Soccer

Jen Beattie seeking grassroots investment in Scottish girls’ football

Jen Beattie wants to see more funding directed to the Scottish grassroots (Mark Robinson/McDonald’s Handout)
Jen Beattie wants to see more funding directed to the Scottish grassroots (Mark Robinson/McDonald’s Handout) Jen Beattie wants to see more funding directed to the Scottish grassroots (Mark Robinson/McDonald’s Handout)

Arsenal defender Jen Beattie wants more investment targeted towards girls in the Scottish grassroots to ensure those who dream of becoming professionals can envisage a clear path to following in her footsteps.

Beattie, 32, won 144 caps and scored 24 goals for Scotland before announcing her decision to step away from international football in January.

The Glaswegian and Gunners team-mate and captain Kim Little are amongst the highest-profile Scottish women in football, and Beattie feels a “responsibility” to leave the game in a better place than they found it.

Beattie wants to leave the game in a better place for the next generation
Beattie wants to leave the game in a better place for the next generation Beattie wants to leave the game in a better place for the next generation (Mark Robinson/McDonald’s handout) (Mark Robinson/Mark Robinson)

She told the PA news agency: “The money needs to be put in to allow girls to have opportunities to go to training, whether that’s before or after school or university or whatever it is.

“Whether that’s the national team setup or clubs. It’s so important to celebrate volunteers and coaches and clubs who are investing in the grassroots, because I think grassroots is the most important time to be able to do that.

“[In Scotland] it’s definitely a space of growth. It’s hard to compare it to England, but there’s more and more numbers playing every year, and I think that’s the most important thing, making it more accessible, making it diverse and an equal opportunity for as many kids as possible.

“That’s the most important thing in Scotland. The more opportunity that is given to young kids the better, [so that] the pool is as big as possible. It’s giving support around schools, giving support around education, and creating a pathway up towards professionalism.”

Beattie (right) returned to Arsenal for a second spell in 2019
Beattie (right) returned to Arsenal for a second spell in 2019 Beattie, right, returned to Arsenal for a second spell in 2019 (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Beattie began her senior career aged just 15 with Queen’s Park in the Scottish Women’s Premier League then joined Celtic before, in 2009, starting her first spell at Arsenal and winning a top-flight title in her debut season.

Spells with Montpellier and Manchester City – who also sent Beattie on loan to Australian side Melbourne City – followed before she returned to the Gunners in 2019 after the end of the Women’s Super League’s first fully-professional campaign.

Scotland are now more than halfway through their campaign in the new UEFA Women’s Nations League, a tournament that serves as the European qualifier for next summer’s Paris Olympics.

Bizarrely, if Scotland’s top talents have any hope of playing in France, they cannot fare better than group rivals England.

The Lionesses, currently third in Group 1, are the nominated home nation to qualify a Team GB, with only the group winners advancing deeper in the tournament where two Olympic berths are up for grabs.

England boss Sarina Wiegman is lined up to lead Great Britain should they qualify for the 12-team tournament.

Scotland sit bottom of their group with two games left to play, including one on December 5 against the Lionesses at Hampden Park, but World Cup finalists England have also struggled in the tournament, most recently losing to  Belgium.

Little, who has since retired from international football, and Real Madrid midfielder Caroline Weir were the sole Scottish names on Hege Riise’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic squad, but the latter would face an uphill battle to be fit in time for next summer after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament in September.

While Beattie agreed it feels important to have Scottish representation in any Team GB squad, she is less sure about how ruthlessly competitive Dutchwoman Wiegman would approach the potentially sensitive situation.

Beattie added: “It’s completely up to Sarina. She is a mentality monster, she’s won back-to-back Euros, got to finals of World Cups, she knows what she’s doing, so I’m not going to give Sarina any advice on selection.

“But Scotland have had representation in previous tournaments and I 100 per cent think that there’s good enough girls to be picked for GB in that Scotland squad.”

Jen Beattie was speaking at the annual Scottish FA Grassroots Awards in partnership with McDonald’s Fun Football. The awards recognise volunteers who are dedicated to making a real difference to community football in Scotland.