I’ve dreamed of pulling on my football boots and playing for Scotland at a World Cup. But I’ve given it all up for bootees and baby cups
Mum-to-be is happy to stay at home with Hibee fiance Martin
She has dreamed of playing in the World Cup since she was a little girl – but Scotland star Rachael Small has no regrets about bumping football’ s greatest competition to focus on a growing bump of her own.
The talented defender, engaged to Hibs player Martin Boyle, discovered she was pregnant just days after being named player- of-the-match in an international against Russia.
The surprise news came just months after she and Martin, 24, suffered the heartache of a miscarriage, and only weeks after Rachael told her Scotland bosses she was committed to helping them qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
But for now, she has hung up her football boots as she looks forward to the arrival of her baby in September.
And while she does plan to return to the game she loves, she predicts the only way she will make it to the World Cup is as the team’s No1 fan.
Rachael, 26, who plays for Hibs Ladies, said: “Playing in the World Cup has always been my dream but as soon as I found out I was pregnant I knew I couldn’t be involved in the campaign to get there anymore.
“When I suffered a miscarriage last year, Martin and I never imagined that I would fall pregnant again so soon.
“I actually spoke to the national coach, Shelley Kerr, and told her my focus would be football until after our wedding next summer.
“But I wouldn’t change what has happened for the world. I’m proud of what I have achieved internationally but now I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my life.”
Rachael, who has appeared 31 times
for the Scotland senior team, stopped playing for both club and country as soon as she discovered she was expecting.
While she has told her Hibs coaches she is keen to return to their team as soon as possible, she doubts she will ever play for her country again.
However, she is inspired by former Scotland and Arsenal Ladies star, Julie Fleeting, who continued her international career after becoming a mum to eldest daughter Ella in 2009.
Rachael, who captained Scotland at Under-19 level, said: “I wouldn’t ever say I had retired from international football but I know getting back into the squad is likely to be very tough.
“When I first joined the Scotland squad, Julie had just come back after having her first baby and brought her daughter with her when we were away on international duty.
“It was great having Ella there. She lifted everyone’s spirits running around the hotel, although it was probably hard work for her mum.
“Julie’s my inspiration – she had a baby and returned to playing at the highest level. But that’s not something many players can do. Standards are so high now, and competition for places in the squad is so fierce, which – and I mean this with no disrespect to other girls who played in the past – maybe wasn’t always the case.”
Rachael, who played for Aberdeen before joining Hibs, knows only too well what it’s like to be on the international sidelines.
She won her first senior team international cap in 2010 and went on to play a further 27 games for her country before finding herself out of favour with then manager Anna Signeul. Legal secretary Rachael, who like most top female players in the Scottish game doesn’t get paid to play club football, said: “I was advised that I needed to train more – but with a full-time job that was near impossible to do.
“I was already up at 6am to train before work, and then training after work. I couldn’t cut my hours at work because I had bills to pay.
“As a result, I didn’t get asked to play for Scotland for another five years until I moved down to Hibs and my football took a turn for the better.
“The Scotland manager changed too. I had worked with Shelley before and she knew what I could bring to the team.
“When she gave me the chance to come back I grabbed it with both hands.”
Aberdeen- born Rachael joined Hibs just a year after fiance Martin.
The couple, who went to the same school in Aberdeen, set up home together and each went on to win the Scottish Cup for Hibs in 2016 – with Rachael even scoring a goal in her Scottish Cup Final.
She said: “No husband and wife, or engaged couple, have ever done that before in terms of being at the same club and winning both the men’s and ladies’s Scottish Cup in the same year.
“We’ve had a lot of nice comments too about the fact that two Hibs players are having a baby together, which again is quite unusual.
“To go through the experience of suffering a miscarriage last October was really hard – something we will never forget – but now we are so excited about the future.
“I was with the Scotland squad in La Manga in Spain – in fact I’d just got man- of- the- match for our game against Russia – when I suspected I might be pregnant.
“I spoke to the team doctor and he advised that I take a test when I got home, which I did.
“Martin was away playing at Dundee but I drove up to watch the match and when he got in the car afterwards I told him the news and he was absolutely over the moon.
“We heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time a couple of weeks ago – which was just amazing and makes it all feel very real.
“I’m not sure how long it will be after the birth until I can start training again but my intention is to get back into the gym as soon as I can – not least because Martin and I are getting married next June and I’ve got a wedding dress I need to fit into.”
Rachael, who kicked her first ball aged three, said all her team-mates and coaches have been hugely supportive since she broke the news – including Shelley Kerr who herself juggled playing football with motherhood.
Last week, Rachael cheered on her Scotland team-mates as the squad kept their World Cup dream alive by beating Poland 3- 0.
They sit in second place in their qualifying group and, while only group winners are guaranteed to progress to the finals in France next June, the four best runners-up will compete in a play-off for the final European spot.
Rachael said: “I know how much getting to the finals means to all the girls, so I’m absolutely cheering them on. And I’m hoping a trip to watch them in France will be our baby’s first holiday.”
EXPECTING Rachael and home with dog Zara and, above left, her baby scan. Below, starring for Scotland Main picture David Johnstone
HIBBEE TOGETHER Rachael after signing for Hibs in 2014 and with fiance Martin after the team won the Scottish Cup two years ago