The Scotland women’s team attracted a record crowd at Hampden Park last night for their World Cup send-off match against Jamaica. But this was a game with a much deeper meaning, writes Dani Garavelli
Perched on her father Darren’s shoulders, three-year-old Harper Hamilton is waving her flag with such enthusiasm it flutters over his face.
The Scotland v Jamaica women’s World Cup warm-up at Hampden is her first ever football match; she has already had a shot on the bouncy castle and a Saltire painted on her face. Now she just wants to get inside the stadium and start cheering.
Darren, a Rangers fan, has brought Harper for her first experience of the Beautiful Game because he thinks it’s a better environment for children. She already enjoys a kick-around. “I also wanted to come because I think seeing the women in the national stadium is a good message to send her. I want her to know football is not just for the boys.”
This family is among the thousands making their way into the ground for the women’s national team’s big World Cup send-off. As they wend their way past the street vendors in Mount Florida, it is already clear the previous record of a 4,098 (when Scotland played Switzerland in Paisley last year) is going to be smashed.
At the stadium itself - where fans are pouring out of buses - the crowd is so great it is proving impossible to get them all through the turnstiles; some are still queuing 20 minutes after kick-off.
The demographics are interesting too. The mothers and daughters and large groups of schoolgirls are to be expected; but there are also plenty of boys brought along by fathers (and mothers) and mixed groups of friends and neighbours. And the age range stretches from tiny babies to pensioners.
To those used to attending men’s games, the difference in atmosphere is palpable. There are only a few police horses and no drink is being confiscated.
Inside, it feels like a cross between a traditional Scottish football match and a baseball game, with cokes and fries and bonhomie. It is refreshing to sit through 90+ minutes where no-one questions the referee’s eyesight/religion or legitimacy, or boos the opposing team’s fans.
The first half brings thrills a-plenty. Having spent a lot of time around the men’s game, I wonder if I will hear sarky comments about the women’s skill or stamina. But there is nothing but admiration for the standard generally, and the two great first-half goals by Erin Cuthbert and Caroline Weir, in particular.
Though most of the people I speak to are relative newcomers to the women’s game, they all seem to know the names of a few of the players.
At half time, when the score stands at 2-1 for Scotland, Kelly, Olivia and Sonny Tyrrell - a family who stand out on account of their divided loyalties - tell me they have travelled from their home in the north of England specifically for the match.
Olivia, 11, is wearing Scotland shorts. She has a Saltire on one cheek and a Jamaica flag on the other and vacillates over which team she is supporting. Her brother, Sonny, eight, who is clutching a cuddly dog, is firmly in the Jamaican camp (and so a bit down-hearted).
“Their nannie is Scottish, and their grampa is Jamaican,” mum, Kelly explains. Olivia recently went to the Liverpool/Everton men’s derby. “Is this very different?” “Well there’s a lot less shouting and swearing,” she says.
In the second half, the sun has stopped shining directly on the pitch which makes it easier to see the action. An early goal by Jamaican forward Khadija Shaw is a blow (though not for Sonny, who suddenly perks up). But then Sophie Howard makes up for the defensive error that gave Shaw the chance by heading Scotland’s winning goal.
When the final whistle blows, and the attendance is revealed to be a staggering 18,555, everyone is on a high. Stephen Culbertson, his son Alastair, five, and daughter Eilidh, seven, veterans of men’s football at Queen’s Park and Ibrox, say they’ll be back. “It was fantastic - there was some lovely football on display. And it was great to see such a big crowd giving them a proper send-off.” Could there be a better send-off than the Hampden roar?
Whatever happens when Scotland play England in their opening World Cup match in Nice a week on Sunday, this evening has been a landmark. After all the years of being treated as second class citizens the country’s female footballers are finally being given the respect and acknowledgement they deserve.
“When I was a young kid growing up, girls didn’t play football,” Scotland manager Shelley Kerr says after the game. “We had 200 players, now there are 12,000. As a nation we have managed to get 18,500 here. It is watershed moment. I never thought I would see that in my lifetime.”
Outside the ground, I catch up with little Harper. She is still on her dad’s shoulders; and still smiling. If she continues to play, she will have no shortage of female role models.
Meanwhile, her mum, Montana Gemmill (no relation to Archie) and dad are glad they brought her. “ It was an excellent performance,” Darren says. “I am really looking forward to the future of the women’s game now.”