Jen Beattie: Stars aligned playing for Scotland – but I’ve still got games left in my legs for Arsenal | Football News6 min read
Sporting prowess runs deep in the Beattie family. So much so, that on the international scene in Scotland, Beattie is a household name across multiple sporting disciplines.
Jen Beattie began her association with the Scotland Women’s national team during her teenage years, making her senior debut at the age of 16, and going on to amass 144 appearances.
She was the cornerstone of back-to-back bids to reverse the trend of Scotland missing out on football’s major competitions, playing her part in successful campaigns to reach Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup.
Her father, John Beattie, is a former Scotland and British Lions rugby ace, while brother Johnnie has also recently retired from a successful rugby career. It’s a star-studded line-up.
Yet, as Jen sits down to discuss her decision to step away from international football at a remote location in London, following a career spanning 15 years, she is astonishingly unassuming and modest. « Thanks for coming, » she says before easing into her chair and switching to ‘interview mode’.
Beattie has won everything there is in the English top tier, including the Women’s Super League title, League Cup and multiple Women’s FA Cups. Success during her years representing Scotland were not measured in silverware, though, they were rooted in development and growth. « We wanted to have our game on the map, » she neatly described.
A spell that began without so much as a training top, closer to grassroots than the professional game, ended with Scotland rated as 25 on FIFA’s official world rankings. Beattie describes the trajectory as « crazy » – in a good way.
« When I first got called into the national team we’d never made a major tournament. That was always what we were chasing, » she recalled. « The 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup are my top two moments. Scoring at a World Cup will always be my favourite thing that’s ever happened. Not just because it was at a World Cup, but the story behind it.
« My dad had scored on that very same pitch playing rugby for Scotland. So to take that relation – sport is such a big part of my family. Representing Scotland has been such a big part. I didn’t score many goals and he definitely didn’t score many tries. To have done it on the same pitch – the stars aligned. It was awesome. »
Nothing was gifted. For women’s football in Scotland to have taken such giant leaps forward it needed ambassadors – promoters, if you will. Beattie picks out two such individuals – Erin Cuthbert of Chelsea and Caroline Weir of Real Madrid – who she regards as the next generation of torchbearers.
And although she describes feeling disappointed to have bowed out of her personal journey with the team narrowly missing out on qualification to this summer’s World Cup – Scotland were beaten 1-0 by Republic of Ireland in a play-off – she is grateful to have been part of one of the most radical evolutions in the history of the Scottish game.
« Players like Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert, they haven’t even hit their prime yet, » she said. « They will continue to develop which is quite scary. Of course, if we’d have qualified for the World Cup I’d have been there. No doubt. »
Testament to her humility, she tacked « if I got selected » onto the end of that sentence.
She continued: « That’s the difference, the timing of it. I would have loved to have bowed out off the back of a World Cup tournament. Whilst I’ve been involved we’ve qualified for two major tournaments and missed out on two. It just felt like the right time to step away. When I first got a call for up for Scotland you barely even got a tracksuit.
« I had no idea what was possible and no expectation – that’s what has made my international career so enjoyable and fun. I count myself so lucky.
« For me personally I’ve been through a lot these past couple of years, so I’m thinking about what is next. I never wanted to end my playing career at international and club level all at once.
« It’s weird being in a career that you know is going to end. You almost have to start planning before it’s time. If I could, I would play forever. But when you know that point is coming, you start to feel like you’re ready for it. Other interests crop up and I’ve been lucky I’ve been offered other opportunities. »
The Arsenal defender has not battled to come to terms with the arrow of time, instead using the experiences of her father and brother, among others, to solicit advice and guidance. « There is no shame in asking for help, » she said. « There is no perfect way to retire, it’s whatever feels best for you at that point. I also spoke to Jill Scott who has recently been through the same. »
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The conversation turned to the future. Beattie was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list for services to football, alongside Arsenal teammates Kim Little, Beth Mead and Leah Williamson. She wants to use her platform to influence positive change regarding issues close to her heart, which include environmentalism and sustainability as well as raising breast cancer awareness after being diagnosed with the disease in 2020.
« What’s important is that we’re shining a light on so many different issues. We saw that with Leah [Williamson] recently, talking about endometriosis. I’ve spoken about breast cancer. It’s another example of how women’s football has evolved and is being recognised. It’s so special to be a part of that.
« Women in the game really understand their role, in terms of being brave enough to be vocal about difficult topics, and I’m certainly embracing it. It’s never an easy thing to do, but one of the best things I’ve done is be open about my journey with breast cancer because it helped so many people. It made my situation a bit easier because the outpouring of support was incredible. »
Beattie has become a source of inspiration to those affected by the disease. Her role in speaking out, with the aim of helping and inspiring others, is one she hopes she can continue to embrace as she transitions away from playing football – albeit not altogether. So what about Arsenal? The subject is quickly broached as she dispels any suggestions of quitting completely.
« I still absolutely love football. I’ve got so many games left in my legs. I feel really competitive. I love it at Arsenal and I love being part of the team. I want to continue to be an ambassador for breast cancer and speak about important things. Sustainability is also a passion of mine – I’ve been vegan for five years. But I’m still focussed and determined to represent Arsenal. »
That will be music to the ears of many an Arsenal fan as the club continue to fight on four fronts this season. Indeed a collective effort will be needed to outdo reigning champions Chelsea as the race for the WSL crown heats up.
Beattie may just have a couple more trophies to add to her already impressive collection yet.
Beattie has featured on Sky Sports’ Three Players and a Podcast this season, which discusses the hottest topics surrounding women’s football right now.