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Dollars 700,000 a year, crowds of 90,000 and the cover of a magazine...it sure beats playing for Cumbernauld; THE GOALDEN GIRLS: SCOTS WOMEN FOOTBALLERS CHASE FAME AND FORTUNE AS PROFESSIONALS IN AMERICAN LEAGUE.

IT was another tough day at training yesterday for Pamela McDonald. The sun was beating down as she jogged along the beach in her Scotland top.

She sat down at the waterside cafe and beamed: "Welcome to Miami."

This is professional football, American style.

Just six months ago, Pamela was more used to the wide open spaces of Cumbernauld. Now she's one of a wave of Scots women chasing their dream of striking it rich in the fastest-growing sport in the States.

In America, women footballers are superstars, not the butt of pub jokes.

Star players such as Brandi Chastain are household names, more famous in America than the likes of Ronaldo and the world's most expensive footballer, Christian Vieri.

Last week, Brandi became a national hero when she clinched the World Cup for her country, scoring the winning goal in a dramatic penalty shoot-out against China.

And Brandi, who earned herself the nickname Brandi Babe after appearing topless in Playboy magazine, is the player most women players aspire to.

She is already semi-professional and will become a full-time player next year when the US professional women's league kicks off.

One glance at her pay cheque and it's easy to see why Brandi is such an inspiration to others - she earns an estimated $700,000 a year from the game through numerous sponsorship deals and public appearances.

Women's football is the fastest growing sport in the US. An impressive 91,000 packed the Pasadena Rose Bowl to see last week's nail-biting final and a further 40 million tuned in to watch the game live on TV.

This was no one-off. Even matches between the leading university teams pull in impressive crowds of up to 15,000 - gates many Scottish Premier clubs would love to have.

By contrast, the state of women's football in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, is dismal.

Most games are watched by only a handful of dedicated supporters. And there is no money to be made from the game.

Meanwhile, Pamela and her team-mates have everything they could wish for Stateside.

Their footballing scholarship offers a package worth around pounds 20,000 a year, providing food, board, lodgings and tuition fees. They are taken under the wing of professional coaches. And they can count on everything from free strips and training kits to top-class facilities.

They even get at least two pairs of top boots thrown in for good measure. Pamela has only been out in the States for six months, but already she knows she has made the right decision.

She says: "I came over here to play semi-professional soccer for one of the women's teams and I was offered an all-expenses paid scholarship by Barry University here in Miami.

"Deciding to stay and take on a four year-course was a difficult choice to make, but in the end, the offer was too good to refuse."

Several of her team mates from Cumbernauld have also taken the plunge. Striker Jackie Law, 27, is now living in Alabama, while midfielder Michelle Cox, 20, is also based in Florida.

Jackie says: "The facilities over here are great and the game itself is taken much more seriously. No one laughs because it is women's football and there are no mean remarks about football being a man's game and all that rubbish."

The downside is that the transatlantic move means Scottish players have had to give up any hope of continuing their international career.

Jackie says: "I played for the national team a dozen times or so, but when I decided to make the move to the States, I knew that was the end of my international career - at least for the time being.

"I can't afford to fly back to Scotland for training and the Scottish women's football team don't have the funds to fly me home either.

"It means I miss out. I've got used to that fact now, but don't get me wrong - I'd love to be able to play for Scotland."

Missing out on the international scene is also a disappointment for Pamela.

She says: "Not being able to play for Scotland really annoys me. The Football Association has enough money to fly the international women players back for training and games, but they won't do it."

Talented starlets Ifeoma Dieke and Michelle Barr are also keen to follow a football career in the States.

Ifeoma, 18, has the choice of playing international football for Scotland, Nigeria or America - right now, America is winning the fight for her services hands down.

The striker has been offered an all-inclusive four-year scholarship and the deal is too good to turn down.

She says: "To get recognition, the States is the best place to be at the moment.

"I have been asked if I would play for Scotland, but I want to get into the professional game and that's not possible here."

Sweeper Michelle spent last summer playing professionally in the States and was one of a select 25 girls to win a place at the FA's Durham College.

She said: "The US team are outstanding. They have all the money, better facilities and better weather.

"Scottish women's football is improving, but unless it goes professional, I will definitely be going to America."

These players are part of the revolution in British women's soccer which has seen numbers rise from 8000 players to 34,000 in the last 10 years.

Free

In recent years, Cumbernauld United team coach Shelley Valle has watched four of her squad leave to take up scholarship deals. Shelley, 34, who is also a Scottish international, is worried the lure of a professional contract in the States will leave the women's game, both here and in England, decimated.

She says: "A lot of our players have been offered scholarships abroad, which basically means they get all their expenses and accommodation paid.

"They get free tuition and get to play loads of football without paying for anything doing better out of it than some male professionals here.

"I just wish universities in Scotland and England would do the same thing."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 15, 1999
Words:1016
Previous Article:Brandi's even more famous than Ronaldo.
Next Article:They can't believe we play football ... and we play it well.


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