year with the men’s team and more than 200,000 in the Bavarian epicentre.

“Being on the Rathaus balcony together with all the fans below was breathtaking, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said the 48-times capped winger. “It was unreal, but I was also lucky enough to be at the England game with a couple of team-mates earlier this month and I’ve never had a feeling like it watching a football game in my life. It was amazing, such a rollercoaster of emotions on the day.

“I don’t want to speak too early, but we know anything can happen in a game of football. Leigh Griffiths showed that when he banged in those two free-kicks.

“I can’t wait until our game against the English now and I might fancy Caroline Weir to do something with her set-pieces. We know England have a lot more experience of these competitions than we do, but we’re going to enjoy a really great atmosphere.

“The tournament will be broadcast live on Channel Four and it’s good for kids to have role models in the Scottish women’s game they can watch on television. The game has grown tremendously since I made my first appearance for Scotland.”