Rose Reilly achieved against all odds, in an era when the women’s game in Scotland had a lot of catching up to do and when the idea of the fairer sex playing the sport for money, even semi-professionally, seemed even more elusive than a pipe dream. But times and attitudes are changing.
Reilly found the acceptance she wanted in Italy. There she felt she had “come home” in footballing terms, in a country which she says “embraced” women’s football. It was there that she was also offered the opportunity to compete for the biggest prize of all, representing her adopted homeland at the 1984 World Cup and winning it.
“I played in the World Cup for Italy but there was a Scottish heart beating under the Italian jersey,” she states. “I was there, that’s what matters.”
More than three decades on, Scotland stand two games away from automatic qualification for 2019 World Cup, with Shelley Kerr’s side aware that victory by two goals over Switzerland in Paisley next Thursday, coupled with an away win over Albania the following Tuesday, would secure their slice of history as the first Scottish women’s squad to reach the finals.
Such a landmark moment in the sport would be a terrific boost and peak interest, further bolster participation levels and help bring in the sponsorship and money Reilly believes is required to take the sport to the next level.
“That would be a significant step and I don’t see why we can’t do it,” she says. “It means there is a lot of pressure on Shelley and the national team but the bigger the game the better it was for me. I’m sure they’re the same.
“The game at the minute is evolving but the league could be stronger, but that is because all the best players are on professional contracts in England or playing abroad. If we don’t get semi-professional at least in Scotland then it will be hard for the leagues to grow.
“There has to be more money invested in it and it shouldn’t be women’s football or ladies football, it is female football because we need to get people involved from an early age. We need to get girls into the game at primary school.”
That was an important fact noted in a survey commissioned by SSE, who currently sponsor the SSE Women’s FA Cup and SSE Scottish Women’s Cup as well as delivering Girls’ Participation Programmes in both England and Scotland.
The findings, which were published yesterday showed that age five to seven is the sweet spot for girls to take up football, with 53 per cent of girls currently playing football starting out at that age. The statistics also illustrated a shift in parental attitudes with mums and dads increasingly enthusiastic about their daughters playing football, going to see a professional match or even pursuing a career in the sport, as a player, coach or in an administrative role.
Citing the boost to physical fitness and well-being as a key reason for supporting their daughters’ interest in football, more than 75 per cent also highlighted the rewards of being a member of a team.
Tellingly, while dads, especially those under the age of 40, were generally happier than mums to see their daughters target a career in football, when it came to believing that those ambitions were achievable, both mums and dads agreed.
Mums were particularly opposed to the idea that football is a sport for boys, while almost 40 per cent of younger dads strongly agreed that they would take their daughter to a professional men’s game and, significantly, proving just as positive about heading along to a top women’s game with their kids.
“Why not?“ said Reilly, encouraged that upcoming generations of girls will find it easier to pursue their dream than she did. “Girls should be able to have a career as a footballer. It used to be that dads would say they wanted a wee boy so that he could play football but now their wee girl can play and it is encouraging.
“Everyone can see what can be achieved.”
First recorded women’s match branded as ‘insolence on the Sabbath’
In the middle of the quiet
village green stand two traffic cones. They serve as a makeshift set of goalposts.
But, with children back at school, there is no-one playing football.
Rose Reilly, arguably Scotland’s most successful female footballer, can feel the presence of the past, though. The nation’s only World Cup winner is in Carstairs where a local kirk minister’s objection to women playing football on the sabbath provides the earliest recorded evidence of women’s football being played in Europe.
“It is quite an honour to be here because I didn’t know that the first female football match was at Carstairs.,” she said.
“It actually gave me goosebumps to think I might be standing on the same pitch where the first recorded female game in Europe was played.
“I would just like to know what did they wear. Were they all covered up? Did they have hats on? In those days there were so many taboos for ladies, so how did it happen?”
The basic translation of the transcript, from the Presbytery of Lanark Registers, does not offer up such detail but, dated 21 August, 1628, it reveals that “Mr John Lindsay, minister at Carstairs, having regretted the break of the Sabbath by the insolent behaviour of men and women, in footballing, dancing and Barley Breaks [an old English country game], ordains every Brother [Minister] to labour to restrain the foresaid insolence and break of Sabbath and, to that effect, make intimation thereof into their several kirks next Sabbath day.”
On what historians believe is the same spot where such insolence was observed, Reilly and Aileen Campbell MSP, along with Karen Grunwell marked the 390th anniversary of the first recorded women’s football by announcing that the inaugural seminar on women’s football in Scotland will be held at
Hampden Park on 8 March, 2019 – International Women’s Day.
“We have moved forward a bit since 1628,” said Reilly. “We are getting there. But there is still a way to go.”