Think of great Scottish players who made their mark in Europe and you’ll likely throw up the names of Steve Archibald, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Johnstone and Dennis Law.
But the most successful Scottish player has become a footnote in history, despite having won eight Serie A titles, four Italian Cups, the French national league and two Golden Boots. Oh, and a World Cup.
No surprises for guessing that it is not one our esteemed male players. Rose Reilly is her name and she was a fairly nifty player from the age of seven when a Celtic scout came looking.
But it was soon apparent something was amiss.
“Our coach said to the Celtic scout – ‘she’s a wee lassie.’ I was devastated, I was in tears: I could not understand why I couldn’t sign on,” said Reilly after she had retired.
To be fair to the scout, Reilly was of an age where the obvious signs differentiating boys and girls had not quite blossomed. It was obvious that Reilly had skill – she scored seven times in that match alone.
Ally MacLeod wished the balls she juggled were natural. “If she was a boy, I wouldn’t have any hesitation at all in signing her. She was a remarkable talent.”
With no Celtic Ladies team at the time – that wouldn’t come till much later – Reilly moved to the more accommodating France initially and then to AC Milan. Her two Serie A medals there were joined by another six with various clubs including Napoli and Lecce in a 23-year career – it was all a long way from Stewarton United.
The original Gregory’s Girl even won two league titles in different countries in the same year, as she explained upon her induction to the Scottish Football hall of fame.
“I would play with Lecce on a Saturday afternoon and then fly to Paris to play on Sunday with Rheims. We won both championships. I was always myself, with my bag over my shoulder. Just me and the game.”
Sceptics will brush this off with cynical ‘aye, but what about the quality’. It’s true that women’s football was still developing in her heyday but that shouldn’t detract from her achievements – the leagues in both France and Italy at those times were competitive and the best in the world.
Furthermore, Reilly was eligible to play for Italy – despite playing 10 times for Scotland – and helped them win the unofficial World Cup in 1983, being voted best player in the Italian side, and scoring in the 3-1 win in the final against the USA in front of 90,000 fans in Beijing. Not bad for a wee lassie from Kilmarnock.
Written by Craig Stephen