‘The right time’: Jen Beattie on signing off from Scotland duty and next steps

<span>Photograph: BSR Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: BSR Agency/Getty Images

Jen Beattie’s decision to step back from international football after 144 caps and 15 years has come at the “right time” and is a step towards planning for a life beyond playing.

The Arsenal defender, awarded an MBE in the new year honours list for services to football and charity, has stepped back from Scotland duty as the team gear up for a new cycle after missing out on qualification for this year’s World Cup.

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“Not making the World Cup was really disappointing,” says the 31-year-old. “If we had made the World Cup I would have pushed to be selected for that, but I think it just felt like now’s the right time because we were about to start another campaign and I will be 34 by the time we get to the next Euros in 2025, if we qualify.

“I know I’ve still got a few seasons left at club level, I’ve still got so many games left in the legs, but international windows will just allow me time to apply myself in different areas.”

The daughter of the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions rugby player John Beattie and sister of the former rugby international Johnnie Beattie has had plenty of exposure to what it can be like to retire as a professional athlete. That has helped her with a decision to stagger her exit from playing.

Jen Beattie receives the Helen Rollason Award via video link in 2021.
Jen Beattie receives the Helen Rollason Award via video link in 2021. Photograph: David Davies/PA

“You know it’s going to end at some point,” she says. “That’s something I have thought about since my mid-20s. Obviously there’s only so much you can plan for – sometimes you can’t at all – but I kind of knew deep down that I never want to give up both at the same time, club and country, because from a mental aspect I think that would have been very hard to deal with.

“I’m lucky that my dad and my brother have gone through similar situations, playing professional sport and playing for their country as well, so I’ve leaned on them a lot the past few years, getting advice from them on how to deal with it mentally and how to prepare for it.”

The word retirement doesn’t feel quite right to describe stopping something well before your working life is at an end, and Beattie say it is “just a change of occupation really, isn’t it”.

“You have to put a bit of time and energy into what you’re going to do afterwards at some point. I’ve been lucky enough to have been given some broadcasting opportunities on the radio and on different podcasts and things like that and I’m lucky enough to know that I really enjoy it and that’s what I want to do after. So having those international breaks free will become more and more important, freeing up time for me to do that.”

Beattie’s breast cancer diagnosis in October 2020 and subsequent work for breast cancer charities led to her winning the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards and has given her perspective.

“It definitely changed my perspective on life in general,” she says. “It made me think about it a lot more. It made me think about what I want to do after football and about more important things to talk about, like being an advocate for breast cancer, the environment, sustainability, things I’m really passionate about. On the flip side, it probably made me enjoy football even more. It made me appreciate it because I could have lost it. It made me realise how important football was in getting me through that really hard time.”

Beattie is getting stuck into the off-pitch side at Arsenal too. Incorporated into her new contract, signed last June, was a mentoring role in the academy and a chance to contribute to the commercial and partnerships team.

It is hard, though, to let go. “Wearing your Scottish badge and wearing a blue shirt and playing at Hampden, singing the anthem, it never gets old,” says Beattie. “Every cap’s just as special as the other. Of course you remember certain games and certain experiences but it’s the off-the-pitch stuff as well, that camaraderie with Scottish people and the girls in the team; those are the memories that made it.”

Relatively few defenders score at a World Cup but Beattie did so, even if the result was crushing, her goal putting Scotland 2-0 up against Argentina before they drew 3-3 and exited the 2019 tournament. Qualifying for the 2017 Euros, the women’s team’s first major tournament, was another highlight.

“I got called up to the senior squad when I was 16 or 17 and that hadn’t happened yet, so to do that as a team for 2017 was incredible and then to do it back-to-back with the 2019 World Cup was special,” she says. “But scoring at a World Cup will always be my highlight. There are no expectations on a centre-back scoring so I’ve never felt the pressure like any striker does of having to score in games or worry about goal tallies. Scoring at a World Cup as a centre-back, you never even dream of that because you don’t think it’s possible.”