A PIONEERING former footballer who grew up in West Fife has spoken of her pride at receiving a Scotland cap - almost half a century on from representing the team.

Therese Coffey, who lived in Limekilns during her childhood, will attend the Scotland women's national team's match against England at Hampden Park tomorrow (Tuesday) evening to be given a lasting reminder of when she pulled on the dark blue during the 1970s.

She will be feted for having represented her country in a match against Ireland, played on November 23 1974, a period in which she said the women's game was "frowned upon" and "completely unsupported".

After her and her family moved to Limekilns, where she attended the village's primary school, as well as St John's in Rosyth, and latterly St Columba's High School, Theresebegan to play football.

Her journey from a public park to starring for Scotland took off, and she revealed that even the Press played a part in it.

"At a local level, I played with all the boys in Limekilns," Therese, 65, recalled.

"From the age of eight or nine I was in Limekilns. My dad was a squadron leader in the air force, and he got posted to Pitreavie, and that's the initial connection.

"I'm one of six children, and my oldest brother (Michael) was getting up to that age of secondary school, so my parents decided to plant themselves, and they bought a house in Limekilns. Prior to that, we were moving every three years, and there needed to be a stable base for us to live.

"I used to play football with all the boys in Limekilns public park, and I was pretty good. The boys wanted me to be in the primary school football team, but the headmaster said no, she's a girl, girls can't do that sort of thing.

"I wasn't allowed to play for the primary school team, even as the boys said 'look, she's better than at least half of us'. There was just no way round it.

"I continued to play with the guys nearly every day down at the park but, obviously, I couldn't get into a team as such. They just didn't exist at that time.

"In about 1971 I saw an advert in the Dunfermline Press that a guy called Bob Hogg had put up an advert asking female footballers to come along and see if we could form a club.

"At that time, I felt I was too young for it, so I waited about a year and then I got in touch with him. I got into the team, and that's how it all started off. That would've been about 1972 or 73."

Dunfermline Press: Therese Coffey (front row, centre) joined a team in Dunfermline that started her journey to playing for Scotland.Therese Coffey (front row, centre) joined a team in Dunfermline that started her journey to playing for Scotland. (Image: Therese Coffey.)

The Dunfermline Ladies team that Therese joined primarily played matches in the Glasgow area - the furthest she recalls travelling for a game was to Aberdeen - against teams in places like Cambuslang and Clydebank, "anywhere there was a factory and a cinder pitch".

"That's how I met a lot of the women who would go on to become very well-renowned players," she said.

"Our legs were torn to bits by the cinders but you just got on with it. I think we were pretty tough. We didn't even have nets on the goals - I'm sure I scored a few goals and it went through but, because there was no net, you couldn't tell. These are the basics that are taken for granted now, and I am so, so pleased that this generation of girls and women can be supported. They've got the right equipment, they've got proper health and safety measures in place - they have got so much more.

"There were many, many hurdles, as well as financially. I was still a schoolgirl - I went to St Columba's - and most of the women I played with, they worked. They worked up at the Linen Quarter in Dunfermline, as admin in the dockyard (at Rosyth), Lyle and Scott down in Rosyth, so they had their wages. I had nothing as a schoolgirl and, being one of six children, there was not the money.

"Every penny was a prisoner. If I wanted to get buses and travel, and pay my club subscription and what not, I had to earn the money, so I did lots of odd jobs. When I was 16, I got a job at Fine Fare, down in St Leonard's Street, so that helped a little bit.

"It was tough and it was twice as tough if you were female because the culture and society just regarded women as that they should not be playing a sport such as football."

Although Scotland's first official match took place in 1972, a ban on the women's game by the Scottish Football Association, introduced in 1921, wasn't lifted until 1974 - the year in which Therese played for her country.

Through playing with Dunfermline Ladies, she would get to know women such as Rose Reilly, who famously went on to win the World Cup with Italy after moving there professionally; Edna Neillis, who played in the first official Scotland international, against England, and also went on to play professionally in Italy; and Elsie Cook, who played a prominent role in the ban on women's football being lifted.

"We weren't allowed to use council pitches. We weren't allowed to use council changing rooms. We had to beg, borrow and steal equipment. We had to do sponsored walks, we had to do jumble sales, to raise money," Therese noted.

"It was very, very impoverished, completely unsupported, and you almost felt a sense of embarrassment and shame that it's a sport that you played that you love, and, really, it was very much despised."

A right back with a powerful shot and a knack for taking penalties, Therese, who is a retired publisher, social work and psychiatric nurse, said she was unaware she was being considered for a Scotland call-up.

Dunfermline Press: Therese, a right back, also pitched in with goals, as this newspaper cutting from 1974 demonstrates., Therese, a right back, also pitched in with goals, as this newspaper cutting from 1974 demonstrates., (Image: Therese Coffey.)

And, whilst staying with her newly-married brother in the centre of Dunfermline, her club coach, Bob Hogg, delivered the news that she had been picked for an upcoming match against Ireland, which was played at the now-demolished Kilbowie Park, the former home of Clydebank FC.

"At about eight o'clock, the door goes, and there's Bob Hogg, the club manager standing there, saying 'you'll never guess this. You've been picked to play for Scotland, next Sunday, in Glasgow'," Therese continued.

"I was pretty taken aback!

"There was no instant communication or anything; he had scoured the place looking for me, to get me at my brother's, so that was it.

"On the following Sunday, Bob drove me through to Clydebank, to Kilbowie Park, and that's where it all happened.

"I knew quite a lot of the squad but I'd never been with them as an internationalist. There was Rose Reilly, Sheila Begbie, Edna Neillis - quite a few significant women who went on to play abroad, and really got noticed.

"I was brought on in the second half but I think by that time we were well ahead in the game anyway. The eventual result was 11-1 to Scotland.

"I felt I played fine. I was excited, I was quite overawed - I can't remember how many people were in the crowd, but it was more than I'd ever played in front of before. The best, best thing was pulling on the navy blue jersey.

Dunfermline Press: A scrapbook photo shows Therese and the team in the aftermath of their win over Ireland.A scrapbook photo shows Therese and the team in the aftermath of their win over Ireland. (Image: Therese Coffey.)

"I was not long 16, I looked down and saw the rampant lion. It had been hand-sewn on by Elsie Cook, who's a significant name in the game. She was the real pioneer in pushing forward women's football. They literally begged, borrowed and stole just to get the team strips together for the Scottish team.

"That was it. I came home, everything was like ok, that's fair enough, go and have a bath, and then Monday morning, nothing was said. In those days, you just didn't say anything, because you'd be met with 'what? You're a girl and you play football? That's not right', especially a 15, 16-year-old, adolescent. You should be out doing other things, not playing football."

In the end, that Scotland cap was to prove the beginning of the end for Therese in terms of football, as academic studies and other social factors emerged on the horizon, although she continued to play in the local park in Limekilns.

She said that, whilst she "often wanted to go out and play football", she more "rued the day that nobody talked about it".

In recent years, talk of retrospective caps for those pioneers who help shape the game for the women of today began to emerge, and it will take pride of place for Therese.

"I've got a box of cotton hankies which I've been hauling around for the last 50 years and saying this is my Scotland cap but, now, I have a designated space on the wall just waiting to get my proper cap on Tuesday," she said.

"It's great. It's something I can show my family. There's lot of kudos about an international cap; most people won't ever have been able to touch one or see one.

"We wanted to play football. We did everything we could possibly do to play football despite the obstacles we were up against, but it took the vision of a few men and women, who really took the bull by the horns and kept it going.

"A lot of those pioneers, sadly, have not lived to see the day that women's football is now appreciated, valued and promoted."

Therese, who is set to be joined at the national stadium by her family, added: "50 years is a long time to wait for it.

"It's all a bit surreal, I think because I lived through the drama of it in 1974, but couldn't make much of a fuss. I had to keep my head down because women's football was just frowned upon.

"Now, with the upsurge in interest for women's football, over the last 10 years or so, and its normalisation within children's lives, it's completely different.

"I've kept quiet about all this for many, many years. A few people knew, but it wasn't something that I broadcast, so to be invited to Hampden to be in front of the crowd at the international game against England, is really going to be quite an occasion for me and my family.

"There's 29 women on the list to attend for retrospective caps on Tuesday evening. I'm not sure how many are able to attend but, obviously, some people have passed away in the interim, over the 50 years, so I don't know if their relatives or whatever may be able to attend on their behalf.

"Certainly, my three grandsons are over the moon. Just a few years ago, they had bragging rights at school, that their nanny played for Scotland at football. I was quite surprised because, certainly in my day, there was no bragging rights whatsoever. You just kept your head down and hoped people wouldn't embarrass you about your bruised legs.

"I had the bruises but I was fit, I loved the game, and I just wanted to play football."