Jill Scott: “I’ve Realised the Fight for Women’s Football is Never Over”

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On the 25 May, the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao, Spain was filled to the brim with eager football fans ready to watch Barcelona vs Lyon at the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final. After a tense match, Barcelona went on to lift their third European trophy following a 2-0 victory. The atmosphere in the stadium and on the streets of Bilbao after the game was electric. And there was one British football icon who couldn’t miss it for the world – Jill Scott, MBE.

Ahead of the final, PS UK sat down with Scott at Bilbao’s NH hotel. “It used to be so easy to get tickets to women’s games and now everything’s sold out,” she says with a smile. As a former professional footballer for England and Manchester City, Scott’s watched the scale of women’s football evolve in the last few years both in the UK with the Lionesses and globally – and she couldn’t be prouder. “I think this is something that I’ve wanted from day one,” she tells PS UK. “It’s been a fight to get here from a very early age. It doesn’t matter what team you support. Obviously I was with Man City for eight years but if I see Chelsea or Arsenal drawing in a big crowd, it’s a win for us all. It’s just so great to see that the women’s game is finally getting recognised as it should’ve been for years.”

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When it comes to football fans, many people still hold a negative image of what they look like. But alongside Heineken’s Cheers to the Hardcore Fans campaign, Scott is attempting to redefine what a dedicated football fan really looks like. She reminisces about when she played for Everton between 2006 and 2013 when there were 2,000 fans that came to support the in-person games. As we are now seeing sold-out stadiums and record-breaking numbers for women’s football, the former footballer wants those “core values” in fans to remain. “Back then there were smaller crowds and you could probably could give them a lot more of your time. Now, as the crowds have got bigger, I’m really proud that the women’s game has really held on to just being positive,” she explains.

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Although she’s one the biggest names in the sport, Scott is extremely humble, down-to-earth and warm. She reminisces on the biggest moments in her career from winning the Euros in 2022 with the Lionesses, to making her England debut and says her success is down to a lot of hard work and not just physical, but mental strength. “When it’s been a dream of yours to play at that level, I always thought ‘I’m never going to waste a moment waiting or regretting anything,'” she says. “I always remember the amount of hard work that it took to play at that level. I was always an average player who worked hard and I know it was down to the hard work that got me there.”

“It’s just so great to see that the women’s game is finally getting recognised as it should’ve been for years.”

She admits that as she progressed into her career, she struggled more mentally going into games. “Yeah, mentally it can be tough to play at the elite level,” she says. “I probably got more anxious and nervous about games the older I got because the talent coming through was another level and I was trying to keep up with them. But whenever I got to put that England shirt on, it was always the best moment of my life.”

Now the former footballer is working behind the scenes, rather than on the pitch, and Scott is making it her mission to do the important work needed for the sport she still deeply loves. “I think what I’ve realised is that the fight for women’s football is never really over. When you step away from the pitch, there is still a fight.” Scott is now a football pundit, and there has always been a disproportionate amount of negativity towards her compared to the male pundits.

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She explains: “It’s not a secret that on social media, women involved in football do get more stick than the men. With Heineken, I did a Social Swap campaign, which was absolutely brilliant in highlighting that people definitely have gender bias when responding to people on on social media.” Scott reveals that even leading up to the campaign, she received a lot of discriminatory comments online:”I couldn’t believe some of the comments I was getting on social media before I’d even said something. There were comments like, ‘Get back in the kitchen.’ I can’t believe some people still hold these opinions.”

“Mentally it can be tough to play at the elite level. I got more anxious and nervous about games the older I got because the talent coming through was another level.”

However, she’s never let the opinions of those on social media effect her as a player – and that isn’t changing now. Scott tells PS UK: “If I’m being completely honest, I don’t let social media get me down because I’ve kind of learned how to see the positives in it. I don’t go on the apps and read the comments.” When she was a footballer, she also didn’t read too much into the online chatter: “As a footballer, I had the attitude that if the manager or my teammates had any feedback for me, then that was what mattered really.” She says the key is learning how to utilise the apps: “Sometimes as a human, naturally, I could tell you 100 good things about yourself and then I could tell you one bad thing and you would focus on the bad thing. So, it’s about tailoring it and making it work for you.” However, Scott does think social media can be can be fantastic tool to connect with hardcore football fans. She says: “It can be a great way to connect with positive fans – they share some inspiring stories online.”

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For Scott, the fans have always been the lifeblood of the game: “Sometimes fans might not think that they make that much of a difference. But I can honestly say sitting here that without the fans rallying behind us and being so passionate, we would not have lifted that Euros 2022 trophy.” If she had a message for football fans it would be: “Think about your actions being positive because you can truly be the difference between your team winning and losing and ultimately, you want your team to win.”

Aaliyah Harry (she/her) is the associate editor at PS UK. She writes extensively across lifestyle, culture and beauty. Aaliyah also has a deep passion for telling stories and giving voice to the voiceless. Previously, she has contributed to Refinery29, Grazia UK and The Voice Newspaper.

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