Alex Scott: ‘I wouldn’t want Graeme Souness to change because I’m female’

The former England full-back Alex Scott, preparing for the Women’s World Cup as a pundit this time, relishes her studio clashes and setting an example

Alex Scott was one of the BBC team working on the Women’s FA Cup final, won by Manchester City. Photograph: NurPhoto via Getty Images

“It’s going to get to a stage where I’m not regarded as a female pundit. I don’t want to be regarded as a female pundit. I’m a pundit.”

That is Alex Scott’s hope but the former Arsenal right-back turned broadcaster is so regularly a target for abuse that it almost forced her off social media. “Gosh, yeah,” she sighs, when asked whether she gets abuse. “I would say so, yeah. Twitter, every week, every single day now. Constantly.

“Do you know what? I went through a stage over Christmas where it got a lot to handle, the scrutiny of it. I’ve always been a positive person and that’s when I put out a tweet about it because I was like: ‘Right, I’m going to come off Twitter and away from social media.’”

She changed her mind, though, “I’ve always been a strong presence on social media. That’s how I’ve connected with my fans and in doing that I’m allowing them to win. What keeps me going is knowing that I’m helping change things. I get people coming up to me in the street saying they watch with their daughters, or sons; it’s normalising it. Me sitting there, being strong enough to give my opinions.”

It is not all negative. Many spring to the defence of female pundits. There was outcry during the World Cup in Russia when Patrice Evra patronisingly applauded Eni Aluko. Scott’s social media mentions soared when Graeme Souness interrupted her at half-time during Manchester United’s win against Leicester in February.

The 34-year-old looks at it in a different way. “Every time I’m on with Graeme I get more comments about that than when I’m on with any other pundit. But Graeme Souness is like that. Whether it be with me, how he reacted to [presenter] David Jones, he’s the same. If he’s got a disagreement and he sits alongside you he’s going to say it. I actually respect that.

“That’s how I want people to be with me. Not everyone agrees. If you disagree with me I want you to tell me and I’m going to come back and tell you why it’s my opinion. I wouldn’t want Graeme to change and be different just because I’m a female. Treat me the same.”

Part of the criticism of Scott comes from a perception that she essentially walked off the pitch and into the studio. Little is known of the work behind the scenes to prepare for life after playing. She never wanted to be a coach and always had media ambitions.

Before the 2015 World Cup, she says: “We had our warm-up game against Canada and I was sending in my dissertation the night before. I was preparing for a World Cup and finishing my degree in media.

Alex Scott playing for England Women against Portugal in Tilburg, the Netherlands, during Euro 2017. She will be a pundit at this summer’s World Cup in France. Photograph: Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

“I knew that obviously I would be getting: ‘She doesn’t deserve to be there.’ I never want anyone to think I’ve been given a helping hand. I’ve always worked for everything, whether it be on the football field or away from it. I never wanted anyone to have anything over me, so I made sure I got a degree as well as getting the experience. I wrote for the Independent during the men’s 2014 World Cup and our World Cup.”

That level of preparation has led to her success as a pundit. Although there have been detractors, Scott has been overwhelmingly welcomed.

Does she feel she has had to work harder? “I can’t compare myself to what others do but I want to do the job the best I can. I would not turn up at a World Cup not at the fitness level that I knew I could be. I knew before every game what my opponent would do. I do the same amount of work I did as a player as a pundit.”

Four years on from a bronze medal in Canada, the Lionesses head to France. Expectations are a lot higher and Scott will be behind the microphone rather than on the pitch. At the 2015 World Cup her role had already shifted.

“That tournament on the one hand was my most enjoyable, on the other hand it was hard. I lost my starting place, as right-back, to Lucy Bronze. But I was going through a transition then in my life, where I knew I was coming towards the end. I thought: ‘OK, I’m not starting, but what can I do?’

“That’s why me and Lucy are still so close because she knows what I’ve done to help her in that environment and help her become the best. I had that. When I went over to the US it was Heather Mitts, who was one of the best full-backs in the world. I ultimately took her place at club level but what Heather did for me was she always made sure I stayed back after training working on weaknesses and that always stayed with me: helping your teammates to be better.”

If England win the World Cup, Scott believes it will be transformative. “I already feel like women’s football is on the cusp of something special; the investment, the brands, everyone knows it’s a moment to get involved.

“It’s not just the World Cup, it’s the Olympics, a home Euros. There’s momentum behind women’s football now, which is great. But if England go and win the World Cup it will be like the ’99ers in the US. That took US soccer to a whole new level. Everyone was then invested, they are still reaping the rewards of them winning it. But if England don’t? I still think the momentum is there.”

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