The growth of women’s football in Scotland has hit another level in 2019, as the national team became the first Scottish side to play at a World Cup in 21 years.
For Kim Jappy, heading over to France to support Scotland was the latest highlight in what has been a lifetime in football.
Jappy, 42, has done everything from driving the team bus to founding her own team. Even in her personal life, through illness and finding love, at the end of the day it has always come back to the game she is so passionate about.
Purely on the pitch, it would have been a remarkable career. Growing up in the small village of Bettyhill on the north coast of Scotland, Jappy was part of a primary school team that played in a cup final at Hampden Park in May 1989, with the Celtic and Rangers teams of the day looking on. She ended up as top goalscorer, even though she was a goalkeeper.
It wasn’t long before she was no longer allowed to play with the boys, but the desire to play never went away. After leaving school and moving to Elgin for college, Jappy was instrumental in setting up the team now known as Moray Ladies in 1996. Promotions from the Third Division into the Premier League followed, before moving to what is now Inverness Caledonian Thistle Women in 2004. Again, Jappy found success, winning promotion two years later and two League Cup finals, only missing two matches for the club before hanging up her goalkeeping gloves last year after 22 years in the game.
Jappy’s passion for the game has not wavered in the slightest though, and she feels the only way is up for women’s football.
“I still love football, and I think it’s just getting better and better,” Jappy said.
“Scotland making a World Cup has been huge for our game. I think the coverage of the game is better, I think more people enjoy watching women’s football because we don’t all roll around like pansies once we get hit, we just get back up, and the standard is getting better and better.
“We played Glasgow City with Inverness, we got them in the cup last year or the year before, and we had quite a young team. All the girls were asking if they could get autographs before the game, they were so starstruck it was crazy.
“Obviously we got beat, but they enjoyed it. They just couldn’t believe that they were playing against people they had seen on the telly, it was absolutely massive for them.”
Jappy’s dedication to playing football would put most involved in the sport to shame. She moved back to Bettyhill, over 90 miles north of Inverness, in 2013. Wife Nicky – also a former Elgin and Inverness player – joined her on the north coast a couple of years later, and together they made a five-hour round trip for home games.
As an assistant manager at the local leisure centre, free time would already have been hard to come by for Kim, but that didn’t stop the Jappys doing everything to play as much football as they possibly could.
“I used to do a six-day week, finish at like 5.30pm on a Saturday, having done a 60 or 70-hour week, and then jump in my car the next morning, go and play 90 minutes of football and then get home at 2am, and then be back in at work at 9am ready to go again,” Kim recalled.
“Sunday was my only day off, and I spent it playing football. It was a lot, but it was worth it for the 90 minutes.
“We were totally committed to it, we would never ever miss a game just because we were going out the night before, we just wouldn’t go out the night before.
“Me and Nicky got married on a Friday, and the reason we chose a Friday was because we had a game on the Sunday. We literally planned a wedding on a Friday so that we could still all go to the football on a Sunday. It’s pretty crazy, but that’s what we did, and then we went to Aberdeen on the Sunday.”
While things were always positive on the pitch, away from football life was not always so simple.
After realising she was attracted to women at college, Jappy fell out with her parents, although thankfully other than “the occasional idiots at the side of a pitch down in Glasgow or Edinburgh”, homophobic experiences in the sport she loved were at a minimum.
But then a battle with Crohn’s disease threatened to take away her ability to play football too – although that would turn out to be a turning point in her relationship with her family.
“My parents totally struggled with it, they didn’t actually speak to me for quite some time,” Jappy said.
“Then I got not well, I was not well for a few years, and I actually phoned my parents and told them goodbye and thanks for everything. I made my last phone call, and then two weeks later I woke up in hospital and they were there.
“In that close call, I think it changed mum and dad’s opinions on a few things, they realised life is too short. They just wanted me to be healthy and happy, and they weren’t necessarily interested in what I got up to, but if I needed anything they were there. They didn’t really want to know anything, and even before Nicky moved up they didn’t want her to come to Bettyhill, but I wouldn’t back down.
“Bettyhill is a very small village, a very small community and you get small-minded people in a small community, but they have been amazing since Nicky moved up here. We weren’t 100 per cent sure how that would go with people, but everyone has accepted it, and we got totally blown away with wedding cards and gifts, everyone wanted us to have a great day.
“It has been amazing, which is something that would never ever have happened back in the 80s I don’t think. For your younger parents it’s just a part of life now. I don’t think they’re too worried about what their kids do when they’re older as long as they’re healthy and happy.”
Jappy can remember watching the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British television on Brookside in 1994, and she feels a lot of progress has been made since then.
That, in part, could be attributed to the increased visibility of women’s sport. Although there is a distinct lack of LGBT+ role models in mainstream men’s sport, in particular in football, there can be no such complaints in the women’s game.
American player Megan Rapinoe rose to superstardom for being vocal about equality in football during the World Cup this past summer, but though Jappy is encouraged to see so many people able to be themselves, she is not entirely sure Rapinoe’s tactics are productive.
“In women’s football, I don’t think there are many people who have hidden it,” Jappy reasoned.
“I think there were 30 gay girls across all the teams at the women’s World Cup. There’s Lisa Evans who plays for Scotland, she has come out. Obviously Megan Rapinoe has been shouting about stuff, she did really well, but people should never feel as though they’re getting it shoved in their face.
“I think that there’s a very fine line between shouting for rights and doing it subtly, and thinking ‘I don’t really need to stand here and shout all this’. I think it’s a very fine line. Sometimes it can be seen as a really big deal, but why is it a big deal? Who’s making it a big deal? Gay prides and all that are good, but you don’t see a straight pride, so why do you need to do a gay pride? It’s how people see it, but I think it’s just each to their own.
“If somebody wants to shout about it they can, but if they want to keep it all hush-hush, then it’s nobody else’s business and they can. Obviously stand up when you need to stand up, and keep your mouth shut when you need to keep your mouth shut.
“Who does it really affect anyway? It only affects the two people in that relationship, and maybe their close family who may or may not understand it or agree with it. But with random people, what does it actually have to do with them?”
Although Jappy officially retired from playing at the end of the 2018 season, she could not be kept away from donning the gloves one more time – or in her case, three more times.
When not playing, she always sends messages to the ICT Women’s team on matchdays, and there is no sign that her passion for football will be burning out any time soon.
“I’d had a really bad shoulder for the last couple of seasons, and my mum asked me on the Sunday when I came back from football to retire,” Jappy explained.
“I said I would at the end of the season, and then three days later mum died. I had made a promise, and that’s the reason I retired. I wasn’t ready to retire, and I totally miss it even now, but a promise is a promise.
“I have always played football. Mum and dad always said I was born with a football at my feet. We moved up here when I was seven from England. When I was at school in England, mum and dad were called in pretty much every week because I was out playing football with the boys, and the girls didn’t play football, they played netball.
“It’s been my whole life, my dad will tell me now that I get all my talent from him, which I fully don’t believe because I have seen him kicking a football. Football has always been 90 minutes of freedom, it’s an escape.”
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