Exclusive: Proud Sunderland-born England hero Jill Scott opens up on emotion of Stadium of Light hosting Austria in a World Cup qualifier and helping inspire the next generation
Jill Scott’s story is one Sunderland can be proud of.
Born in the city, the pioneering footballer has played in two Olympic Games for Great Britain plus four World Cups and three European Championships with England.
Scott, who could appear in her fourth Euros for her country next summer should she be selected, has also made a huge impact in club football, winning multiple trophies with Manchester City and Everton.
Today, the 34-year-old former Monkwearmouth School pupil stands on the cusp of bagging her 154th Lionesses cap in the latest chapter in an extraordinary career at the pinnacle of sports.
Where will that cap likely come? Back where it all began.
Her spiritual home – Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light as England take on Austria in a World Cup qualifier on Wearside this Saturday (KO 12.30pm).
“I am so excited,” Scott told The Echo ahead of Saturday’s clash. “I’ve been part of this team for 15 years but the Stadium of Light is so iconic. Growing up my fondest memories are inside that stadium.
“I used to have a season ticket with my Grandad in the South-East corner and I used to watch my heroes: Kevin Phillips, Michael Gray, Niall Quinn. And I absolutely loved it.
“Going to the games on a Saturday and then playing my game on a Sunday and to think that we’re now going to be presenting girls with those dreams. It’s unreal, really!”
Scott, should she be selected, will live through her childhood dream. To walk and play on the same turf as her heroes and play in front of a passionate local crowd on Wearside.
And that experience will likely conjure up much emotion – something the former Boldon Girls player is all too aware of.
“When I get into the Stadium of Light, I will definitely picture nine-year-old Jill in that South-East corner with some cold chips in her hand,” Scott reflected with a grin on her face.
“My Grandad definitely used to go for a pint at half-time when he told me he was getting my chips,” she laughs.
“But it will be great to have my family there as well. My mam literally lives over the road from the Stadium of Light so it is going to be a very special day.”
Despite the vast experience that comes with being a senior professional for so long, the Olympic Games, the World Cups, the European Championships, the winning trophies and scoring goals… could this occasion stir up a different kind of joy and passion?
“I think it will be emotional,” she reflects with a flicker of realisation.
“It definitely will be. I think my memories will make it that way.
“It is like everything has come full circle really. I definitely think it will be emotional.
“The weeks leading up to it and when the squad got announced I was like don’t get injured! I didn’t want to miss those moments.”
Not wanting to dwell on herself for too long, however, Scott quickly steers the conversation back towards the impact Saturday’s game can have on the region.
“It is great for the North East girls and it will be fantastic for the Lionesses. I think they will really enjoy it. It is a great stadium and a great pitch and obviously the North East people are great people.
“There’s nothing not to enjoy!”
The North East, and in particular Sunderland Ladies, has produced talent en masse to the national team over the years.
Scott made her debut at the club. So too did England captain Steph Houghton, although she will miss the chance to return to Sunderland with an Achilles injury.
Constantly touted as one of the best players in women’s football, Lucy Bronze – who, like Houghton, is injured – also cut her teeth in Sunderland before moving on to triple Champions League glory
Beth Mead will be there, though, and before she was banging goals in for Arsenal was scoring regularly for Sunderland.
The club also provided a platform to Demi Stokes and Jordan Nobbs, both former Black Cats players and part of Lionesses manager Sarina Wiegman’s squad ahead of the weekend.
With that in mind, then, what does England playing an important World Cup qualifier in Sunderland actually mean for the next generation in the North East?
“I am fortunate enough that I get to travel around the country and do soccer camps”, Scott explains. “But the love for the women’s game is something else and I’m not just saying that because I’m from around here.
“But when I do the camps up here all of the girls have the shirts printed. Lucy Bronze’s name.
“They know everything about women’s football. So I think the fact that we can have a game there and the girls can actually come and see their role models play live will be brilliant for them.
“I know that they all dream of playing for England because I have about 200 girls telling me every time we do a soccer camp in the North East.
“It will be good for them to see that dream as a visual.”
15 years into a glittering career, though, Scott admits that the adulation she receives from young girls and boys in the North East and in other parts of the country hasn’t yet sunk in.
“You know what? It never does sink in," Scott added. “Maybe that will be something at the end of my career. I think you just focus on the next training session and the next game.
“You put such high demands on yourself to get a good performance that sometimes we are probably a bit guilty of not stopping and reflecting.”