At Hampden Park on Tuesday 28th May 2019, we saw former Scotland National players awarded caps for the first time. This included pioneers such as Rose Reilly and Elsie Cook. It was a fitting moment, justifiably celebrating the pioneers of the girls’ and women’s game.
While their time playing the beatiful game may now have passed, there is still a large number of senior players who continue to play within Scottish Women’s Football (SWF). In total, 17 players over the age of 40 play within SWF and a further 108 are over 30 years of age.
We spoke to three of the oldest players still playing within SWF. If you’re inspired by their stories, find a team or club near you by clicking here.
Ellen Grieve, Orkney WFC
Position: Left-sided central defender nowadays, ideal position is centre-half or old-fashioned left half.
How long have you been playing women’s football?: I started in 1977 when I was 16 with Craigneuk Ladies in the Scottish Second Division. They were the closest team to Coatbridge where I grew up. I had only played with boys and men up until then since making my debut playing for my street at four years old in 1965! So, that will be 42 years playing in women’s football and 54 years in competitive football.
What got you into playing women’s football?: Football has always been my first love and it took years of being the only girl playing in Coatbridge for me to realise that it wasn’t really acceptable to play in the same team as the boys. My primary school team refused to play without me in 1970 in the George V Cup and the Rousay team withdrew from the Parish Cup when I wasn’t allowed to play in 1987. All I ever wanted to do was play football and when Craigneuk advertised for players in 1977 nothing was going to stop me. I used to walk from Coatbridge to Motherwell on a Sunday morning, play a game and then walk back again. I think it was something like seven or eight miles each way and took me about two-and-half hours before and after the game. I loved away games when sometimes I would get picked up enroute!
What have been the major changes you’ve noticed in the development of women’s football?: Huge changes. In 1977 there were only 20 teams playing in Scotland and we played on public parks and sometimes red ash pitches. Travel to games was generally in the back of an old van which sometimes doubled as a changing room. There were some great players but we were never really encouraged or given the opportunity to play at a higher level.
I was asked about playing in Italy in 1978 but my mum wouldn’t let me go! I attended a couple of Scotland training days in 1979 but moved to Orkney in 1980 where there was no affiliated ladies teams and no further chance of international football opportunities. There were very few international games in the 1970’s. Women’s football wasn’t taken seriously by anybody in Scotland then apart from the few of us who played.
What has drawn you to keep playing women’s football?: Love for the game, when I wasn’t allowed to play football with the men in Orkney and there was no women’s football until the mid 1980s I sat my referee exams and refereed the men’s football instead just to be involved in football in some way.
What do you think can be done to encourage more women to continue playing football for longer?: Possibly if they see that it is possible to still contribute something to the game at an older age and that experience can compensate greatly for youthful exuberance then they might feel encouraged. Sometimes it means changing role or position to compensate a bit for the reduction in speed. I was never that fast, I was more of a thinking, hard-tackling player.
What your aims and ambitions for this year with the club?: To continue to play and help develop the Orkney women’s team to improve in readiness for joining the Highlands and Islands league. I love seeing the youngsters develop and improve and maybe one day Orkney might produce a Scottish international player!
I’ve also played for 54 years without even getting booked so it would be nice to keep that record but the game is different now and it gets a bit harder to stay totally committed and avoid bookings. In the meantime so long as I can play and share my love for the game, I’m happy.
How long do you hope to continue playing women’s football?: For as long as I feel that I am making a contribution to the team. I think that the day I play a game and don’t get in a few good tackles or blocks, I’ll try training and working harder and if that doesn’t work I might have to quietly slip away. Maybe with a return to refereeing then who knows. I’m 57 now so I feel lucky and privileged to play at all and put in 200% effort every time I put on my boots in case it just happens to be the last time. Mind you I’ve been doing that for the last 20 years!
Finally, what would you say to other women who are thinking of maybe coming back to play football?: Don’t put it off, do it now and put in the extra effort to get back, you won’t regret it. Remember, experience gives you that extra yard! I wouldn’t swap my football memories for anything.
ALLISON BLACK, Stewarton United
How long have you been playing women’s football?: On and off now for 44 years!
What got you into playing women’s football?: I was approached by Elsie Cook who saw me kicking a ball around when I was nine years old. She asked if I wanted to play for a girls team and my obvious response was total excitement.
What have been the major changes you’ve noticed in the development of women’s football?: I think mostly for me it’s the opportunity for a girl to follow her dream , without negativity or prejudice! Over the years the footballing dream has slowly opened to everyone. It’s been a long time coming but it’s amazing that the women’s game is now more than ever in the fore front of the media, tv etc
What has drawn you to keep playing women’s football?: To be honest it’s just the love for the game and the desire to be able to contribute on some level and of course to be part of such a wonderful set up at S.U.L.
What do you think can be done to encourage more women to continue playing football for longer?: From an older generations perspective it would be terrific to have a over 40’s league but in reality that’s difficult to execute but we did have a wee joke about rolling substitutions for the over 40’s which might encourage older players to participate more as I think some at that age might find 90 mins daunting !
How has the 2019 season been so far?: Fantastic! As a team unit we have grown so much. We have an excellent squad , all talented girls and a terrific coaching staff. Couldn’t ask for better.
What your aims and ambitions for this year with the club?: To play as much as I can to the best of my ability and help this newly formed club develop and grow and hopefully we will reap some reward.
How long do you hope to continue playing women’s football?: As long as my legs allow!!
Finally, what would you say to other women who are thinking of maybe coming back to play football?: Get your boots on girls! You’re never too old, I’m testament to that!
FIONA ANGUS, Caithness
How long have you been playing women’s football?: When I was at school I used to have a kick about with some local boys but was not allowed to play for the school team. Girls weren’t allowed to play football! In my mid-teens, the local youth club had a girls 5-a side team but we only got to play in a couple of competitions a year. There were no other opportunities for me to play football. So for around 30 years I was ‘unsigned’. Then I heard about Caithness Ladies FC and a friend suggested I should come along to training. I’ve only really been playing for the last four years or so.
What got you into playing women’s football?: I have always liked football and have very clear memories of watching and wanting to play football while still in primary school. As I mentioned before the opportunity to play football when I was younger was almost non-existent. When I found out that there was a local ladies team I went to training initially as an enjoyable way to keep fit. It turns out that even in your 40s with the right coach you can gain new skills and improve existing ones. Although my football skills may be limited compared to other players, I enjoy being able to bring some experience after years of watching football.
What have been the major changes you’ve noticed in the development of women’s football?: The changes are enormous. We have gone from girls not being allowed to play football to having players who can say football is their full time job. My cousin, Loren Campbell, played for Scotland while at school and got the chance to play all over Europe including Italy, Spain and Croatia.
I got to travel to Fort William once. The coverage Women’s football gets in the media has increased significantly in the last 3 or 4 years as well.
The standard of football has improved and the achievements of the national team are incredible.
What has drawn you to keep playing women’s football?: I enjoy the atmosphere at the club, the team members are great fun to be around. It is also a good way to try and keep fit and forget how old I actually am.
What do you think can be done to encourage more women to continue playing football for longer?: I think we need to recognise and understand the different reasons women have for stopping playing and the different mind set they may have. It is not just about family commitments and the practicality of training and playing away fixtures, confidence and self-esteem are a factor as well. I took around a year to turn up to training after first being told about it. I think raising the profile of older player and returning players will be a great help.
How has the 2019 season been so far?: We have only had a couple of matches but everything is going well so far. Morale and enthusiasm amongst the players is good. The distances we have to travel this year are significantly less this year which has helped.
What your aims and ambitions for this year with the club?: This is our second year playing in a competitive league. Our main focus is to have a consistent competitive squad available for each fixture and to grow the club membership as a whole. We want to make sure we have strong foundations for the club to ensure we remain within the league set up for years to come.
How long do you hope to continue playing women’s football?: I haven’t thought about it, maybe until an injury stops me or the rest of the team have had enough of me.
Finally, what would you say to other women who are thinking of maybe coming back to play football?: Don’t let fear stop you, whether that is the fear of not being good enough, not being fit enough or what someone else may say or think.