No jealousy for Julie Fleeting at the World Cup exploits of Shelley Kerr

Julie Fleeting is not surprised that Shelley Kerr has taken Scotland’s women’s national team to their first-ever World Cup and she knows from personal experience just how determined her former team-mate will be to ensure the squad makes an impact in France this summer.

The Women's World Cup trophy at Edinburgh Castle, with (L-R): SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell, Joelle Murray, Shelley Kerr, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Lee Alexander and Julie Fleeting. Picture: SNS
The Women's World Cup trophy at Edinburgh Castle, with (L-R): SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell, Joelle Murray, Shelley Kerr, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Lee Alexander and Julie Fleeting. Picture: SNS

Fleeting is the nation’s most prolific goalscorer with an incredible 116 international goals in 121 caps and the Scottish Hall of Famer made many of those Scotland appearances alongside the current Scotland manager.

“She’s always been a leader and a winner,” Fleeting said. “Even in training, the amount of injuries she inflicted on me... she didn’t want to lose at anything – she’s just that kind of person and she can pass that on to the 11 players on the pitch.

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“Her attitude to football and life is infectious and has helped in the qualifying games. She can inspire the players to be at their best.

“Shelley is such a great coach, but also such a lovely person. Determined, she has everything you want within your national team.”

Although well-decorated at club level, with several Scottish League titles, 17 major trophy wins with Arsenal, including the European Cup, and the honour of becoming the first Scot to be signed up as a full-time professional in the United States, the laurels did not follow on the international stage for Fleeting, as Scotland failed to qualify for a major finals during her era.

“The nearest I got as a player was in 2008 when we lost out to Russia in the play-offs,” she recalled. Away goals counted against the Scots in that tie, which was Kerr’s last appearance as a Scotland player.

“That result was a really tough one to take, but when I played we were still a bit away from the best countries. That’s the difference – the current team isn’t,” said Fleeting, a Fifa Women’s World Cup ambassador who attended the trophy tour at Edinburgh Castle yesterday. “They are competing with the top ten countries in the world and putting in performances against them.”

Insisting she is proud rather than jealous that her successors will take to the pitch in the biggest tournament in the women’s game this summer, she says the thrill is in seeing how the game here has evolved. “I always felt every year we were getting better but there was still a massive gap. I remember getting beaten 6-0, 7-0 and sometimes that flattered us! We were just 11 players behind the ball.

“But when this team played the USA [in November] we were competing with them, creating chances. Every year they have got closer and closer. Now we’re in the best place going into the World Cup.

“The big difference now is that most of the players are full-time and at club level the current players are competing with the best. People are looking around Europe and seeing Erin Cuthbert is a star for Chelsea. That’s great. We have players dotted around Europe.

“The fact we didn’t have to go through the play-offs this time because they topped the group is absolutely fantastic.”

Participating in their first World Cup, the reality is this tournament will be many young fans’ first experience of watching a Scotland team – male or female – perform on such a stage, and Fleeting can’t wait for her children to be inspired by what they see.

“My kids are going to be able to watch Scotland on the biggest stage, so it’s really exciting. They will be nine, seven and two by time of the World Cup and they are coming with me to the tournament. My oldest isn’t into football, but my six-year-old is playing. There will be fanzones before the games and lots for them to see and do. That’s how memories are made.

“Hopefully everyone can get behind the team and really embrace the World Cup.”