Whilst out in La Manga for a winter training camp VAVEL sat down with Scotland stalwart, Jo Love to talk about the recent Euro campaign, her first match as captain and the new era of Scottish women’s football.
Changing of the guard
With newly appointed captain Rachel Corsie unavailable for the training camp due to an injury, Shelley Kerr named Love as the one to lead the team out for their first match of the year. A first time honour for the ever-present, but one she didn’t let affect her approach.
“No, I think I just try my best any time I step onto the park. I didn’t feel any more responsibility or try to take it upon myself as it would probably just have inhibited me. We’ve got plenty of people on the park who know what they’re doing and I shout as much as I have to.”
The second-oldest in the group called up by Kerr, Love leads the way in caps but the hasn’t let her stats change her demeanour, the midfielder a teammate before anything else.
“I think just my experience is something but when we come away with this squad, first and foremost I’m the girls teammate, I’m one of their friends, we can talk out of football, we can talk about football as well it’s not any great hassle. I tend to like a bit of a carry on so maybe I’m a bit different to the other captains we’ve had in the past, if they want to look up to me as the mum figure, I’m more than happy with that.”
The summer wrapped up all too soon for the Scots, coach Anna Signeul’s departure long-since telegraphed, captain Gemma Fay and stalwarts Ifeoma Dieke and Leanne Ross three more to leave the side. With the familiar faces no longer present, Love has found that business has run as usual, the team not one to get caught up too much on sentimentality.
“The girls who are in just now, a lot of us have been present for the full European campaign. As much as we miss those girls there’s plenty more opportunities for the girls here and I’ve been in the squad for a long time so I’ve seen plenty more changes than just those faces – we do miss them but we have to move on.”
A growing league
With the SWPL not historically one of the strongest leagues in Europe, many players have found themselves travelling abroad for a more competitive environment, Love almost entirely faithful to her home league. A short stint with the Donny Belles one of the few exceptions, the adventure not necessarily one she would have undertaken if not for two familiar names.
“Primarily it was because Shelley and Pauline Hammell were there at the time and they were looking for a midfielder, I’m not sure if it was them who’d put my name forward or not. But it was good, I had a great time, I’m not sure whether I would have done it myself but it was nice to have familiar faces around, we used to travel down together so it was really good. It was literally just for the weekend, just for the games, or if we could get down during the week – I was studying at university, Shelley and Pauline had full time jobs at the time as well so it was really difficult to fit it in.”
2017 saw Glasgow City claim their 12 league title, an unprecedented achievement for a club founded in 1998, the first name in women’s football in Scotland things are changing at home. The league still a long way off but moving in the right direction.
“It’s really close now, Hibs are definitely our closest rivals this year and they took the two cups this year and for me that says a lot about the Scottish game. For as much as Glasgow used to always run away with it, now the league has become really close and we’ve got some great talent. And it’s shown because pretty much all the girls in this squad now have come through the Scottish league and they’ve stood out and it’s stood them in good stead.”
But is it a better thing for players to leave the SWPL in search of a better standard, thereby weakening what’s left or does it only go to benefit the national team?
“I think it’s a bit of both. For girls to have the opperunity to play professional football is great for them and it’s obviously what they want and it’s not their fault they can’t do that in Scotland and it’s sorry to see them leave because we obviously want the best competition to be part of the Scottish league. But hopefully in years to come we’ll get forward and we’ll become professional and they’ll be able to do that at home.”
Caps and tournaments
Having just stepped onto the pitch with Scotland for the 183 time, Love can still remember her debut sixteen years ago… just.
“I don’t really, it was a long time ago but you’re always going to remember your first cap but I don’t remember the intricacies. It was against Canada at the Algarve Cup in 2002 and I got my 100th against Canada too, so that was nice.”
Twenty caps behind record-holder Gemma Fay, the midfielder refuses to look to the goalkeeper’s total as a target.
“Definitely not, that’s an amazing achievement from Gemma, I’m just going to try and play here for as long as I can and when I’m no longer required or of any use to this squad I’ll step on. We’ve got great talent coming through and time will be up one day but I’m just going to stick in as long as I can and hopefully play the games when I’m here but I’m certainly not setting myself up for a downfall, eyeing up Gemma’s number of caps.”
With all the players she’s come through the squad with having retired, the last remaining trio hanging up their international boots at the conclusion of the Euros, Love admits she took pause on whether or not her time was up.
“It did cross my mind, I have to say, it was a long slog, getting to the Euros and I work full time back home and just taking everything into consideration and I’m pushing on a bit now but football is what I love doing and for Shelley to give me the opportunity to still be in the squad, I wasn’t going to throw that away.”
2017 marked the first major tournament (in the modern era) for Scotland, their early exit from the tournament with one win from three not quite the outing they had hoped for.
“I think we dealt okay with it, more so because our last game was our most successful, so for us to end on a high; if there’s any good way for us to go out, that was it, winning that last game because the first two games had let us down. It was quite ironic actually that we came so close to getting through actually, so we weren’t too disappointed, it was our first tournament and by the end of it we had proved our worth.”
A bruising 6-0 loss to southern neighbours England and a shock 2-1 loss to lowest-ranked team at the tournament, Portugal doing their damage before the Scots bounced back with a win over Spain, a strong finish not enough to see the side recover from the initial losses.
“I think it would be unfair to say we gave a good account of ourselves because of the work everyone had put in, to come away with such a disappointing result – especially the first match and we did think we had the beating of Portugal as well. No one has gone out there to not perform at their best but it didn’t happen for us as a team and it was unfortunate that day but it was nice to see the character of the Scottish come through and pick it up by the end of the tournament.”
With the Euros a wholly new experience for the team – bar defender Dieke who’d taken part in the 2012 Olympics and coach Signeul – the team only learnt from the rigors of the tournament.
“Our coach Anna had been to tournaments before with the various squads she’s taken charge of but there was a bit of anticipation as to what was going to happen but we knew we were going there to play against the best teams in Europe and we were prepared for that and with the tournament, we dealt with the apprehension well and as a squad it just made us closer.”
The squad continues to take shape under new its new coach and Love is happy to be part of the side who are putting everything in place to move up the rankings and become a real team to be reckoned with.
“We’re out to entertain this year, hopefully, we’ve got a lot to learn and it’s going to take time and not happen overnight but we’re looking to become a bit more attacking whilst still keeping our solid shape in defence. We’re really looking to cause teams (higher ranked than us) problems as we’ve maybe sat a bit deeper against them in the past and let them come on us. Now we’re trying to take it to the next level.”