Euro 2022: A pivotal and exciting summer for women's football - Alex Scott

By Alex ScottFormer England & Arsenal defender
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A young Alex Scott wearing Arsenal kit
Scott (right) pictured in her days at Arsenal's youth academy

I can't walk down the street at the moment without spotting England captain Leah Williamson on every billboard or bus stop. It is just great to see.

Women's football has been on a steady upward curve for the past 25 years - but in the past two years especially the pace of change has been incredible.

Record viewing figures. Record attendances. TV exposure is growing and gradually players are becoming household names. I've watched our sport explode in popularity. It's so far away from my experience getting into the game as a child.

Without football I don't know where I'd be. It's given me so much. Football has been my life. But I got lucky.

I didn't even know women's football teams existed when I was younger. I used to go and play with my brother in the local football cage near my house in east London.

I then got spotted in a five-a-side tournament in Tower Hamlets. Someone knew someone down at Arsenal. He took me down for a trial and they signed me. I was eight years old and up to then had only played with my brother's mates.

When I was 16 I got a job on the side in the Arsenal laundry room. I used to wash the kit for the men's players like Ian Wright and Thierry Henry after they had finished training, and then in the evening I'd go to training myself.

I relied on hand-me-downs for boots. We were lucky to get £50 a week to cover travel expenses and later, when I got a job as a part-time teacher, I would be at the back of the coach after a midweek game marking homework and planning the lesson for the next day.

Now it's totally different.

While I was making the BBC Sport documentary Alex Scott: The Future of Women's Football I spent a full day at Manchester City's academy, getting a tour of the facilities and also meeting some of the teenage players. They train after school for three hours a night, with tactical lessons in classrooms and gym sessions as well as time out on the pitch.

I also spent a Saturday afternoon nearby, watching a girls' football league in Urmston. It was just a collection of pitches in a small suburb of Manchester but there were games everywhere you looked. It was incredible to see.

Until I signed for Arsenal and played for their youth teams, there's no way I would have seen a group of girls playing an organised game. You'd see maybe one or two playing in a boys' match.

There are now over a million female players registeredexternal-link at age groups 15 and under. I can't help but get excited about just how many more opportunities they will have.

These are young girls who can see role models now, too, like Leah Williamson or Lucy Bronze. The only role models I had in the game were male players like Wright and Henry.

Williamson told me when we spoke for the documentary that the only thing her dad wanted for her was that she was able to earn a wage from the sport - for football to be her job.

There was no pathway for me to become a footballer. Someone just knew someone at Arsenal and it went from there.

Now there is a clear pathway, and young female players can see where it takes you. All they need to do is switch on a TV.

Nou Camp pictured before Barcelona and Real Madrid's meeting in the Women's Champions League in March
A crowd of 91,553 watched as Barca beat Madrid 5-2 - a record that was broken a month later (Barca v Wolfsburg, 91,648)

For the documentary, we also went to the Nou Camp for the Champions League quarter-final second leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid in March.

To witness what was a record crowd of over 91,000 people at a women's game was incredible. The atmosphere was scintillating, I don't think I've experienced a noise like it at a women's game.

In the seats before kick-off fans spelled out the words: 'More than empowerment.' It was so powerful to have that written - to show every young girl, to let them know that they can grow up and play on a pitch in front of so many people.

Someone asked me if I was jealous, if I wished I was playing.

It was almost hard to process the magnitude of what I witnessed, but I didn't feel jealous at all. For me it was more a moment of pride just to be there in the stadium and see that historic event unfold. And then they broke the attendance record again just a month later.

To see where women's football is right now makes me super proud of the game, and super proud of the role I still have in the sport.

I feel a personal responsibility to help elevate the game in terms of getting eyeballs on it, speaking about it and being an ambassador for it. I feel like I am helping in some way to carry on the progression, just in a different role.

Gabby Logan has been at the forefront of broadcasting women's football for over 10 years, and when she and I chatted the other day about the European Championships I was literally getting goosebumps just thinking about being in the stadium for the sold-out opening match at Old Trafford, when England play Austria on Wednesday night.

It's been a long journey to get to this point but this summer feels like such a pivotal and exciting time for the game.

And I can only see it getting bigger and better.

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