Right, we’re not crying. I promised myself.
Today, I may be saying my goodbyes to football, but we’re going to make this a celebration. No sad faces!! We’ve had too much fun for any tears.
Maybe it’s because I’m from Sunderland, but two things have always been true about me: I’ve always been stubborn, and I’ve always loved football. It’s been in my blood ever since I was five years old. I saw a load of boys playing in the school yard and I walked straight up to them and said the four magic words….
“Can I play too?”
Three years later, I got my picture in the local newspaper. My mam brought home the Sunderland Echo and there was a scruffy little girl in the middle of a gang of boys, smiling away with her trophy. The headline said: JILL IS PROUD TO BE A MAN. (I got Man of the Match at a boys tournament). And I remember I was fuming because the organisers of the tournament were so embarrassed and they told my mam, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll change it so it says Girl of the Match.”
I said, “No!!! They’ll think I got it for being the only girl!!! Leave it!!! I’m the Man of the Match!!!”
I give my mam a lot of credit, because I had a dream that didn’t even exist yet, and she supported me anyway. The next year, the club told me I couldn’t play for them anymore — it was only for boys — and I remember stuffing my face into the settee cushions and crying my eyes out because I thought my world had literally crumbled. I cried for so long that the leather of the sofa was stuck to my face. But my mam said, “Don’t worry, we’ll find you another team.”
Football was simply my life, and I could barely even sit still for tea before I ran back outside to play. I’d wolf it down in five minutes and then run from house to house knocking on all the neighbours’ doors trying to recruit as many of the boys as I could, pestering all the parents — “Is Craig coming out? Is Mark coming out?”
If nobody was up for a game, I’d just kick about in the back lanes by myself. If the ball flew over a fence and the neighbour wasn’t around to throw it back, I’d just run sprints back and forth from one wall to the other. And you have to imagine the back lanes in Sunderland — they’re maybe 10 metres wide, tops. Run, touch the wall, run to the other wall. Back and forth in a grubby lane! I’d be doing this for hours, until dark. That was just my fitness routine.
At the weekend, there was a special at the local pub where if you bought a pint, they’d give you a token for a free bus ride to the Stadium of Light. So my grandpa would go for a drink, and at noon I’d run up the hill to meet him and we’d ride the bus to watch Sunderland play. I was that kid who collected every match programme, the one begging all the players for autographs (and judging the ones who were too cool to sign.)
I remember when I was 13, I begged my mam to let me go see England vs. Turkey at the Stadium of Light. It was a late kickoff, and I had a curfew, but I begged and I begged, “Please let us go!” and finally she said, “Alright, but be back by 10.”
Long story short: Stayed ’til 11 waiting outside the car park. Got David Beckham’s autograph. He had the blonde highlights and everything. He saw me holding up a poster that I'd pulled out from an old football magazine. I was holding it out through the gate with me long arms (thank God for them) and he came right over.
I ended up back home around midnight. Mam was none too pleased with us, but I just remember folding up the poster in my back pocket so she wouldn’t tear it up and thinking, “Right, ground me for a month. Don’t care. Best day of my life.”
When you love football, it’s not rational. You pour everything you have into it, and it’s like you don’t even notice that you’re doing it. I’ll never forget, when I was about 18 or 19 years old, I was trying to break into the England team, and Hope Powell said something to all of us players that is so true:
“If you want to play for England, you have to be obsessed.”
When I was younger, I didn’t really understand what she meant. But looking back on my career now, and what a ridiculous journey it has been, she was absolutely right. I remember when I was playing with my first professional club at Sunderland, we didn’t even have our own kit. The men’s team used to give us their gear from the season before, so it was like a free-for-all to grab what you could. I remember rummaging through the laundry bags because there was a physio by the name of Jocky Scott, and so I’d try to grab his stuff so I could have the JS initials on my shorts. The shorts were so long on us they looked like three quarter lengths, and the red jumpers had been washed so many times that they’d faded to pink, but we were just grateful for whatever we could get.
On away days, we had this rented minibus from the 1980s — the kind where they had the dodgy little lamps at every table where you’d pull the string to turn them on — and we’d literally stop six or seven times on the side of the motorway to pick up the players. Not even at a service station or anything. Just stood on the side of the road, waving. Everybody had a full-time job. These were teachers, policewomen, caterers. But above all, footballers. I remember we used to always stay at a Premier Inn, and it would be four of us to a room. Two in the double bed, one on the settee, and one on the little kiddie pullout bed.
But you know what? Those were the absolute best times. I would go back there in a heartbeat. That’s the God’s honest truth. As a young player, those Everton girls took me under their wing and shaped who I am today. I remember we used to get to the room on a Saturday and race to switch on Match of the Day. All of us crowded around the little TV, drinking a cup of tea, just having a ball.
We’d get back home the next night at two o’clock in the morning, and half the women had to be up for work at six, but they loved it. We all did. If you don’t love it, you don’t last. You can’t. The dream is what sustains you.
I may be saying my goodbyes to football, but we’re going to make this a celebration. No sad faces!! We’ve had too much fun for any tears.- Jill Scott
God, this is so embarrassing, but if I can’t embarrass myself during my retirement announcement, when can I really? When I was playing for Everton, I remember I used to make these long drives on the M62 from Sunderland to Liverpool. Just to set the scene for you, I had this legendary Peugeot 106 with alloy wheels, and the radio was broken, and I was always losing my MP3 player, so for the three hour drive I’d pass the time by interviewing myself.
Not in my head. Out loud. I’d be both the interviewer and myself. I was just thinking, One day, this will come in handy….
“Jill, you got a big match coming up this weekend against Arsenal. How’s the team feeling?”
“Yeah, well, obviously it’s a massive opportunity for us….”
Picture this all happening as I’m cruising down the M62 in my little Peugeot, but I’ve also got packets of Dairylea Lunchables and Yazoo milkshakes all over the back seat, because I’ve just stopped off for tea at the petrol station.
Just incredibly serious and professional. Eating a ham and cheese Lunchable, using the Yazoo bottle as a microphone, talking about, “Well, the manager really had us working hard in training this week….”
This was my life. Just surviving, definitely not thriving. I had stopped going to university. I had spent about £20,000 in student loans on petrol.
Imagine, if you would have told me back then that I’d go on to play for England for 16 years?
If you would have told me that I’d live to see 90,000 people packed into Wembley Stadium for a women's European final?
And that I’d be playing in it?
You know what’s funny? This last chapter was almost not written for me. As I was rehabbing from my knee injury, the final team selection for the Euros was looming, and I really had no idea if I was going to make it in. I remember when they called us into Sarina’s office one by one to give us the news, I was so nervous that I’d drunk three Flat Whites in the cafeteria and when I sat down across from Sarina, I was literally shaking.
She said, “Jill, what’s the matter with you?”
I said, “Well, I had three coffees but also I’m nervous so I’m not sure which.”
She said, “You’re going.”
It was just such a massive relief for me, because at 35 years old, I knew it was my last go. I just wanted to give absolutely everything I had left to this team, no matter what that meant.
That tournament … what can I even say?
I am just a big ball of disbelief, even now. I have a gold medal. I can’t stop looking at it, three weeks later. It’s so heavy. It’s so real. I keep dropping it, and I have to ask myself: Was I really there? Did this really happen? Did I really swear live on TV?? Did I really hug Prince William?
I think he broke royal protocol when he gave us this big cuddle, but you could see it in his face — he was just so happy for us. He’s followed our journey all the way along. I just kept saying to him “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.”
When I got my MBE I never got to go to Buckingham Palace, because of Covid. Maybe now he can invite me back and he can present us with it.
But it was not just the final. There were so many moments from that tournament when I was sat there, looking around the stadium in our first game, seeing 70,000 people packed into Old Trafford for a women's football match, seeing all the banners and the atmosphere and the emotion … and I’d just think to myself: Look how far we’ve come.
When I had moved to Man City, I was just literally amazed that they even washed our kits. Everyone was getting annoyed with me, because I kept saying it.
“They wash our kits??? They really wash our kits???”
“Jill, shut up!!! Yes they wash the kits. You deserve to have your kit washed.”
Just being able to train like a full professional was magic. (I can hear Nick Cushing shouting, “Jill Scott needs her touches on the ball!!” Without Nick helping me reinvent my career at 26, I wouldn’t have gone on to have another nine years with England. Thank you, Nick.)
Until I was 26, it was a luxury just to be able to get my touches every day. So to see 90,000 people at Wembley for the final against Germany, it was indescribable. Being on the bench for the first half, a part of me was sat there like a fan. I mean, England might actually win something??? Ten minutes into the match, I had to remind myself that I’m not a kid in the stands watching Michael Owen against Argentina or something. I’m really part of the team.
There’s a photo from the start of the match and you can see that everyone else is on the bench smiling and taking in the moment, and I’m just sat there so nervous, thinking: COME ON, England.
The best thing that happened to me was when they called me to warm up in the 77th minute, because at least then I was in control of something. I just snapped out of it and could concentrate on doing my job. I knew what I had to do: Go in there and smash as many players as I could. Close them down. Run my socks off. Shut up shop.
I just wanted to win so, so, so badly, and there was a moment in the game where I lost my head a little bit … which has gone a bit viral and has been turned into mugs and t-shirts (that are currently sitting in my grandma’s house.) Obviously, I wish the BBC cameras didn’t pick it up, but all I can do now is apologise to my grandma: Sorry, Ganny!!!
I had 30 years of football’s heartbreaks and dreams and disappointments built up inside me, and I just wanted to do it for everybody in that stadium … everybody in the country … all them girls having a kickabout in the back lanes. I wanted it so, so bad.
I don’t even remember the moment when Chloe scores, if I’m honest. She’s worrying it’s a foul because she shields the ball so well, and we’re looking at her, she’s looking at me — she’s half took her top off … is it a goal?! Is it not?! Then it gets given, she runs off and it was just chaos. The fans are screaming, her top came fully off, and Wembley went mad. The next thing I know Georgia is awkwardly trying to put Chloe’s shirt back on.
After she scored, I knew we were going to be champions, we had Millie and Leah at the back and Mary in goal. We were not giving up that lead. At the final whistle, I just remember running straight up to Keira and saying, “Thank you for absolutely bossing the midfield the entire tournament.”
After that I did something that I haven’t shared with anyone yet. I ran to the changing rooms to send one text. I didn’t want to be on my phone, but there was one person I needed to message. Mo Marley. Mo was the coach who took a chance on a skinny 18-year-old Jill Scott. If she’d never given me that opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I can’t say enough good things about Mo. In the changing room, I just messaged her saying, “We did it, Mo.”
Obviously, everyone got to see the absolute scenes in the dressing room on social media after the Euro final. But the thing that really sticks out to me is that night, when we got back to the Lensbury Hotel, me and Millie Bright were sharing a room, and of course we were buzzing so there was no way we were going to sleep. We just sat up all night, literally doing raps and poems and all sorts of nonsense, like little kids. At half seven in the morning, as the sun was coming up, I went for a walk to get a coffee with Lotte without having a minute of sleep, and it was the most surreal moment of my life.
On the walk to the cafe, everybody stopped us.
There were car horns beeping, and people stopping us to take photos with tears in their eyes, and they were just saying, “Thank you.” We walked past the news agents and there were pictures of us on every front page.
If you don’t love it, you don’t last. You can’t. The dream is what sustains you.- Jill Scott
It felt better than a dream.
But as I like to say: It’s not about the splash. It’s about the dive.
You know the last thing I ever did on a football pitch? It was perfectly me. We had celebrated, the streamers were going off, and I was just sitting there with my medal on the grass for an hour and a half, taking it all in … and I knew, deep in my heart, that this was it.
So many memories came back to me. I thought about Sunderland and all the sprints I had done from wall to wall, 10 metres at a time. I thought about showing up to my first England cap with moulds instead of studs!
Thought about the tattoo I got at 2 o‘clock in the morning in the middle of Liverpool after we beat Arsenal in the Community Shield.
Thought about the unbelievable support of my family all these years – about how Ganny would be telling the painter or the gardener or anyone who stopped by the house, “You know my granddaughter plays for England?”
Thought about all the fans who supported me in my career, and how I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
Thought about how my niece and nephews got to watch their Aunty Jill go out a champion.
Thought about all them little moments with the girls in hotels and changing rooms and minibusses over the years. Those are the things that I’ll miss the most.
(I told you I wasn’t going to cry.)
I just sat there and thought: Right. If this is it, let’s do one more run.
So I grabbed Lotte Wubben-Moy as well as our Sports scientist Martin and I said, “You’ve made me do so many box-to-box runs throughout this tournament…. Come on, run one more with us.”
The game had been over for ages, but it just felt right. Suddenly I was like that little girl again, running on her own in the back lanes.
Box to box. Wall to wall.
Only this time I had a gold medal swinging from my neck.
That was my way of saying goodbye.
And this is my way of saying thank you.