A Sunderland-born footballer has left her former coach brimming with pride as she prepares to jet-off to the Women’s World Cup – having been handed a stunning send-off in the city centre.
Paul Smith was the coach of the Boldon CA side that helped develop current Manchester City and England midfielder Jill Scott - who is now preparing to represent her country in the prestigious tournament this summer.
Sunderland-born Scott, who has also played for the Lady Black Cats and Everton during an illustrious career, forms part of Phil Neville’s squad who jetted-off to France today [Tuesday].
All 23 players in the England squad saw their faces splashed across giant billboards in cities close to their hearts - with Scott’s placed on Southwick Road, just along from the Stadium of Light.
Alongside the midfielder’s image was a quote from former coach Smith, who oversaw Scott’s early years in football while helping to nurture her talent.
And the Boldon-based coach admits he was delighted to see one of his former pupils proudly displayed - as he praised her on and off-field talents.
“I was chuffed to see it,” he said, speaking to the Echo.
“I think it’s recognition for what Jill has done for girls football herself. We’ve got a few teams now, and a lot of girls have gone to watch Jill around the country.
“Jill has always gone out of her way to go over to the girls, and it helps to inspire all the girls.
“I knew from her being 15 onwards that she had huge potential. At the time women’s football wasn’t big, but things have grown and gone from strength-to-strength.”
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Scott is just one of a number of the World Cup squad who have roots in the North East, with the likes of Steph Houghton, Demi Stokes and Carly Telford also hailing from the area.
And as a coach, Smith has seen first hand the impact that Scott and her teammates have had on women’s football in the region.
“It’s massive, and when you look around the north east now there are a lot of girls teams,” he added.
“The standard is getting better, and as far as football is concerned you’re seeing girls play football in the schools and it’s really, really good.
“It’s down to them being seen on TV and the publicity the players are getting now.”
Scott and England kick-off their World Cup campaign on Sunday evening against Scotland as they look to improve on a third-place finish in the last tournament in 2015.
And while Smith won’t be able to jet off to France to watch his former player in action, he knows he can rely on the Sunderland-born star for updates.
“I’m away on holiday with my wife, but hopefully I’ll be able to watch the Scotland game!,” he joked.
“Jill still texts me occasionally and we’ve kept in touch, so I dare say I’ll get a text off her.”