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

Sunday Mail (UK) - - The Judge - Jenny Mor­ri­son

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

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