With 88 minutes on the Wembley clock and the score finely balanced at 1-1, England manager Sarina Wiegman’s side needed a boost to stop their Euros dream disintegrating under the relentless pressure from a German team rejuvenated by a 79th-minute equaliser.
Enter veteran midfielder and all-round force of nature Jill Scott.
Ten minutes later, with the Women’s Euro 2022 final still in flux, a pivotal clash altered the course of the match – and changed English football history.
Unceremoniously dumped to the Wembley turf by Germany and Bayern Munich’s Sydney Lohmann, Scott sprang up and let her opponent know what she thought of the challenge in no uncertain terms. Her salty language, deciphered via lip readers, delighted fans watching at home and clearly galvanised her weary England team mates.
Within minutes, invigorated by Scott’s passion, striker Chloe Kelly stabbed the ball across the line and, after 20 minutes of
flawless time wasting, England were champions of Europe.
Ten months later it’s fair to say that Scott, a feisty 36-year-old who retired shortly after the final, has lost none of her passion. “I would practically have killed when I was on that football pitch,” she admits.
“But I’ve no regrets at retiring. I played in a couple of charity games last week, including one next to Paul Scholes in midfield – that’s my childhood dream achieved.
“But I’ve been hobbling around for about five days since, so I know I couldn’t have carried on because of my knee.”
The Sunderland-born player is the second most-capped woman in English football history, with 161 appearances. She finally hung up her boots last August after an 18-year career and trophies galore for Everton and Manchester City before helping England win the Euros.
Standing five foot 11, and nicknamed “Crouchie” by her teammates because she once did a robot dance after scoring (like her colleague Peter), Scott has always been chatty both on and off the pitch, as millions of TV viewers discovered last autumn when she talked her way to the I’m A Celebrity… crown.
Talking about the challenges she has faced during and post-football, the former midfielder explains how in her England days she was often the first to offer support to teammates who might be feeling the pressure.
“I was always the one who wanted to go and grab a coffee because I could tell if someone was feeling a little bit down,” she tells the Daily Express.
“Having those conversations can really help. I’m a massive believer in talking, I probably talk too much.”
A career working alongside elite sports psychologists might have armed her with considerable mental resilience. Yet she recently had to overcome her own challenges when a campaign she was working on left her feeling almost paralysed with agitation.
“I experienced real anxiety for the first time,” she admits. “The way it unfolded made me feel out of control in a way I’d not experienced before. Things were being said on Twitter that I wasn’t used to.
“People were telling me, ‘Just don’t look at social media,’ but it draws you in. Even though there might have been 20 positive comments to every negative one, it’s the bad ones that stick in your mind.”
She felt anxious about everything. “I was going to events and overthinking everything. ‘Why am I going?’ ‘Who is going to be there?’ ‘Why am I involved at all?’”
“Everything just felt overwhelming. I was doing two or three events a day, which normally I’m fine with, but it got to the point where I was like, ‘Do I even want to go to this today?”
While Scott admits her own mental health issues were minor compared to some sufferers, she believes the experience gave her insight. “I appreciate this is probably not even 10 percent of the anxiety some people experience, but it’s helped me relate to their feelings. I’m lucky enough that, for me, it didn’t escalate.”
She approached the problem by writing down lists of what she needed to achieve each day. “Then nothing seemed so overwhelming,” she explains.
“I ticked them off and made sure I had a proper debrief and a cup of tea at the end of the day. It gave me that sense of, ‘Well done Jill, you’ve got through it.’”
Since her retirement, Scott has been a regular football pundit for the BBC and, in July, will cover the England team travelling to Australia for the women’s World Cup.
The transition from player to pundit has thrown up a depressingly predictable challenge however: in the male-dominated world of football, sexism is rife, especially when she talks about the men’s game.
“It’s true to say that, as soon as a woman comments on a men’s game, you’re definitely exposed to a lot more negative comments,” she sighs.
“When I got the opportunity, I was very close to saying no, as I was thinking: ‘Do I really want to put myself out there and deal with people saying I don’t know what I’m talking about, before the microphone is even anywhere near my mouth?’ I thought, ‘Do I have the energy to take this on?’
“But it’s so important for the next generation of women coming through that today’s generation make ourselves as visible as
possible. And that’s already happening with fantastic broadcasters like Alex Scott, Karen Carney and Fara Williams.”
Scott, voted the FA Player of the Year in 2008 and the FA International Player of The Year three years later, believes she and her female colleagues have already “battered down” many barriers to success in women’s football.
“I suppose the sad thing is that those barriers don’t stop when you stop playing football,” she adds. “But compared to when I started my career, things have shifted exponentially.
“On the one hand, we’re feeling grateful that we’re finally getting to play in packed stadiums and saying, ‘Thanks for giving us these’. But we’ve got to keep pushing as well.
“We’re certainly heading in the right direction. Transfer records are being smashed and the game is in a great place. But, one day, I’d like to think there would be parity in male and female players’ wages.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, and I’m excited about the future of the women’s game. Imagine where it could be in 20 years.” Keen to use the platform that success has given her, Scott was delighted to be part of Mental Health Awareness Week
earlier this month.
“It’s just such an important part of us as humans that sometimes we neglect,” she says. “If it’s something physical we can see, people tend to go to the doctor, but with your head it’s easier to hide things. I’ve known people who have struggled in the past and maybe haven’t opened up. That’s why it’s so close to my heart.”
Scott’s other new enterprise is a community coffee shop in north Manchester called Boxx2Boxx – a nod to her playing days when she controlled the midfield.
She runs it with her fiancée, Shelly Unitt, and can sometimes be spotted serving customers their morning lattes. “My schedule is so busy at the moment, I probably only do about two shifts a month,” says Scott.
“So I can’t take much credit as Shelly is there all the time. She’s always joking, ‘You started this shop, then you’ve just nipped off and left me’. But it’s going really well, and it’s become a really positive hub for the community.”
It’s also been the venue for several rendezvous between Scott and her old football colleagues on both sides of Manchester’s blue and red divide.
“I’m still great mates with loads of the United girls like Ella Toone and Alessia Russo. Even though we’ve always been fiercely competitive on the pitch, once the game is over we’re all friends and I think that sort of camaraderie extends to the fans at women’s games too.
“I definitely think the crowds at men’s games are a lot more hostile and that’s sad really. Why would you want to go to a football game to just shout horrible things and sometimes even be violent? When that sort of thing is happening, I think you start questioning what is going on at home.”
Scott’s own domestic life appears blissful by comparison. Marriage to Shelly is on the horizon, the couple just aren’t sure when.
“There’s no exclusive wedding date to give you,” she confides with a smile.
“We need to just plan on seeing each other at the minute. But yeah, in the future, obviously. I think we just need time to have that conversation. But more family time is definitely a priority over the next few years.”
Having gained a UEFA coaching licence, Scott is already a youth coach at Manchester City and says she would love to work at a high level. Might she even fancy a tilt at the top job as the eventual manager of the England women’s team?
“There’s a lot of people in the queue before me for that job,” she admits. But I certainly wouldn’t say no to working within the national team. Long term, yes, obviously, that’s the dream.”
- Jill Scott supported Zizzi’s #ToHelpMyAnxiety campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. For more information visit mentalhealth.org.uk
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