by Craig Wright
June 23, 1998. It might not be the first date to spring to mind when you think of Scottish football, but it’s most certainly a significant one. It’s the night on which, in front of a crowd of over 30,000 in Saint Etienne, Scotland made their most recent appearance at a major tournament.
For a bit of context, Saving Private Ryan was still the best part of three months away from being released in UK cinemas, B*Witched were sitting pretty in the UK top five with C’est La Vie, and the two-pound coin had only been released into general circulation six days previously. It’s been that long.
That nineteen-year barren run is about to end, though. For the first time since that fateful night in France, Scotland will be represented in a major footballing tournament.
Making their debut on the big stage, Scotland’s women open their Euro 2017 campaign against England in Utrecht on Wednesday night. Whilst Anna Signeul’s side will unquestionably begin the match as underdogs, – Scotland are currently 21st in the FIFA world rankings, compared to the ‘Auld Enemy’ in fifth – there is a sense of excitement as the Tartan Army prepare to make their mark.
With the tournament marking Signeul’s swansong as Scotland’s head coach, – the Swede will step down following proceedings in the Netherlands, to be replaced by the university’s own Shelley Kerr – preparations have been hampered somewhat by the loss of key players to injury. 2016 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year Kim Little, for so long the team’s talisman, was cruelly struck down by a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in May, whilst defender Jen Beattie and striker Lizzie Arnot were also ruled out by injury in the weeks leading up to the squad announcement.
Yet Scotland supporters have cause for optimism, not least due to the sensational form in qualifying of University of Stirling alumnus Jane Ross. The Manchester City striker’s ten goals were a major factor in the success of Signeul’s side, and will be looking to add to her international tally over the coming weeks. Attacking threat will also be provided by Christie Murray, scorer of the winning goal in their final warm-up win over the Republic of Ireland, and Hayley Lauder, influential in creating opportunities from midfield.
On the defensive side of operations, Signeul is able to call upon one of Scotland’s most remarkable footballers to lead her squad. Having made her international debut in 1998, Gemma Fay’s appearance against the Republic of Ireland earlier this month took her tally of caps to 200, and confirmed her place in Scottish footballing legend. Marshalling a defence including 2012 Olympian Ifeoma Dieke and the impressive Vaila Barsley, Fay will be looking to lay a solid foundation for Scotland’s aspirations throughout the tournament.
Placed in a group with Spain and fellow debutants Portugal, in addition to tournament joint-favourites England, Signeul and her squad know that they will have to fight for every point. Yet with two teams to progress to the quarter-finals, there is a sense of cautious optimism from players and supporters alike. Let’s not get too carried away, however – instead, let’s enjoy these moments. As Scotland supporters know all too well, they don’t come around too often…