Alex Scott: paying it forward

21 Sep 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

Footballer-turned-pioneering TV pundit Alex Scott is focussing her efforts to challenge perceptions of women’s football on the next generation.

The star, who made history this year by becoming Sky Sports’ first female TV pundit, told members of the Sport Industry Private Dining Club hosted by Integro Sport and Entertainment, that her experiences playing women’s football over the past 25 years have helped to harden her to negative responses among some sections of the football audience.

She said: “I’ve heard it all so many times: ‘Get back in the kitchen.’ I know I’m still going to get that.

“But ultimately what I focus on is changing the perceptions of the next generation. What matters now is making sure young girls – and young boys, because I think that’s important – see what I’m doing as the norm. That they see me not as a female pundit, but as a pundit.”

Scott, whose extraordinary playing career included 140 England caps, five Premier League titles, one Women’s Super League, seven FA Cup victories and a UEFA Champions League crown that formed part of unprecedented quadruple-winning season with Arsenal, was speaking at The Bluebird restaurant in Chelsea.

She entertained guests from across the sport industry with the story of her rise to footballing prominence, which has run parallel to the trajectory of the women’s game.

Asked if she found it frustrating to be better known for TV than for her on-field achievements, Scott said: “If I inspire young females or change the opinions of young boys watching me, then it doesn’t matter. I want people to have the same dreams I did. And if I’m helping, that’s all that counts.”

Scott’s football career began when she signed for Arsenal at the age of eight. She explained: 

“I grew up in east London playing football in a football cage. That was my escape, my out – where I could dream. I got spotted in Tower Hamlets. I didn’t even know there were women’s teams! I went for a trial and got signed straight away.

“So I used to get the 277 bus every Tuesday and Thursday down to Highbury and that just became my place, that I didn’t want to let go of. That was my opportunity, my out – and I felt that at an early age.

“My dad moved away very early in my life. It was a struggle for my mum. I don’t use that as a sob story because it made me who I am – seeing my mum so hard-working, seeing that it doesn’t come easy. I always worked hard for it. I never wanted handouts, and it’s the same now with my TV career.

“Very early on, I knew that I wanted to see the world. I wanted more, and Arsenal gave me that opportunity.

Scott credited long-time Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazides, who announced his departure from the club this week, for the support he gave her career. She said: “It’s really important to stress that it’s not just females supporting women’s football. Ivan has been a huge support for me – a mentor, who’s always been pushing me forward, so I’m sad to see him go.”

The ex-Arsenal captain acknowledged the transformation that women’s football has undergone over the course of her career, observing: “The interest has totally changed. Everyone feels [women’s football] is about to explode and there’s also this interest now in having strong female role models. It’s great to be part of that.

“When I was starting out at Arsenal, I had to work in the laundry to fund myself. But I always used it as an opportunity to learn. I was in an environment with Arsene Wenger – asking questions, learning.

“Later, when I needed to step up a level, I had to leave to the US because the set-up wasn’t right here. Now that support and that system is in place and we have foreign players wanting to come and play in this (English) league – it’s great!

“The FA have done a great job. When Martin Glenn made that commitment to double the size of the women’s game, I believed him. You can see his desire and interest to make it happen. And he’s putting the resources and people in place to make things happen.”

Asked about the FA’s bid for the women’s UEFA Euro 2021 tournament, Scott said: “I’m excited; the time’s right for England. We have some of the best female footballers in the world at the moment.”

She stressed the importance of storytelling to future marketing of the women’s game, saying: “Stories are so powerful. Once you make that connection with people, they want to come back and see more. 

“We can learn a lot from the NFL in that respect. And I think we also saw it this summer with the England team, how they totally reconnected. Fans want those stories – it’s like me in that football cage; it’s what keeps fans engaged.

“It’s also why the BBC has been huge for the women’s game, in giving people that access. I’m glad they’ve got the [2019] Women’s World Cup, especially because they’re showing all the games – so people can follow the whole story and the progress of the tournament."

On her own future, Scott laughed off suggestions of a possible move into management, saying “I’m focused on media. There’s so much more that I want to do. I know I'm not the finished article and I'm always working to get better.

“What amazes me about media and business in general is how little feedback you get.

“I’m coming off a TV show asking ‘how did I do?’ And people tell me, ‘yeah, you did great.’ I’m like, ‘no, really, how did I do?' In sport, we live off that feedback. It’s those one per cent margins that help us to grow and get better. We need more of that in business. It’s really just about being willing to ask!”

Twenty-five years after being signed to Arsenal as an Ian Wright-idolising eight-year-old, Scott named a female sports star as her modern-day role model: “Serena Williams, for everything that she stands for. And I know it’s a bit controversial at the moment.

“She’s passionate, strong and true to herself – and she is a role model.”