Jill Scott has seen a lot of changes during her 16-year international career. The veteran midfielder is competing in her 10th major tournament – four Euros, four World Cups and two Olympics – and conditions are a far cry from her first outing with England.
When Scott was a kid, she would wrap 5p coins in a bit of paper to try and nab an extra go on the basketball arcade machines when she had run out of money. Now the team have one on hand, with the FA having built an environment at The Lensbury Hotel in London, where they will be based for the Euros, that is tailored to giving them everything they need on and off the pitch to perform.
“The preparation has been fantastic,” says the 35-year-old before England’s second group game against Norway on Monday night. “To see what the FA has done for us down here is incredible. We have a relaxation room which has got darts and we’ve even got one of them basketball things that you get at the amusements, so I’ll definitely be playing on that. It’ll be taking us back to my Sunderland days.”
When Scott started out England players, in four regions, would train in local prisons, which provided the best strength and conditioning equipment. But Scott’s exuberance got the better of her on one occasion, she recalls. “Yeah, I did get chucked out of that prison gym, I think that was for being too sociable,” she says with a grin.
“I had a great work ethic but also a cheeky side. Maybe in the past that got me in trouble but now I’d like to think I add value to the environment off the pitch by being a bit cheeky now and then.”
Scott made her debut in 2006 and central contracts for England players were introduced in 2009. “I do feel fortunate that it gave me a chance to start to train part-time with that contract in place,” she says. “Before that, my friends that I still have now – Rachel Brown-Finnis, Rachel Yankey, legends of the game – I know a lot of them were still working and playing for England and had to ask for leave to go and play for their country.
“I count myself very grateful for training and going professional with Manchester City at the age of 26. There were times when it was difficult. When I played for Everton at the beginning, I was coaching up in Sunderland and had to drive there three times a week. There wasn’t any money in the game. It was a case of beg, steal or borrow. I remember asking my mum for £50 regularly to fill up my Peugeot 106, which had four gears, and I would head down the M62 with a big AA roadmap – that’s probably showing my age but that’s what you did.
“It would be a case of [asking my friends]: ‘Has anyone got a bed for the night?’ so you could stay over and train the next day. It was difficult and if I was asked to do it now, I don’t know if I could. But that was the reality. I’d never go back and change my journey and I’m so grateful that there are things in place so the younger girls don’t have to go through that. I know it’s different. It’s fantastic to see the game where it is now.”
The midfielder, who is a free agent after leaving City at the end of the season, has seen a lot, but she was still awed by the Old Trafford crowd for England’s opening fixture of the tournament, the 1-0 defeat of Austria. Less so because of the numbers there, more because of how engaged the fans were.
“There were so many kids that had the women’s kit on and stuff like that, so you could see that they were specifically there for the women’s team. You could really feel that yesterday,” she says. “I’m not saying it means more to me, because I don’t mean that, but in this journey I’ve been on with England, 16 years, it was a really special moment.
“I had a cup of tea at about 1am [the morning after] because I just couldn’t sleep thinking about it all. Every tournament has been so different.
“[Women’s football has] come a long way and everyone involved in women’s football – the players, the volunteers, the people that run teams, the journalists that have followed the game for years for very little money – yesterday was a moment for everybody involved and I’m just hoping we can make more of those moments over the next three and a half weeks.
“There’s a good feeling about this one, especially with it being in England. A great start but we don’t want to get too carried away just yet.”