This story first appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Alex Scott has won plenty of plaudits for her battles on the pitch over the years, but the recent challenges she has experienced off it have earned her – and women’s football – a whole new level of respect.
While England’s Lionesses were enjoying their hard-earned break after finishing third at the Women’s World Cup last summer, the Arsenal Ladies captain was ensuring the momentum Mark Sampson’s side had worked tirelessly to generate wasn’t lost when the men’s domestic season kicked off again in August. Equipped with a degree in professional sports writing and broadcasting, Alex became a household name across the United Kingdom, presenting on London Live, Soccer AM, Premier League Productions’ Fan Zone and Kick-Off Show, while also providing expert commentary and analysis on Arsenal.com’s Matchday Show.
For many, playing for England, captaining Arsenal and gaining invaluable media experience might have been taking on too much but, as Alex catches her breath between England’s gym sessions at St George’s Park, the defender insists she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Anyone will tell you I’m the kind of person who likes to keep active and busy on and off the field,” Alex tells the Arsenal Magazine. “I feel like I need to be doing stuff and I’m not one who likes to sit around and wait for things to happen. That’s what I’ve been doing, working really hard.
“I got my degree but I didn’t want it to just be a degree sitting there and something that I only considered using after football. I know I want to do media work in the future so I thought it was a good time to mix football and work commitments.”
Alex’s media work did not stop there, though, and nor was it confined to just sport. A meeting at ITV’s London headquarters late last year confirmed the captain’s next move, and soon she would be testing her survival skills in the South African wilderness on Bear Grylls’ Mission Survive.
“ITV had a whole host of names who they wanted to take part with a whole heap of celebrities, but it was just about finding the right combination of personalities to go on together,” she explains.
“I went in and met the producers first of all and they said the same thing, that they were looking at a lot of people so they would get back to me. For them to get back to me and say they wanted me to be on the show. I knew then that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Having never considered taking part in a reality TV show because of her fear of heights, Alex was naturally apprehensive about joining the programme. However, once she realised how much her appearance could open up women’s football to a whole new audience, it was an easy decision for the England international to make.
“It’s not been done before where a women’s footballer has gone on a reality show, but then I thought about the positive side of it and its major exposure not just for myself but for women’s football in general,” says Alex.
“To even get the opportunity and for Arsenal to allow me to do that was massive for women’s football in the first place. But then to go on, win the show and get that recognition, I never thought it would happen.
“Looking back on it, I still can’t believe it happened because I’m not the kind of girl to go camping and I’m also scared of heights, so to then go on and win is a massive highlight and people are starting to recognise me a bit more.
“It’s a bit weird because people look at you a lot more when you’re on TV. I get a bit paranoid because they don’t come up to straight away. It’s only when they ask for your autograph that you realise they’ve recognised you. I’ve been in the supermarket recently just doing my local shop and people will be looking at me, so I think I’ve got something on my face!”
Alex’s growing profile has not only seen her become a familiar face in England, but also some of the most politically volatile places in the world. After leaping from cliffs, swimming in shark-infested water and drinking her own urine, the England international faced an entirely different challenge when she headed to Khanqin, Iraq, to visit a football project funded by the Arsenal Foundation, in partnership with Save the Children.
The charities’ work saw two artificial football pitches installed within camps for children and families who had been forced to flee their homes to escape war, and reached more than 2,500 youngsters across the two camps.
“Iraq was truly amazing,” Alex explains. “To get the chance to go to Iraq and do something like that was incredible. The feedback I’ve got from it, I never thought it would have that kind of impact. I didn’t look at it like that – it was just something I wanted to do.
“At the time people were telling me not to do it because it could be dangerous, but to see the impact it has had and continues to have is incredible. I never thought it would do that.
“I’ll never forget the smiles on the girls faces when they saw me there. It made me feel a bit confused too because I didn’t understand why they were so happy for me to be there when they had to face such tragic circumstances every day.
“It didn’t feel like a dangerous place. For me, it was just like I was playing football in the cages in east London like I did so many years ago. It’s made me really want to stay involved with the project and since then we’ve been able to raise money to build three pitches in Jakarta next year, so hopefully I can continue to help and because it was something that was so worthwhile and rewarding.”
Just two months later, Alex would be rewarded for her hard work on the pitch too. The defender led Arsenal Ladies out for only the second Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley, and helped them beat reigning champions Chelsea 1-0 to win the competition for a record 14th time. It was Alex’s eighth triumph in the historic competition during her 10 years playing for the club at the highest level but, for her, it was easily the most special.
“It meant so much,” she smiles. “Having the chance to be at Wembley in an Arsenal shirt, be the underdogs with nobody expecting us to win, and then win was fantastic. We knew as a team how much we wanted to prove ourselves to people.
“Going on to win it and walk up those steps in an Arsenal shirt has got to be up there with one of my best Arsenal moments. It’s hard to beat the 2007 Champions League final where I scored the winner, but I do think this one was on par.
“When I was growing up, I always dreamt that we would be playing at Wembley and stadiums like that, but I don’t think we ever thought we’d actually be doing it. The crowds, the recognition and where the game is today, it’s only going to continue to improve.
"I’ve been at Arsenal since I was eight and I’ve been wrapped up in that football environment, so to test myself as a person outside of that has helped my true character come through"
“On the field we have to keep working hard to be the fittest and strongest players we can be. Off the pitch, people are now seeing us on TV and doing Bear Grylls, but it is about the commercialisation and sponsorship of the game. We need to keep getting the revenue in.
“The FA Cup final being shown live on the BBC really helped. It opens the game up to a new audience because more people can follow the stories, from seeing us in the cup final on BBC to watching our next game live on BT Sport. You need to keep people engaged and the more they see us, the more they can stay engaged.”
Now fully focused on Arsenal’s Women’s Super League season and England’s 2017 European Championship qualification campaign, Alex’s schedule is much less hectic than it was but, when the England defender looks back on the action-packed months she has had, she doesn’t regret a thing.
“I am so glad I did it all,” she smiles. “It’s lifestyle experience away from the football field. You’re out of your comfort zone. I’ve been at Arsenal since I was eight and I’ve been wrapped up in that football environment, so to test myself as a person outside of that has helped my true character come through.
“I’ve met some great people too and I’m still in contact with a lot of the Mission Survive contestants, such as Samantha Barks and also Stuart Pearce. He wished me luck for the Euros next year and he’s going to come down to a game soon. Hopefully the game’s profile will continue to rise and we can see more new faces at Meadow Park in the near future too.”
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