Football, as with any walk of life, is made up of a multitude of characters. The naturally skilled; the hard workers; the energisers; the personalities – these attributes are not mutually exclusive, but they are all part of why we follow the game passionately.
Every so often, you come across a footballer who encapsulates the lot. Jill Scott is one such individual – a skilled but tough opponent on the field with an undeniably engaging and infectious nature off it.
Arguably one of the more under-rated players for club and country – not by her coaches and teammates mind – she has been ever present in the English women’s game for nearly 17 years. Without doubt one of the pioneers, she has been one of the driving forces that has seen the game move from amateur to professional, through hard-work, resilience and a huge amount of dedication accompanied by an invaluable sense of humour. As former Lionesses’ teammate and current Manchester United manager Casey Stoney says: “I always like to speak about the character first and what an incredible person she is. I think Jill has the ability to light up any room she walks into, and I think when you have humour and you can make people laugh, it’s a really fine quality. She has an unbelievable mentality in terms of developing her game…Playing against her was annoying because she would manage to get those long legs in everywhere and break the game up. But the intelligence she’s got now when she plays – she knows her strengths; she plays to them. She brings energy to any team, she really does, and she brings energy into any changing room”.
Back at Everton on loan, a club she joined aged 19 before moving to Manchester City in 2013, it seems kind of poetic that she could be making her 150th Barclays FAWSL appearance this weekend against Manchester United. It is a feat only previously, and recently, achieved by her captain and friend Steph Houghton, and, but for the suspension of Everton’s game last week due to snow, they would have reached this milestone together: “I think it’s weird how things turn out in football, sometimes. Somebody mentioned about that 150 appearances – Steph beat us to it – but, on a serious note, I think it just kind of makes sense.”
Lacking game time at Manchester City, and with a potential Olympics and home Euros on the horizon, the move to Everton is mutually beneficial for both parties. Willie Kirk has made some astute signings in the two years that he has been at the club and he is well aware that the acquisition of Scott will bring ample experience to his midfield area – “She’s come here with the enthusiasm and energy of a 21-year-old. If you can get that, and you can add 149 England caps to it, you know you’ve got a really important player for your team. She’s shown that already – her performances on the pitch; the way she helps the other players and communicates to them not only during gameplay, but also in the little breaks that you have. She’s been fantastic!”
A lot has changed at Everton in the seven years since Scott left the club. The club has gone through relegation and promotion and is now sitting comfortably in the top half of the table, a fully professional outlet with fourth place in their sights. She herself remarks that one of the biggest differences is that, “I’m now here at 10 o’clock in the morning and not 10 o’clock at night. I think that shows how far the women’s games come.”
The midfielder is, as ever, seemingly taking it all in her stride – “I’ve been smiling quite a lot these past few days…I think the team spirit is always a massive one and I can see that as soon as I walked in here. The girls were so welcoming and so friendly but then there’s also that high challenge as well. I think in a successful environment, you have to have high challenge but with high support, and I can definitely feel that after only being here for a week.”
If there is one thing that epitomises Scott, it is her seemingly in-exhaustive engine that has made her the driving force of Manchester City’s and England’s midfield. She has won praise from managers and peers alike, full of the knowledge that they can depend on her endless running, tough tackling and quality on the ball. This is all accompanied by a professionalism and understated desire to keep working hard and challenging for the top: “I never feel comfortable in an environment. I always push myself. I never take selection or England selection for granted. Even if I feel like I’ve had a good tournament or a good game, I never take that next one for granted because representing your country is a very difficult thing to do. So, maybe that uncertainty has stood me in good stead for when these challenges come along”.
At 33, many would be starting to think about winding down their career, but Scott appears to have little intention of doing so, instead continuing to push for those heights. For as long as that continues, her team, the league and the English game will be better for it. We certainly won’t be taking it for granted!