For Scotland Women’s National Team goalkeeper Lee Alexander, the road to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup didn’t simply start in Belarus last October.
Instead, you have to look back two decades to the town that produced such Scottish luminaries as John Hannah and Kirsty Young to pinpoint the start of Alexander’s footballing journey.
“I was born and bred in East Kilbride, so my early grassroots experiences were playing in the streets and at primary school,” she said.
“You were kicking a ball against a wall, a couple of jumpers for goalposts and that was it.
“When I first started, I was playing with the boys. I remember that there weren’t many girls in my year at primary school – I think there was something like 27 boys and only three or four girls. All the boys played football, which was probably a major reason behind me getting involved in the game.
“I was playing for the 30 minutes before school started, the 15 minutes at break and lunchtime, after school – it was all I really wanted to do when I was younger. It hasn’t really changed as I’ve grown older either.”
However, Alexander also remembers that opportunities for young girls wanting to take their game to the next level were somewhat limited.
“I don’t think I joined a girls’ team until I was about eight or so,” she said.
“I went along to play for the school, played for a local boys team, then joined what I found out was a local girls team in East Kilbride.
“I was there until I was 14, and a lot of my memories are also from my time with East Kilbride Girls. I was really fortunate there was a girls’ team in the area at the time, and it meant I could go along and enjoy it all.”
The grassroots game has come a long way in the last 20 years, a fact underlined by the opening of a new Scottish FA Soccer Centre, presented by SSE, in East Kilbride as part of UEFA Grassroots Week. As one of the town’s most famous daughters, Alexander was the natural choice to be named as the ambassador for the newest Soccer Centre.
“It’s amazing,” said the Scotland number one.
“The fact that it’s at the John Wright Sports Centre too – it’s a place I know and remember really well. My school used to take down there, it’s where I used to play five-a-side and it’s where all your birthday parties and things like that took place.”
With the grassroots game in rude health across Scotland, and with the Scottish Government’s Women’s and Girls’ Sport Week just around the corner, Alexander believes that initiatives like the Scottish FA Soccer Centres presented by SSE, can only be good for the future of the women’s game.
“If you look at the opportunities for girls now, especially with the Soccer Centres, anyone can go along and play,” said Alexander.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s their first time or whether they’re a player at a local club, they can just kick a ball around and be a part of a team.
“Sport brings out the character in people, and to have something like that for young girls is excellent. It can be a real platform for young kids. If they enjoy it, then they might go on to join local teams and become a part of other programmes and pathways in Scottish football.”
SOCCER CENTRES |— South West Region (@sfa_southwest) 25 September 2018
Great fun tonight at the launch of @LeeAlexander91 @YourSSE Girls Soccer Centre in East Kilbride in partnership with @SportsDevSL @ActiveSchoolsSL 🏃🏼♀️ ⚽️ #UEFAGrassroots #OurGirlsOurGame #Fun #RoleModels @UEFA @JoeFitzSNP @CllrWatsonSLC pic.twitter.com/Szm85j9zMQ
Alexander’s enthusiasm about her ambassador role for the centres is matched by her team-mates in the national setup, with the team having taken head coach Shelley Kerr’s goal of ‘inspiring a nation’ to heart.
With the Soccer Centres proving to be a prime way of doing just that, the shot-stopper and her fellow ambassadors are only too happy to have their names associated with the programme.
“It’s something that we’re all really proud of,” she said.
“We’re in a really privileged position to have our names put to the centres. It’s such a great thing to get you involved in the game – when we were younger, we never had anything like this.
“It’s almost enough to make you wish that you could go back 20 years or so.”