Jen Beattie has dedicated more than half her life to playing for Scotland. Now 31, she was just 14 years old when she was first called up to her country’s under-19 squad.
At 16 she made her senior debut, before going on to earn 144 caps, captain her country and lead Scotland to their first women’s World Cup.
No wonder then that the team feels like family. Having played her whole club career outside of Scotland since 2009, she admits she often saw her fellow players more than her own flesh and blood.
“I was 18 when I moved to England to play, then Montpellier, so I was always abroad,” she told BBC Sport.
“To meet up every six or seven weeks to be with Scottish people, to be home, that’s why I’ve stuck at it so long.
“Meeting with mates, playing for the badge, the off-pitch stuff is what I will miss the most. Being around mates for so long, that comfort when you’re playing a lot. I probably saw them more than family.”
Beattie retires from Scotland duty
It is a family with which she has seen the women’s game in Scotland, Britain and further afield grow massively.
Having played all over the country – from McDiarmid Park to the Strathclyde Homes Stadium in Dumbarton in the early days of Beattie’s international involvement, Scotland’s women now play all their home games at Hampden Park, which Beattie picks out as being the biggest difference since the early says of her career.
“Playing at Hampden has been huge for the women’s game,” she says. “We always dreamed of playing at Hampden and it has been so special for the fans coming as well.
“It is now home for Scotland, whether men or women.”
‘My family away from family’
For Beattie, the Scotland team were even more like family when she faced the toughest period of her life, not just her career.
In October 2020 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiotherapy. She was able to continue her playing career and represent her country, and says the backing she got from her fellow countrywomen was essential to winning that fight.
“I always felt really grateful to be able to go to work, it was really important to me at the time,” she said.
“The team-mates and staff were so understanding of what I was going through. They became my family away from family.
“They asked questions but not too much. They gave me all the support I needed. My team-mates were amazing.”
Beattie was able to carry on playing for Scotland through the qualifying stages for the delayed European Championships which took place last summer in England.
However they took place without the Scots as they failed to qualify, and Beattie also suffered qualification heartbreak for this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
She helped Scotland reach the European play-off final at Hampden Park, but they were beaten by Ireland.
Beattie had been a driving force behind Scotland’s women reaching their first two major tournaments – Euro 2017, which she missed through injury, and the 2019 World Cup in France, where she scored against Argentina in the group stage, a moment she ranked top of her personal achievements for her country.
However, Beattie admits the failure to reach the 2023 edition was a trigger point in her decision to call it a day at international level.
“If Scotland had qualified I wouldn’t be stepping away right now,” she admits. “That was really disappointing.
“We’ve had taste of tournament football, so to miss Euros then another major tournament is massively disappointing, especially when you know you have quality on world stage.
“Beating Austria then falling to Ireland, it’s a hard way not to qualify, and it is difficult when you look around dressing room at all these players, Erin Cuthbert, Caroline Weir, that deserve to be on the world stage. They’re the most talented team out of Scotland ever.
“I’ve no doubt this is right decision for me, but it’s a great group, they all get on. There is no animosity or hard feelings at all, it’s just my time to step aside, and pursue other things personally and professionally. There is unbelievable talent in that squad.”
‘It has meant everything’
Beattie has no intentions of retiring from playing just yet, but leaving the international stage has her looking to the future.
She has taken on a player-coach role with Arsenal this season, and has also been given ambassadorial duties on behalf of the club.
However, what she is most interested in is moving to the other side of the interviewer’s microphone at some stage.
“I’m most interested in broadcasting,” she says. “It keeps you in the game, and allows you to keep talking about it. I’m retiring now to apply myself in these areas to see what I enjoy.”
So could she be the one interviewing a Scotland captain in future? “Potentially!”
But not for a while. She has plenty she wants to do at club level first.
“That’s such an important message I want to send – I’m still so competitive,” she says.
“I still want to play club football for a few years, I’m still at Arsenal, I want to play and win trophies. I’m really happy at the club. I’ve still got loads left.”
However with Scotland, the journey is over. Beattie has followed in the footsteps of her father John and brother Johnnie, who both represented their country at rugby union. Beattie senior also played for the British Lions.
Following 144 caps, an MBE and countless great memories, she has managed to match the other memories of the Beattie clan, and feels proud of herself as she steps away.
“It’s meant everything, with a dad and a brother playing for Scotland, sport has been such a huge part of my family,” she says. “It’s something I’m so grateful for.
“There is no greater feeling than representing your country, feeling Scottish and being Scottish, wearing that blue shirt sighing that anthem with those fans.
“It has meant everything.”