Who would have thought that a kickabout in Carnoustie could have such a big impact on the lives of the participants?
Sam Milne, Scottish FA club development officer, had given up on ever kicking a ball again until Scotland unleashed an incredible comeback story at the Women’s World Cup.
The inspiration behind women’s recreational football in her hometown of Carnoustie, Sam changed the fortunes of new teammates who quickly became lifelong friends.
On International Women’s Day, this is her story.
After a career-ending injury at 28, treatment for skin cancer and a mother of two, I thought I was done playing football.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’m Club Development Officer for girls’ and women’s football at the Scottish FA, covering Tayside and Fife – one of six regions across the country.
My role is mainly funded by the Cashback for Communities fund and the main goal is to increase participation, support local clubs with their infrastructure, help increase the number of volunteers in football and generally increase opportunities for girls in the to improve football.
I also volunteer at Carnoustie Panmure Football Club where we have a women’s recreational football programme.
An extended group of about 45 of us plays on Sunday nights. A little coaching and then a game.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it and how much I appreciate it. Especially when I thought I’d put away my football boots forever.
Football has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was old enough to walk.
I played here for Forfar Farmington in the top division of women’s football. At least until a serious knee injury in 2012 when I tore my ACL, meniscus and MCL.
I was told that was it. I would never play again.
I was 28 years old and basically accepted it. Two years later, I received the crazy, unexpected news that I had skin cancer. In 2016 I became a mother for the first time.
What made it worse in hindsight was losing the dressing room. I went from playing with the same group of 18 girls seven days a week to…nothing. I’ve lost friends. Everything I knew and lived for.
Fast forward to June 2019 and I remember watching Scotland vs Argentina at the Women’s World Cup. For some reason I had accumulated so much energy and didn’t know what to do with it. So that night, to the surprise of everyone in the house, I went for a jog.
It was 1k and took me 11 minutes. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
My knee hurt a bit but it helped my head so I gradually climbed up and wondered if there were others out there in a similar situation.
I was aware of women’s recreational football at Dunfermline, Glenrothes and Kinross but those sessions were all an hour and a half away. So I thought, “Let’s see what’s out there in my small town” and posted a message on the local Facebook group explaining my own circumstances.
Within two days we had registered 45 women.
I remember being so nervous before that first night. I didn’t know if I could play or how good these other women would be. So many different stories – bad injuries, some who haven’t played since school, some who have never played at all.
We had a Zoom call ahead of that first night to try and break down everyone’s little barriers and then it was off to the first training session.
On paper, neither of us would have had a reason to know each other. Football brought us together and we haven’t missed a session in two years.
It seemed to hit a nerve. Maybe because there is no obligation, so don’t disappoint anyone if you come one week and not the next. You are still part of the group.
Football became a by-product of the friendships formed. It went beyond the square to pizza nights, theater visits and all sorts of other activities.
We found that even the WhatsApp group was a huge benefit for so many women in the city.
It’s one of those group chats that’s always on the go. I believe as of this writing there have been around 600 messages in the last two days alone.
There was never a single bit of negativity and that’s so important. I’m really proud of the strong culture they’ve all helped create.
It’s women who support women. There is advice and talks on all imaginable topics. It’s heartwarming to see people gathering the way they do. Some of these women haven’t been in sessions for a few weeks, but we’re here for them when they’re ready.
There is room for everyone. It doesn’t matter what level you are at.
We’ll do a light workout covering the basics for half an hour. Some people have been happy just going along with it and not staying with the game, at least initially, and that’s totally fine. We do water breaks every 15 minutes for people to go home or jump in. Not everyone can spare that full hour and a half when they have a busy life.
The biggest win for me is seeing her confidence develop. Seeing people come out of their shell. I think that’s because I’m part of a larger group. Football is the vehicle for that.
Soccer is all I’ve ever known. I’ve played or worked in it in some way my entire adult life. It’s amazing to see so many women experiencing for the first time what I’ve known my entire life.
Helping build this game is the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s completely changed the way I think about it.
I accepted that at 28 I was done. Then when I was told I had cancer, I thought, that really was it. That’s a scary thought. I’m almost 40 now and I believe I can still play at a decent level.
I see no end now. I still want to play when I’m 60 or 70, even if it’s running football. There are so many formats and we always have to find new ways to engage people with the game.
Word gets around and new games are coming out all the time. In Tayside and Fife we now have 27 centers for around 600 players. Every month we hold a festival where the different groups can play against each other and the last one was sold out within 20 minutes of its release. That’s how it is all over Scotland.
I hope this appeals to someone who may be in the situation I was in or just want to try something new.
The best thing you can do is get in touch with the club development officer in your area. They will be able to point you in the right direction.
Remember that it is non-binding and the cost barrier has come down significantly. Games also tend to take place on evenings that suit your lifestyle as we find Fridays and Sundays to be the best for moms.
Take the first step. If you’re nervous, find the leader of the game and tell him that. They’ll calm your fears over coffee.
Football is for everyone.
If you have been inspired by Sam’s story and want to engage with football at any age and stage, Click here to find the contact details of our regional employees in your area.
They will be only too happy to point you in the right direction.
power of football
Football has the power to do so much good, enriching and improving life in Scotland every day. It brings communities closer together, it builds relationships that last forever, and it’s a lifeline for so many who need it.
We want to help tell unique stories from every corner of Scottish football. Is anyone in your community moving through football? A character who is the heart and soul of your club? A person in need of a pick-me-up? Let us know via [email protected].
Click here to find out more about the power of football in Scotland.