Jill Scott and the Olympic Games are, quite literally, indelibly connected.
Back in 2014, two years after Great Britain’s historic run to the quarter-finals, the midfielder revealed that she had the famous Olympic icon inked onto her side to commemorate her part in what had been a truly watershed Games for Women’s football.
Participation at London 2012 saw Scott and 17 of her teammates immortalised as the first and, until Tokyo 2020, only Team GB Women’s football squad to be fielded at the Games.
As one of three survivors from that historic tournament nine years ago, that experience could prove vital once again this summer.
While Club football unquestionably presents its own unique challenges, the cut and thrust of an international tournament is an entirely different beast.
And a slow start makes the subsequent climb all the more precipitous.
Of course, Team GB aren’t travelling out to Tokyo to simply make up the numbers, but they have been presented with a truly daunting prospect in Group E.
First up for Hege Riise’s side are 2018 Copa America Femenina runners up, Chile, before the small prospect of locking horns with the hosts, Japan, who have a point to prove after a frustrating last-16 exit at the 2019 World Cup to eventual finalists, the Netherlands.
They then round off the group stages against 2016 Olympic bronze medalists Canada, spearheaded by the irrepressible Christine Sinclair as well as City’s Janine Beckie.
The term ‘Group of Death’ is bandied around too often in a far more competitive modern era but, if it were to be used, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling example than Group E’s offering this summer.
But with that obstacle comes an opportunity, and one that Scott is all too familiar with.
The City midfielder has already enjoyed a glittering career on a domestic and international front, performing on the biggest stages for over 15 years.
That unflappable composure and knack to consistently perform in the higher echelons of a fast-moving, unforgiving sport, is testament to both her own personal qualities as well as the trust and respect she’s afforded by managers and teammates alike.
Only the recently retired Fara Williams has more international caps for England than Scott’s 151.
Making her debut in August 2006, the midfielder has been one of few constants in an ever-changing upward trajectory for the women’s game across the United Kingdom.
The then 20-year-old made the cut for the following September’s World Cup, held in China, and even got herself on the scoresheet in an emphatic 6-1 victory over Argentina in the Lionesses’ final group game.
Scott and co. were humbled by the United States in the quarter-finals, but a first taste of tournament football was firmly under the belt.
Two years later, England finished as runners up at that summer’s European Championships, with Scott grabbing a memorable 116th-minute winner to down the Netherlands in the semis.
And she grabbed a further two strikes at the 2011 World Cup, including putting Hope Powell’s side ahead against France before a heartbreaking quarter-final exit to Les Bleues on penalties.
By now firmly established as one of English football’s finest midfielders, Scott would take part in our inaugural Women’s Super League campaign having made the short journey down the M62 from Everton.
A key cog in Nick Cushing’s midfield from the get-go, the 34-year-old has gone on to win every available domestic honour with the Club to further reinforce her reputation as a serial winner.
The 2014 Continental Cup was first to arrive through the door, with Scott featuring in each of City’s seven matches en route to a 1-0 triumph over Arsenal at Wycombe’s Adams Park.
A WSL and Continental Cup double would follow two years later, with the midfielder grabbing a crucial opener as City got the better of Chelsea in the penultimate match of the season to secure a maiden league title.
And the success continued, as the Sunderland-born schemer rounded off the scoring in an emphatic 4-1 triumph over Birmingham City to claim victory in the 2017 FA Women’s Cup final, before reaching a century of appearances in sky blue the following February against the same opposition.
Across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, Scott would get her hands on another two FA Cups and one Continental Cup, featuring in all three respective finals, as the conveyor belt of silverware continued with gusto.
While international milestones were also toppled in tandem with Scott’s City successes, the honours have ultimately alluded her, and often in the cruellest of circumstances.
That isn’t to say she hasn’t also been hugely successful, and Scott reached a century of England caps when lining up in a friendly win over Australia in 2015 at just 28 years old.
That landmark appearance had come just three months after the Lionesses had finished third at that summer’s World Cup, with hopes of a maiden international Final dashed by a cruel Laura Bassett own goal in stoppage time against holders, Japan.
Further last four heartache would follow at Euro 2017, as Scott was forced to watch from the stands after picking up a suspension in the quarter-finals as England were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Holland.
Glory finally came for the Lionesses in the form of the SheBelieves Cup two years later but Scott, in a cruel twist of fate, withdrew from the squad ahead of the competition in a bid to manage her recovery from injury ahead of that summer’s World Cup.
And in a mirror image of the previous three major tournaments prior to that SheBelieves Cup triumph, Scott and co. fell agonisingly short at the final hurdle, being edged out by the United States in the semis.
Scott has enjoyed a hugely distinguished career but, in a series of international near misses, this summer’s Olympics presents her with a chance to exorcise some of those demons from tournament heartaches past.
Irrespective of that, across the various competitions and opponents at Club and international level, one constant has always remained - she’s been at the centre of our success.
Specifically and perhaps more poignantly for Team GB this summer, however, the midfielder has consistently proven that she is someone to rely on, regardless of an occasion’s significance or magnitude.
Scott is a leader, someone who reassures and motivates in equal measure to not only bring the best out of herself but those around her as well.
Those qualities were demonstrated by her inclusion in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list at the end of 2019, when she was appointed a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to football.
Six months later, she would also look to expand that skillset by agreeing to a player-coach role when signing a new contract in the summer of 2020.
However, with a typically inspiring defiance, the 34-year-old insisted that a gradual shift towards coaching didn’t mean she was close to calling time on her playing career.
“It’s important and I want people to know that I’m first and foremost concentrating on playing – I don’t want to be judged on my age, which sometimes people tend to do when you hit 30."
“I feel great. I like to turn things into a positive and having this period, it’s been good to mentally and physically refresh and use the time to look at parts of my game I can improve on," she continued.
“I’m feeling good and I can’t wait to get back with the team. I’m excited to continue the journey.
“Coaching might bring new aspects for me but it’s about working hard on the pitch and putting in the hours off it, trying to grow my knowledge of the game.
“If I can help the team in any way, hopefully, I’ll take on that role as well.”
Her commitment to prolonging her playing career was demonstrated perfectly by her loan move to Everton in February 2021 in search of regular playing time.
That brief spell back on Merseyside was a huge success, and one that made her inclusion in Hege Riise’s side for this summer’s tournament a formality rather than an eyebrow raiser.