Lee Alexander is delighted with the growth of women’s football in Scotland, with participation rates nearly doubling in the past five years.

In 2015, around 9,286 women played football in Scotland, compared to 17,230 today and there has been a sharp increase over the past three years.

The profile of the women’s game has increased dramatically with Scotland’s participation in the World Cup in 2019, and domestically clubs are investing in academies, which is really important to Alexander.

Lee juggles her club obligations with national duty

The number one in Scotland said: “It’s great to hear the numbers double. When I was younger there weren’t many options and I speak for a lot of players in their mid-20s.

“When we were growing up it was seen as a game for men and there wasn’t much structure in women’s football. You played because you liked it, you played at school or at home.

“There weren’t many girls or women clubs. I was around 13 when I heard that Scotland had a national team – it was crazy.

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“Now girls have academies to join, and all of the clubs in SWPL1 and 2 have paths that go up to ages six and seven.

Lee chats with budding young footballers at John Wright

“At that age, I trained once a week, played on a Saturday and faced a few hits before playing, while there are real academy structures now.

“Compared to when I started, there are now qualified coaches and they were just friends, parents and family volunteers.

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“It’s great to see the game grow against the backdrop of increasing awareness of women’s football and the nation that reaches tournaments.

Alexander played an important role in Scotland when he reached his first ever Women’s World Cup in 2019. The tournament in France was a defining moment for women’s football as it increased the visibility of the women’s game and helped young girls identify role models.

The Scottish women’s team made the nation proud after qualifying for the first World Cup final

Erin Cuthbert became a household name, Caroline Weir became famous and Alexander won the hearts of a nation’s hearts after the penalty fiasco against England.

The clash between the Auld enemy drew 6.1 million viewers – a UK record for a women’s soccer game – and while Alexander appreciates the importance of televised games, she believes the people who enable domestic growth deserve the same praise.

She said, “It’s obviously great to show things on TV, and it’s the most successful way for kids to see them.

“It’s huge in that respect, but the bigger picture is the people behind the scenes and how that multiplies. There are a lot of people who work in the background who make it easier for us – they don’t get the praise they deserve.

Scotland fans show their support in the stands

There have been tremendous developments in women’s football in the past decade as outdated perceptions are slowly changing.

The Glasgow City goalkeeper recognizes noticeable differences and adds: “When I started out, I ran into a pretty girl’s team and previously played with a boys’ team.

“It wasn’t even like you were playing games, you were just showing up to practice and playing with my school team. One of my parents knew someone who had a girls’ team, I was from East Kilbride and they had a team, but you’d never hear about it if it wasn’t in the local paper.

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“Internet access wasn’t like it is today. If you didn’t know he was there, you would never know. I moved to Hamilton when I was 15 and you’d have to pay to play. It was £ 1 for training and £ 2 for games, things seemed a lot cheaper back then.

“You reached the age groups quickly because there weren’t that many players or teams. I played with the under 11s at seven and played senior football when I was only 16.

Lee introduced herself in 2008 when she was representing Scotland’s U19 year olds

“I played my first senior game on my 16th birthday because I was then allowed to play legally. There is as much support for the younger generation as it is evolving through the system.

“Many of the Glasgow City girls in the Scottish squad had their first experience of senior football in the reserve leagues. It was sinking or swimming because you could compete with girls twice your age, but there was no fear. “

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“When we got through most of us played boys’ football and I think that is actually missed now. It’s great that there are more girls’ teams now, but the added benefit of playing with boys has really helped some of us. “

Alexander left Glasgow City in 2016 after winning four straight three times to join Mallbachens IF in Sweden.

Women’s football was massive in Sweden compared to the UK and Alexander was amazed at how popular it was.

She said, “It was a really small town on the sticks and miles from any major civilization. It made the team very special because it was always a terrible journey for the away teams, but everything in town was geared towards the women’s team.

“You would go to the local supermarket and have the team photo printed on all bags.

“It was surreal because you go down the islands and pick up your groceries and women’s football is on the radio.

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“It could be a Thursday night and they’d have full coverage and commentary from another woman’s game pumping out the speakers – it was completely different from here.”

“The amount of sponsorship was crazy too. Due to sponsorship, there was no other space on our strip. The amount of money put into these teams was ridiculous.

“It was also a feeling of community. People would support the local team, we would get about 900 people to come religiously to games. “

Alexander is used to lifting trophies with City

Glasgow City have been the dominant team in Scotland for the past decade, winning an unprecedented number of trophies and playing Champions League football.

They were the pioneers of women’s football in Scotland, but more and more clubs are starting to invest in women’s football.

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Rangers are strongly committed to investing in their women’s teams, offering professional contracts, and using world-class facilities.

Although Alexander is determined to succeed and win another league title with Glasgow City, she believes the level of investment in women’s football in Scotland is excellent.

Rangers Manager Steven Gerrard and Rangers Coach Amy McDonald

Amy McDonald, the Rangers women’s team coach, with Steven Gerrard, the Rangers’ first team manager

She said, “100 percent {it’s a good thing}. The Rangers’ investments in particular are enormous.

“If you were younger and supported the old company, these kids might be watching your team and want to play for them. The fact that they are fully professional and use the men’s training grounds is enormous.

“This is what you want for all clubs. You want to ensure this pathway and in ten years we may be too old to be a part of it, but we can help increase exposure.

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“That way, the people behind us can benefit, and the girls who are just starting out can make a living playing football.

“Hibs, Hearts and Aberdeen have invested in their team too, and that’s what you want – you want to make it more competitive. In England they develop the most competitive league in all of Europe and that helps attract the best players.

Lee Alexander saves Kristiansen’s penalty

“In Glasgow City we were always dominant with the Scottish internationals, but the players always went south or abroad. Hopefully if we can expand the domestic league we can keep our best players and attract stars from overseas.

“We have to make the league as competitive as possible and it’s moving in that direction as four teams battle for two Champions League spots.”

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