After making just two starts in Manchester City’s first 10 league games of the season, Jill Scott decided to join Everton on loan in January in an attempt to salvage her chance of making the slimmed-down Team GB squad of 18 players heading for the Tokyo Olympics. Having made the cut, England’s second most-capped player feels vindicated by her bold move.
“If I’m completely honest, if my situation had stayed the same as it was before Christmas then I don’t think I would be sat here today,” she says. “I knew something had to change and that wasn’t me sulking or anything like that, I appreciated the position I was in, but I also knew I had a lot more to give as well.”
Team GB’s coach, Hege Riise, was clear about what she was seeking from her selections, as Scott recalls: “Playing time was one major one because of playing games every third day in the Olympics. It will be hard, the physicality and the game rhythm will be hard.”
The struggle to rediscover rhythm and form after time out was a new experience for the 34-year-old Scott. “We had a fantastic midfield – Caz [Caroline Weir], Keira [Walsh], Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle – I knew the competition was going to be high, but when you don’t feature for four or five games and then suddenly you’re starting a game … I felt like it was taking a lot of my energy to get myself to the level needed to play.
“Whenever there was a game I would be: ‘Just go out there and enjoy it and do your best,’ but it was taking up a lot of energy because I wasn’t regularly playing.”
Under Willie Kirk at Everton, Scott was granted the space to express herself on the pitch, and she started 11 of Everton’s 12 remaining games. Rejoining the club she had left City for eight years earlier and leaving the heat of a title race was a huge risk but, despite it paying off, she would not necessarily advise any fringe players seeking playing time to move clubs. “If I suddenly start telling all the younger players to go out on loan I might get in trouble,” she laughs.
“It’s about recognising that you’ve got to keep yourself at a certain level, and it might be different for different people. I say it to the younger players a lot, you have to work out your routine throughout your career and you have to be honest with yourself and ask: ‘Am I doing everything I can?’ I always said if this call-up wasn’t going to happen at least I could look myself in the mirror and say: ‘Look, you did your best, you went away and gave it your best shot’ and I could have lived with that. But if I hadn’t I would have been very disappointed with myself.”
Scott is one of five players in Riise’s squad who also played at the London 2012 Games, along with Karen Bardsley, Steph Houghton, Ellen White and Kim Little and her battle to earn a place has made this call mean more. “This one definitely means the most – not that I took any other tournaments for granted. Obviously the older you get these things are going to be limited,” she says. “Waiting for this squad to come out I was very nervous. You look at the squad and there was always going to be fantastic players that missed out.
“I was 25 for the first one [London 2012], dead excited and there was no expectations,” she says. “Now there probably is more pressure on the older players’ shoulders to go out there and do something because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last tournament, but I was thinking today that the word ‘old’ is in ‘gold’.”
In 2012, Team GB Women won all three group games before losing 2-0 to a Canada team that included Riise’s assistant, Rhian Wilkinson, in the quarter-finals. The defeat of Brazil at Wembley in front of 70,584 fans was Scott’s highlight of the tournament and it provided lessons for this summer.
“I think there’s big learnings from that tournament when I look back,” she says. “We probably played to the occasion too much. We got maximum points from our first three group games, but we started to get a little bit ahead of ourselves maybe and then you get beat in the quarter-finals and suddenly it’s all over.
“So I think the big learning is not letting the occasion get to you. You have the highs of playing at Wembley in front of 70,000 people and then suddenly the game is in Coventry [in front of less than half that]. You can’t live off the last result because the next game is right around the corner. Whether it’s success, defeat, you have to pick yourself up and go again.”