Tag Archives: Rose Reilly

Recalling an unsung hero

Today is an historic night for women’s football in Scotland as the national team finally makes its debut in a major tournament – against England of all teams. There is no doubt that the team thoroughly deserved this debut as they were unlucky to qualify for both Euro 2009 (lost to Russia in a play off on away goals) and Euro 2013 (lost to Spain in a play off to a goal in the 122nd minute). So after the misery the team has gone through in the past they deserve their place in the sun (and the fact that they are playing England is a boost as this gives women’s football in Scotland far more publicity than they would have gotten had they been drawn in any other group). 

But this is also a time to reflect on the players who helped make Scottish women’s football – the early pioneers like Nettie Honeyball, Nancy “Cannonball” Thompson and Julie Fleeting – and an unsung hero who has a claim to be the greatest female footballer this island has ever produced but yet got totally disowned by her own country and had to play for another country in international football.

The player I am talking about is Rose Reilly. Rose was born in Stewarton East Ayrshire. Now you have to remember in these days (the late 1960s) women’s football was still banned in the UK. Rose wanted to play football but the only way she could play was to cut her hair short and call herself Ross Reilly so she could play for Stewarton Boys’ Club. She was so good that a scout from Celtic who was watching Stewarton wanted “him” to sign for Celtic – but as she was a girl not only could she not sign for Celtic she could not play for the Boys’ Club anymore.

Luckily there was a women’s team she could join – Stewarton Thistle. In 1971 she played aged 16 in the first English women’s FA Cup losing to Southampton. She was a losing finalist in the English FA Cup Final three years in a row and played in the first Scotland international of the new era (1972). 

But she wanted to be a professional footballer – but in the Scotland of the 1970s there was no career opportunities for women in football. Luckily she was able to make a career for herself abroad. In 1974 she moved to French professional team Reims but after just six months moved to Italy with Milan. 

To show how ridiculous football in Scotland was for the heinous crime of having a professional career abroad Reilly was banned in 1975 (along with team mate Edna Nellis) for life from playing for Scotland. This was not unique to Scotland at the time. England’s Sue Lopez had to choose between playing for England and being a professional abroad but in her case she gave up a professional career for an international one. Even in men’s football there were people who wanted Kevin Keegan banned from playing for England when he joined Hamburg in 1977! 

Reilly thought at the time that her career was over. Luckily it wasn’t as she went on to play for a variety of Italian teams including Catania and Leece as well as Milan. Amazingly in 1978-79 she won League titles in two different countries! She win the Italian League with Leece (playing on Saturday nights) and the French League with Remis (playing on Sunday afternoons). We can guarantee that will never happen again! 

She was even able to play international football despite being banned from playing for Scotland. She got Italian citizenship and was able to play in a Women’s World Cup in China in 1983 because the event was not officially recognised by FIFA (FIFA did not hold an Official Women’s World Cup until 1991). Not only did she play for Italy she captained them to the title and scored from 40 yards in the final and was voted the “Best Female Player in the World”. 

By 1984 Reilly was earning £12000 a year with Trani (for comparison current England captain Steph Houghton reportedly earns £60000 a year). She played in Italy until retiring at the age of 40. She won 22 caps for Italy and ten for Scotland during a career where Celtic tried to sign her, she would get banned from playing for her own country, won League titles in two countries in one season and won a World Cup with her adopted country. 

Her story has a happy ending in that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) inducted her into their Hall of Fame finally making up for the injustice of banning her for life back in 1975. Rose Reilly has a significant claim to be the best female footballer off all time in the UK – never mind Scotland. Today she lives in her home town of Stewarton and I’m sure she will be watching her successors play England tonight with pride and might be wondering what might have been had the SFA had let her play for her own country….

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Scotland’s shame…and pride?

I was going to write about something else today. But something happened yesterday that made me so angry I had to write what I am about to write. I’m still angry even as I type this.
I’ll start with a question. Apart from being blatantly sexist what do the following remarks have in common?

“If I had my way today’s Premiership fixture between Motherwell and Ros County would have been cancelled. That’s because Fir Park should have ben torched on Thursday in order to cleanse the stadium after it played host to women’s football.”

“Can you believe that? Women don’t know the offside rule”. Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s —- up big”.

“But put political correctness to one side and ask whether the clamour for equality justifies the amount of cash resources being thrown at it (women’s football) when grassroots football is in neglect”.

“I hope she’s looking after your needs. I bet you’d love a bounce on her falseies”

“She’s dragged herself out of the kitchen”.

The answer is that they all involved Scots. From the top down Tam Cowan, Andy Gray, Gordon “Jurassic” Parks* Malky Mackay (I don’t know if him or Ian Moody wrote that text) and Sir Alex Ferguson (to a female journalist on International Women’s Day 2013). To my mind that is more than a coincidence. Five different Scots involved in sexist remarks. Add to that Alan Brazil’s remarks about Robin Williams’ suicide and George Galloway MP and his views about rape and you have a clear pattern. Scotland is a sexist backwater full of dinosaurs. Frankly if I was running an English football club I would not employ a Scottish manager. if I ran an english TV or radio station I would not employ an ex Scottish player as a pundit. I don’t know why Scotland is like this. My mother – god rest her soul – called non whites “Pakis” – we had furious arguments over this – and of course the West of Scotland is full of sectarianism. Also the current independence referendum has turned nasty with “No” posters being vandalised by the SNP’s lunatic fringe. I am ashamed to be from Scotland. And yet as I will write later there is another side to this story…
But before I go on to that two further points about the Mackay affair. The League Manager’s Association (LMA) called the texts (there were also racist and homophobic remarks) “banter”– a word with which we are becoming depressingly familiar with and seems to be becoming a catch all defence to allow people in football to say what they want. I know a trade union – which is what the LMA is – is meant to defend their members but there are – or should be – limits. Even worse is an article in today’s “Daily Telegraph” in which Henry Winter writes “Educators must take action as FA will not”. The FA should not be investigating this. As I have said before football should have an independent regulator – most other UK industries do – which could investigate matters like this. Having the FA investigate is like having football investigate itself. It won’t work.
But back to Scotland. Despite the fact that the country would appear to be a sexist backwater there are signs of hope. A Scot – Andy Murray – has appointed a female coach. A Scottish club – Stirling University has just this week appointed a female manager – Shelly Kerr. Of the four main political parties in Scotland two have female leaders and another has a female deputy leader.
And in a bizarre paradox this sexist backwater has a good women’s national team that has at least a 50-50 chance of going to the World Cup in Canada next year. It has produced in my opinion the best female player in Britain’s history Rose Reilly** as well as Julie Fleeting and an early female football pioneer in Nettie Honeyball. The current Scottish women’s football team has players like Kim Little – the Americans wish she could play for them – and Lisa Evans who plays for one of the beat teams in Europe Turbine Potsdam. Frankly Scotland has got a NWT it does not deserve (its home games are shown live on BBC Alba – a Gaelic channel so the commentary is not in English!). Frankly if this team qualifies for the World Cup amid the hatred of the sexists it would be an amazing feat. Good luck to them. If they play in Canada next year hopefully they will get support and show Scotland in a different light.

*A sports journalist with the Scottish Daily Record (the nickname is mine). He thinks football in Scotland should not be on TV – a view that died out elsewhere in the 1980s – and that fans should be allowed to drink alcohol at grounds. In a country where there are riots at Rangers v Celtic youth games that is asking for trouble. I bet he wishes James Callaghan was still in Number 10…

**Rose Reilly deserves to have a book written about her. Banned from Sottish women’s football for life in 1975 she carved out a career in Europe. She won an unoffical women’s World Cup with Italy (her adopted country) in 1983 scoring a 40 yard goal in the Final. Among her feats was winning the League title in two different nations in the same season (1978-79.). That season she played on Saturday evenings for Italian team Lecce and Sunday afternoons for French team Reims – and both won their League titles! Add to that the fact that Jock Stein’s Celtic sent a scout to watch her when she played for her local boys club (she had to cut her hair short and call herself Ross to play for them. When her ruse got discovered she was banned) and you have a remarkable person. And I stand by my view that she is the best female player Britain has produced although she is from my part of the world (North Ayrshire) so I could be biased.

Finally the British journalist and academic Carrie Dunn is doing a sponsored 10k walk on September 28th to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. If anyone reading this is on Facebook or Twitter please ask their followers to go to http://www.justgiving.com.carries-memory-walk280914 and donate to this wonderful cause.
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