Jill Scott starts a new adventure: why women's game is on the up again

The Everton and England star tells Robin Scott-Elliot why this is WSL’s biggest season

Jill Scott has a tattoo encircling her right wrist. It is largely hidden by her watch strap but when she pulls on the white shirt of England or the royal blue of Everton it is plain to see. It reads: “Step by step, day by day, mile by mile.”

“It’s a Whitney Houston song,” says Scott, tugging at the strap to reveal the words. “I got it done at the last Euros. It sums everything up for me.”

It sums up everything for the women’s game too. This evening in the Halton Stadium in Widnes – home of the town’s rugby league side – the third season of the Women’s Super League begins with a Merseyside derby. It is a Continental Cup fixture, their version of the League Cup, and instigates a campaign that is potentially decisive for the women’s game in this country. The Football Association has backed the WSL with more money than ever, there has never been greater television coverage and come this summer the only live senior footballing show in town will be England’s attempt to win the European Championship.

It is the last of that trinity that offers the greatest opportunity. England were runner’s-up at the 2009 Euros, where Scott’s tattoo originated, and if they can go one better in Sweden and claim that trophy – live on the BBC – it could make for a whole new ball game. As the Olympics loudly demonstrated, this country revels in sporting success and a football triumph, no matter the sex (and there is no men’s event this summer to dominate attention, only the Under-21 European Championship), would be embraced beyond the sport’s boundaries.

“It would make a difference,” says Scott. “We always say that when you go out and play a game you are not just playing for yourself or your team you are playing for the whole of women’s and girls’ football. You want to put it out there and try and get good publicity.

“On the back of the Olympics we got a lot of attention – we get a buzz around tournaments but then it tends to die off. The key thing for women’s football is to try and sustain that interest. Being on BBC for the Euros hopefully we can generate that interest and  continue that interest. To go out and win something would make it very interesting to see what happens.”

The women’s game has come many steps and many miles since Scott made her England debut seven years ago, the same year she left her native Sunderland – she was a season ticket-holder at the Stadium of Light, going to games with her granddad – to join Everton. England have become regulars in the squeaky-bottom stages of major competitions, quarter-finalists at the last two World Cups, finalists at the last Euros – after Scott scored the semi-final winner against the Netherlands – with Britain, a side largely made up of England players, reaching the last eight at the Olympics too and attracting 70,000 to Wembley to watch them beat Brazil en route.

Scott is fresh from two weeks in Cyprus, where England won the Cyprus Cup – beating Canada, the side that knocked Team GB out of London, in the final. They are a settled and  experienced group that has grown together on and off the pitch. 

“That was one of the things that was highlighted on this trip, our team spirit is very good,” suggests Scott, who collected a 64th cap in the final. “We were in Cyprus for 14 days and that is a lot of time together as a squad. We all hung around together, did quizzes, played poker for fun. It’s all about  team building. Sometimes the best teams don’t win tournaments – it is the one with the best team spirit.

“I’ve been lucky enough to go to two World Cups, a European Championship, an Olympics and I’m not even one of the most experienced players. For some of them this will be their third European Championship. For Eniola Aluko, who is only my age, 26, it will be her third European Championship. In terms of that you can’t really beat having the experience. You definitely need that going into tournaments.”

First, though, there are domestic duties to be attended to, a third season of the WSL. “For the first two years it’s gone well but there have been things that could have been improved, like the quality of the pitches and getting more people along to the game,” says Scott.

If the pitches are poor, she points out, it will always be an uphill battle to improve quality. Crowds have risen but still average out at around 500. In the wake of last year’s Olympics and low ticket prices – it’s £5 for an adult in Widnes tonight, half that for a child – they should keep creeping upwards. 

This winter – the women’s season runs over the summer, with a break for international tournaments – has seen significant changes on Merseyside. Everton finished third in each of the WSL’s first two seasons, behind Arsenal and Birmingham both times. Liverpool were bottom of the eight-team league each time, having won only two games in two seasons, but the club have invested heavily to recruit 12 new players, including  six from abroad and one in particular from rather closer to home – Fara Williams, Scott’s long-term midfield partner with Everton and England.

It will add a frisson to the occasion. “It will be very odd,” says Scott. “We have played together for seven years for Everton and England. It is a bit of a mad situation. Once you get out on the pitch and tackle someone it will be fine. [The derby] has not been as competitive as the men’s game. No disrespect to Liverpool but in the past there has been a little bit of a gap between us. They have given us exciting games – we drew 3-3 in the first game of last season – but it will be a bit of added rivalry this time, especially with us losing four of our players to them. Both sets of players will want to prove a point.”

This is the first season since the FA launched a five-year plan for the women’s game in October. The governing body has promised to support the WSL with an extra £3.5m of funding – small change by the standards of the men’s game but still a significant investment on this side of the fence. A second division to the WSL is planned for next season. The FA also agreed to a first pay rise for their centrally contracted England players for three years. The initial offer was rejected by the players before they agreed to an increase of £4,000 to £20,000 a year as well as a rise in the number of hours they are free to seek extra income. Again, paltry compared to the men but it makes a difference. The collapse last year of the professional league in the US was a reminder that the state of the women’s game remains delicate – the WSL’s launch was initially delayed due to  financial concerns.

“I am part-time,” says Scott, who supplements her income through coaching. “I feel quite lucky in terms of when I came into the game. I was lucky enough to be around when central contracts came into play. I know girls who played for 20 years, got no support and had to pay to play so I do feel privileged to be in this position.”

The game has come a long way, step by step, mile by hard-earned mile. Scott pushes her watch back into place, covering her tattoo. “If we win the Euros I’ll get the other arm done,” she says and laughs.

Jill Scott wears the PUMA evoSPEED boot available now from www.prodirectsoccer.com.To find out which PUMA boot matches your game head to www.facebook.com/pumafootball

Women’s game: 2013 season details

* Teams  Arsenal, Birmingham, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton, Lincoln, Liverpool.

* 2012 champions  Arsenal. Continental Cup Arsenal. FA Cup Chelsea

* Key dates: Today Domestic season starts with FA WSL Continental Cup, including Liverpool v Everton

7 Apr England v Canada (friendly; Rotherham)

14 Apr League fixtures begin

23 May Women’s Champions League final (Stamford Bridge)

26 May Women’s FA Cup final (Doncaster)

10-28 July Euro 2013 (Sweden) inc: 12 July England v Spain; 15 July v Russia; 18 July v France

* TV ESPN will show live WSL games including Liverpool v Everton. BBC will show four round-up shows during the season, and Euro 2013.

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week