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Women's football gets on side with 'Becks appeal' NEW MOVIE PUTS GIRLS IN SPOTLIGHT.

Byline: EMMA BRITTON

lark around during training BLOKES may laugh at it but women's football is a smash hit at the cinema with the hilarious movie Bend It Like Beckham pulling in the crowds. In countries such as the USA and Italy, the women's game is already huge and Scots players hope the film will give them a boost too. EMMA BRITTON met the Scottish women's team to find out about their passion for the game.IT was the question I had been dreading. I was sitting with four players from the Scotland women's team when they asked me to explain the offside rule.

Luckily I had done my homework in the pub a few nights before. Using a glass of wine, a vodka and a can of Coke, I had just about got my head around the rule which stumps so many women.

So, when the professionals congratulated me on my explanation, I was mightily relieved.

Having passed the vetting procedure and had my credentials as a bona fide football fan confirmed, I tackled the players with my questions.

Captain Julie Fleeting and goalie Gemma Fay are two of Scotland coach Vera Pauw's best players.

Like the lead characters in Bend It Like Beckham, which charts the success of fictional women's team Hounslow Harriers, Julie and Gemma have both been offered several chances to join American football academies.

But unlike their screen equivalents Jess and Jules, they turned down the lure of the US to stay in Scotland.

Julie, 21, who captains her club side Ayr United and studies PE at Edinburgh University, was first appr- oached by a US coach five years ago.

She said: "I was only young when I had to decide which university to go to, and at the time, Edinburgh was far enough away from home.

"But when I graduate I will still only be 21 and young enough to go abroad if I want to.

"I'm happy with the choices I've made so far, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to play professionally although I've got a long way to go before I'm good enough to compete with the top players in the States."

But Gemma, 20, said loyalty kept her in Scotland.

She added: "To go abroad at 17 would have been very young.

"And it was an exciting time in the national squad over here.

"I felt I owed it to my team-mates to stick it out in Scotland."

But just why do they choose to spend their spare time kitted out in shin pads and kicking a ball around a pitch?

Captain Julie explained: "I just love playing the game and being part of a team.

"Most of the girls have become really good friends too. I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

With long slim legs and highlighted straight hair, Julie does not fit the stereotypical image of a female football player.

She made her Scotland debut when she was just 15 and her dedication and skill have earned her huge respect.

BUT, when she was starting out, Julie, like all the other squad members, had to battle against the old prejudice that girls shouldn't play.

Julie said: "I joined Cunninghame Boys Club when I was nine and it took a bit of time for them to get used to having a girl in their team.

"And the teams that played against us were always a surprised to see me."

Gemma also caused a stir when she started playing for her primary school.

She said: "They'd never had a girl on the team before and I caused a bit of an uproar, but they soon got used to me.

"I did get the odd abusive comment but I think it was just jealousy - the boys were annoyed that a girl could play better than them.

She added: "Now I wouldn't even entertain a man who said girls can't play."

And how did their families react?

Julie Smith, 28, and Shelley Kerr, 32, are defenders in the Scotland squad.

Shelley remembered trying to pretend she hadn't been playing football at school.

She said: "They always knew I'd been playing because I used to come home with ripped tights and skint knees."

And Julie Smith's gran was convinced she should be doing something more lady-like.

She recalled: "My gran always used to ask when I was going to stop playing... and she still asks me now."

Gemma's family also tried in vain to get their little girl away from football and into more feminine pursuits.

She looked embarrassed as she admitted: "My mum used to try to get me into girlie things and I've got pictures of me doing ballet in a pink tutu."

Julie Fleeting got a bit more family support - hardly surprising considering her dad Jim is an ex-Kilmarnock player and boss.

SHE insists her dad did not push her into football, adding: "At first, he wasn't too happy it.

"I think he thought I'd stop when I got too old to play for the boys' team.

"But when he realised how much I enjoyed it he would never have stood in my way." So do the girls get any unwanted attention from male fans?

They giggled as they revealed the team had been getting some rather interesting letters.

Julie Smith explained: "A French guy saw us play and he's been bombarding us with letters asking for photos.

"But we chose to ignore his requests - he could be anyone."

With training four nights a week and games at the weekend, the girls don't get a lot of time to themselves. But they did find time to go to the cinema to see Bend It Like Beckham.

Julie Fleeting said the squad was quite impressed but added: "We thought they should have used better players.

"You could tell, even from their approach to the ball, that it wasn't very realistic.

"It was a good film, though, and it was so funny when Jules' mum was struggling to learn the offside rule."

Silly woman!

CAPTION(S):

FLEET FOOTED: Julie Fleeting rides a tackle and shows the skills that made Scotland coach Vera Pauw, inset, pick the Ayr United star as captain; HAVING A BALL: Scotland squad members; BECKS APPEAL: A scene from film
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 20, 2002
Words:1045
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