Harry Robinson spoke exclusively to England Lionesses and Arsenal Ladies right-back Alex Scott for VAVEL. With 127 appearances for her country, Scott is one of the most prominent figures in women's football across the globe.
It’s been a few weeks since the wild emotions, usually experienced by men in a male-dominated sport, swelled up in a group of 25 females. That indescribable, inexpressible, intense emotion that thousands of men feel every weekend up and down the country was created by 25 or so women in Canada, smashing expectations at every opportunity and making the nation prouder than any male team has done in decades.
None have witnessed the impact of the stunning success of England’s Lionesses more than Arsenal Ladies right-back Alex Scott. Women’s football has continued pretty much as normal on the pitch, but crowds, media coverage and interest has grown hugely.
As Scott bombed down the right-wing at Arsenal Ladies’ stadium in Boreham Wood in early July, five times the usual number of fans turned up to watch her and her team-mates. “Anything can happen in this league,” she says, speaking exclusively to VAVEL UK, “it wasn’t just at Arsenal that we had a record attendance, even places like London Bees; the lower league clubs, people are going to watch them, which is great for women’s football.”
It’s hard to imagine such an interest in the women’s game after years and years of women like Scott
Momentum must continue in women's football
The comparisons to the men’s game will never fail to be exaggerated by everyone in the media, with claims of the excitement being the same as in the Premier League when Sunderland shocked league leaders Chelsea 4-0. Scott says that “Chelsea spent all this money and this investment in the team and they go and lose 4-0 to Sunderland, who probably have the lowest budget....it goes to show in our league that it really doesn’t matter.” Yet what is key for her and her team-mates is to make sure “the momentum continues” and “it isn’t just this spell were going through”.
It all began with the World Cup. Naturally, interest was greater than ever before, with the the BBC showing every England game live and the divide between the men’s game and the women’s game thinning, yet what made it special was the squad and coaching staff involved. The best World Cup campaign in decades from any senior England side was inspired by Scott’s manager Mark Sampson. Praise had been heaped on his shoulders for his magnificent achievement in taking a developed national side, far from the elite sides, to one step away from the final.
She says that “Mark’s big thing was that he wanted to inspire a nation, that’s what he was really setting out to do. He said ‘look, we really need people to take notice of this team’ and he strongly believed that we could do something special.”
That, they have most certainly done. “Coming back now when you have people stopping you in the street, taking photos, and when you’re going to give coaching sessions, young girls now actually know your name instead of just the male players.” Scott says that Sampson achieved this with his side, despite failing to achieve overall success, with the USA lifting the biggest prize in football; “I truly believe that we’ve done something special. Not just getting the bronze medal, but really making people take notice, which is great.”
‘Let’s hear the Lionesses roar’ was the campaign as we all sat home tuning in, in the late hours of the evening or the very early hours of the morning. In the squad itself there was no barrier between players like Scott who were in their third tournament and players like Fran Kirby, in their first. “When I look back to the tournament I think we were such a close knit group and we’d done a lot of work before going into the tournament. Our expectations when we were there was that we were all just one team, it was never about individuals anyway.” Yet, whether it was the work of the coaching staff or the players themselves, Scott says that “if someone was going through a time when they needed it [guidance], they knew they always had a teammate there who they could go and talk to.”
“It didn’t seem like it was anyone’s first tournament or my third tournament because we all had such an amazing time and were all just buzzing off each other.”
That buzz in the squad peaked at two incredible games. One against Canada and one against Germany. “Two totally different games,” Scott says, looking back at the eight week spell in Canada. On which was the better victory, she says “I think beating the Germany” because “we’ve never done that before, and I’ve been on the end of some batterings by them. I remember in the [Euro] final in 2009, I think they beat us 6-2. Even though we got a silver medal I just remember we were battered.”
“So, beating Germany is a good one but beating Canada in front of their home fans and their support is up there definitely.” Scott was part of the Great Britain 2012 Olympic side, as she tells us, “I was part of the Olympic team when we lost to them [Canada] and they went on to win Bronze, so the win against Canada was a bit of a sweet revenge match.”
Psychologically, Sampson triumphed as England manager
That game against Germany in the third place play-off match would prove a challenge for any sportsman, woman or team. The psychological battles on the football field are more prominent than ever and often national teams take psychologists to tournaments with them to ensure they come out top. Yet manager Mark Sampson’s talks to the squad proved just as brilliantly impactful for Scott and her team-mates.
As we move on to this game and the challenges of picking the whole squad up from a last minute defeat in a World Cup semi-final to the reigning champions, Scott says “I can remember that feeling like it was yesterday.” Support continued throughout England but a defeat like the one suffered always affects a squad. “When we were there it was so hard, for the next game we were saying ‘how the heck are we supposed to even play this game?’ But then, at the end of it, there is still a medal to be won. And then I think what Mark [Sampson] is really good at is being a really good motivator. He knows what to say, the right things to say.”
“He basically said, ‘look, this is the time to show the nation what this team is about and show that ability that we really do have. It’s more than a football match. One, it’s Germany and secondly, it’s showing your true character.’”
The squad responded in the perfect way possible, beating Germany for the first time in their history, with Fara Williams scoringing an extra-time penalty. Scott says that the group sat there listening to Sampson nodding, “we thought ‘actually, it isn’t about feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to go again.’”
Sampson’s ability to keep the entire squad content and as one, looking at the overall aim instead of the personal, was one of the key reasons for success in Canada, but it was helped by the character of players like Scott, who was dropped for the knockout stages of the tournament. “This has been a true test of my character, this World Cup, because like you said I’m used to playing every single minute of every game. So, to be dropped for the first time was hard to take, I’d played every single game up until the World Cup. But I think if you ask any of the girls, they’d say that I showed my true colours. I was a great teammate. Even though I had personal disappointment, I knew the bigger picture is about the team being successful and ultimately that comes down to Mark having his own opinions of which players should be playing.”
What is obvious as you listen to Scott is that she truly believes in this mentality of the ‘bigger picture’ in the English side. “As long as we’re successful as a team, I’m still going to gain at the end of it,” appears to be a motto of an extremely positive tone. positive side.
The impact of this harmonious group of girls taking full advantage of the stage they were given has bounced around the country, ‘inspiring a generation’ as the Olympic motto went. High profile names in the men’s game like David Beckham took to social media to support the team and Scott says that “definitely, the social media aspect is putting it in people’s faces now.” This is a big change from the days in the past where the only mention of women’s football would be the corner page of a small story in the local newspaper. “We need to be out there,” Scott says, whether that is “in magazines, on TV programs” because it is just as important, according to the 127 time capped England right-back, “as doing the job on the football field.”
England players must keep up high profile
What was great for the game during the World Cup was the coverage of it on news programs across the network on television bringing new spectators into the game. “The aspects that people get to see, not just sports fans, but people that are sitting at home on a Monday evening watching TV.” If Scott or someone like Fran Kirby or Fara Williams or Karen Bardsley continue to “pop up as a footballer on TV, then they [people] can relate to us in some sort of way.”
“I think we need to be touching all fanbases but I think we’ve definitely shown that it can be done. I’ve had grandparents of other families say that they’ve never watched a football match before in their lives and they were in tears in the semi-final, just like we were.”
With all this attention, however, could come a negative for women’s football. After great success, should follow great development and the first stages of that have already begun. Chelsea, as Scott mentioned earlier, have invested hugely in their women’s side, purchasing England’s young forward – the mini Messi – Fran Kirby for a record British fee, say Reading.
Money must be kept at a reasonable level
Scott says that it would “obviously be silly if I was to sit here and say ‘we don’t want more money’ but I do think that for women’s football in this country, we’re not at those levels yet of huge spending. So, yes, you want the league to stay the same.”
In February 2009, Scott left Arsenal for the second time. Upon the creationng of the Women’s Professional Soccer League in the United States of America, Scott was one of many English players to begin the league off. Signing for the Boston Breakers, Scott went to experience life in the ‘land of the free’. On the topic of money in the game she reminds us of her time there, “I was part of the American league that folded due to financial trouble, so you don’t want all this momentum in women’s football, and have this great league, for it to have loads of money put into it causing it to fold, because then the game will go backwards.”
“At the moment, money is creeping in and creeping in but we’re not at the level when it can just be ridiculous fees for every player.”
Her two year spell in America taught her a lot, she tells me - having played Birmingham City two days before for Arsenal, winning and making the title race in the Women’s Super League ever closer. “A big thing for me was learning the American mentality, that if you turn up to training and you’re not giving one hundred percent, then don’t turn up at all because they’ll just be on your back.”
“Whereas, before I went to America, the English mentality was very different. We could have turned up to training and just coasted through, just be there to be there. So learning that mentality was a whole new level. Especially to be out with the whole group of us that went to America. To bring back that mentality to the England set up, and into our own teams, was a major thing for the youngsters coming through.”
Personally for Scott, things aren’t quite as bright and rosy as the future of the women’s game but she is as positive as ever about her future. Having been dropped during the World Cup, the mental aspect is hard for her to deal with but the 2017 European Championships are now the target, she says.
“I’m not one that sits back and feels sorry for myself. For me, it’s about going and proving myself that I am and I should still be in that number two shirt in that right-back position [for England]. So it’s about going to show what I can still do for the team; and I think that starts with Arsenal now; but like you said it is all about the next competition.”
Gold the aim in Euro 2017 for Scott
Her aim is to be the first choice for England come 2017 but for the entire squad the aim is to finally get that gold medal they have dreamed of. “We strongly believe we can now go on and get a gold medal.” For her, “it is weird” because she has “a bronze medal now, and a silver medal for England, so [she’s] only missing one.”
Positivity is the key word you pick up on speaking to Alex Scott, “But I reckon I’ll get the gold and retire on a high,” she continues.
Retirement; an issue frequently discussed in the media-hothouse of men’s football, producing stories every day of this player retiring, that player ‘thinking of his future’. For Scott there isn’t an answer to whether that will be soon. She tells me that “it’s about if I’m enjoying it, I don’t really look too far ahead, I focus on the now.”
“If I’m still enjoying the game five years down the line, then yes, maybe I’ll still be playing, but at this moment in time I’m just focusing on the present.”
That prospect of retirement could be away from her club, the club she was brought up into through the girls’ academy and has had three spells at, winning league titles year after year and being part of the famous side to win the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
“I’m at the end of my contract this year,” she says, revealing that her future is still in the balance; “it’s getting to that time when I’m going to have to sit down and think about what I really want to do and what direction I’m going in.”
“For me, it’s never say never. You never know what other opportunities are going to come your way or what doors are going to open.”
Scott has many passions in her life and as the interview draws to a close we speak of them. Music is one, and with so many appearances to her name she rightfully holds the title of the DJ in the England dressing room. The boss wouldn’t dare suggest a song or change a track though because, as she puts in her own words, “my playlists are on point” and “I’d definitely be offended if he came and tried to change the music.”
Another one is the media. In the past couple of weeks, Scott achieved a journalism degree, having studied on the course for two years, keeping it up as well as her football, she tells me that “I’ve got that in the bag now as well” and “I think with my personality, I know I’m more TV suited.”
“So, in terms of punditry, presenting, just getting my personality across really, this suits me. I knew coaching and managing was never going to be my route, so I always wanted to find something that I had a passion for.”
A huge thing for Scott in her career was the academy she came through at Arsenal. She has paid the club back in playing a great part in the trophies that now sit in a busy trophy cabinet at the Emirates Stadium. Yet for girls who just love to play football but still want to have a full education or take a path away from the elite level, whilst retaining the love of the game, there used to be nowhere for them to go.
Scott began the ‘Alex Scott Academy’ in 2011 and the work by them has continued to develop since. “I came through an academy system at the Arsenal academy so I always knew that I was at the elite level, I knew there was more. But to give people the chance to still play football, not at the elite level, and still get an education was the focus for me. So I’m glad I have the academy for the people to be able to do that.”
The power of success has been demonstrated by Scott and her teammates as they capitalise on the wonderful World Cup campaign. Throughout speaking to her, the praise of manager Mark Sampson and the positivity of which was in the squad if prominent.
“I truly believe that we’ve done something special," she told me, and England have truly done so. It was a magical tournament and the magic has, and will, continue for Scott and her England teammates, as well as the lower leagues in women's football.
With personal thanks from the writer Harry Robinson to Extra Time Sports Management, of whom Alex Scott is a client.