4th September 2018 marked a historic chapter in Scottish football history.
While two years later the men’s side would boogie their way to their first major tournament in 23 years with a famous penalty shootout victory, the women’s team had spent the last couple of years making their own little pieces of history.
In September 2016 they qualified for their first ever major tournament, but would agonisingly exit at the group stages of competition by virtue of their head-to-head record.
Long-term manager Anna Signeul – who had been at the helm for 12 years – had announced she was stepping down prior to the tournament, leaving pretty substantial shoes to fill.
Former Arsenal coach Shelley Kerr was deemed the person fit to fill them, and in September 2018 she would go on to guide Scotland to World Cup qualification.
On Christmas Eve, following Scotland’s failure to qualify for the 2022 European Championships, Kerr has announced that she is stepping down, bringing an end to an eventful three years at the helm.
2018 was the first time in 21 years that Scotland had reached the World Cup finals – and the first time in history that the women’s team had made it to the biggest stage.
They did so in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Scotland knew beating Switzerland by a two-goal margin in their penultimate group stage game would leave their qualification in their own hands.
They fulfilled the first half of the bargain by winning – but only 2-1. Going into their final group game against Albania, it looked as if Scotland would have to settle for the playoffs.
Scotland led 2-1 heading into the final minutes of their clash with Albania, Kim Little’s opener cancelled out by Megi Doci before Jane Ross headed home in the second half.
But Switzerland were held to a goalless draw in Poland – and Scotland just had to see the game out as the clock agonisingly ticked down. They succeeded, with the referee’s full-time whistle triggering an outpouring of emotion.
29 years after receiving her first international cap for Scotland as a player, Kerr had led her country to the World Cup.
Just as had been the case at Euro 2017, Scotland were drawn in the same group as England for France 2019.
Two years earlier, Scotland had suffered a 6-0 defeat. The Scots had Little and Jen Beattie sidelined through injury – integral members of the side – but the gulf in class was clear.
But during the rivals’ clash at the opening game of the World Cup, the improvements made by Kerr’s side were startling. England led 2-0 at half time and had comfortably been the better side (albeit the Lionesses’ opener was a result of a fortuitous penalty), but in the second period Scotland really made Phil Neville’s team sweat. Scotland pulled one back 11 minutes from time through Claire Emslie, but despite a rallying effort they left Nice empty handed.
A narrow 2-1 defeat to 2011 world champions followed – featuring another dubious penalty – meaning it all came down to the final group stage match against Argentina. Win, and Scotland were in with a shot of qualifying for the knockout stages as a best third place side.
The nerves that had dogged Scotland’s earlier performances were gone as Kerr’s side attacked Argentina from the get go.
They were brave and adventurous, Caroline Weir demonstrating her class and Erin Cuthbert announcing herself at the tournament with a fabulous display. The Chelsea youngster was on the scoresheet, as were Little and Beattie as the Scots found themselves 3-0 up with 21 minutes of normal time remaining.
And then the improbable, the heartbreaking and the VAR happened.
Argentina pulled one back in the 74th minute, and it was 3-2 five minutes later as Florencia Bonsegundo’s shot cannoned in via the bar and Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander.
Scotland appeared to have avoided the scare and hung on, but Argentina were awarded a penalty in injury time. Remarkably, it was saved by Alexander – only for VAR to order a re-take.
Bonsegundo dispatched at the second time of asking and Scotland – and Argentina – were eliminated.
Kerr confessed to game management naivety from her side following their collapse in the final 20 minutes.
Kerr’s history makers could not replicate the feats of their previous qualifying campaign – their chances of Euro 2022 qualification gone in typical, Scottish, heartbreaking style as they conceded a 95th minute goal to Finland.
“I have lived and breathed the sport for as long as I can remember, so I know in my heart that the time is right for a new head coach to take the team forward to the next campaign,” Kerr said in a statement released by the Scottish FA, announcing her resignation from the role.
“I dedicated almost four years to the role as national coach. Having spent my life in football and worked at every level of the pathway, it has been the pinnacle to date to get the opportunity to work with such a fantastic squad of players.
“At the start, we set out to inspire the nation by implementing a style of football that was both exciting and entertaining – and I believe we achieved that.”