Joelle Murray is living the dream. In the Netherlands for the Women’s Euro 2017, Scotland’s qualification for the major tournament is just one moment of note in a fertile period of her career.
“Last season we won two cups and played in the Champions League under the Easter Road floodlights,” said the Hibs defender. “I knew it would take a lot to better that but this year going to the Euros will more than do that and it is something I am very much looking forward to.”
A Hibernian fan from the day her dad Alan took her to Easter Road for a men’s game when she was just five, that bond only strengthened when she joined the club as a promising 14-year-old. Until then she had been playing alongside her childhood friend Liam Craig at Chirnside Boys Club but both were destined for bigger things.
A one-club woman, her loyalty has been repaid with domestic medals and European nights but this summer counts as the greatest football triumph.
It is not often that anyone in the Scottish game can prise Glasgow City fingers from trophies, but in beating them in finals twice in 2016, Murray and her team-mates dominated the domestic cup competitions, winning the League and Scottish. But if last season was a particularly successful one, this term has potential to be even better.
The Leith club began their defence of the silverware by retaining the League Cup in May and, midway through the league campaign, they sit top of the SWPL standings. But it is on the international stage where Murray is truly living the dream.
A decade after she made her Scotland debut, the 30-year-old defender is a member of Anna Signeul’s Euro 2017 squad – the first Scottish women to earn passage to a major finals – and on Wednesday they open their campaign against England, before taking on Portugal and then Spain, on the 23 and 27 July respectively.
They have been close before, of course, but near misses and play-off defeats have always left them on the outside looking in. Until now.
“It was definitely my dream but I wasn’t too confident that it would come true, not in my time. We have been close to qualifying for major championships the last few years but to finally get over the line is something special and something we are all looking forward to,” said Murray, who has had a fans’ chant written about her by comedian Des Clarke as part of official sponsor Vauxhall’s #GetIN campaign. Combined with billboard adverts and television adverts, it is a sign of the growing interest in the game and Scotland’s participation in this tournament.
“I definitely think it is well earned. We train so hard on a daily basis, working towards these major tournaments and we have been so close on previous occasions. In those circumstances I think it is only natural to think ‘will it ever happen?’ ‘will we ever get there?’ and it is so special, especially for players who have been with the national team for a number of years now and suffered those disappointments. But I think we really do deserve this.”
Unwilling to blame it all on bad luck or seek excuses, the women’s game instead looked at what improvements could be made, individually and collectively. The demands increased, fitness, strength and conditioning all became part of the everyday quest for development.
“The progression in the game since I first started, in terms of training, the amount of it and the variety, is massive,” Murray added. “When I first started we trained twice a week but we now train eight or nine times a week, strength training, technical training, conditioning etc so it has evolved massively and that comes down to Anna and Ann-Helen [Grahm, assistant manager] and the domestic club coaches, the volunteers.
“The game up in Scotland is still amateur so without them then the game would not be in as good as state as it is at the moment. Anna and Ann-Helen have been massive for our game and in driving it forward. They constantly want more for us as players and they want more for the clubs in the domestic leagues.
“Those guys have been huge for our game but obviously the players have got to buy into it and they certainly have. The game has evolved but we can still take it to the next step and then the next step and, hopefully, on the back of these finals, that will help.”
Signeul will bow out after the finals, to take up a position in Finland, but Murray believes this will continue to evolve.
While others have travelled south, to England, as well as abroad, to the likes of America and Iceland, in a bid to further their careers, Murray has stayed loyal to her childhood heroes.
They, like everyone else in the domestic game, have spent years trying to close the gap on Glasgow City and Murray believes the greater competition at the top of the table, with Spartans, Celtic and Rangers all staking a claim for their share of the glory, will help produce more and more players capable of taking the club and national game further.
“Glasgow City were a dominant force over ten years but we, at Hibs, won the League Cup and the Scottish Cup last term and we’ve retained the League cup.
“I think as a neutral you don’t want to see a team running away with the league and winning every trophy, year in year out. That’s when people lose interest so to have these teams increasing quality season by season is great for the league and is helping push everyone and helping increase the quality and the strength and depth.”
Having sampled the Champions League last year, Murray knows that Scottish players are capable of matching other nations, which means no-one in the Scotland camp is embarking on her maiden Euros hamstrung by trepidation, despite the injury-enforced absence of key performers such as Kim Little, Emma Mitchell and Jennifer Beattie.
“We don’t think we are there to make up the numbers but we have not set out any targets,” she said. “We are going to do what we always do as a national team and take each game as it comes and that will start with the England game.”
l As official sponsor of the Scotland women’s football team, Vauxhall Motors is uniting the nation to #GetIN this summer and make some noise for the team. Comedian Des Clarke is working with Vauxhall Motors to create a series of rallying chants in support of the players and team. Learn them, shout them, support them at vauxhallfootball.co.uk.