IT'S T-minus three days until the FIFA Women’s World Cup begins. At last, the women’s game is finally getting the recognition it deserves. I’ve been waiting to see football covered like this for my whole life.

There was a period when I was a girl and all I wanted to do was play football. Growing up in Manchester in the 1990s, devotion to a team was obligatory. The Holly Hobby wallpaper in my bedroom was covered over with posters of Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Peter Schmeichel. There was even a questionable Ryan Giggs official calendar. Despite my mother’s attempt to dress my sister and me in matching outfits, we were far more at home in a full Man U strip, socks and all.

Football was everywhere in my childhood. My primary school had even had a mynah bird called Sir Matt Busby. I was one of just five girls in my year group – and all of us were football daft. We were all high on girl power and caught up in the Euro 96 fever. I think this special alchemy was essential to our group decision to infiltrate the boys’ football games. At first they weren’t particularly happy about it, but we learned that coming to school with the best ball earned you some kudos.

We were always first to offer up our coats as makeshift goal posts. They eventually let us play.

We had a wonderful, nurturing, unabashedly sports-daft teacher. He saw what we were doing, and put together a team so we could play other schools. Thanks to his support, three of us girls were even given the chance to play alongside the boys in trials for the Hatters, Stockport County. Getting to score at Edgeley Park was a dream. I didn’t want to wash the grass stains off my knees come bathtime.

I was picked, but given the time and travel commitments my mum couldn’t make it work. For girls of my generation, being a footballer wasn’t something we could aim for, so it didn’t seem like it was worth the effort. We had no visible role models, so a career in football was impossible from our vantage point.

As Glasgow City FC, the most successful Scottish women’s team of all time, summed up on their 2017 kit – “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

When I left England to return to Scotland, I found football had a different flavour. Getting behind a team came with an extra layer of baggage. To declare for Celtic over Rangers like my family did was to make a statement about your background, even your religion.

I’d grown up insulated from that, only hearing stories about fights at Old Firm games. This negative atmosphere around the game was far removed from my experience in Manchester. I couldn’t even declare my Man U support without being chided for being a Scot with an English team and denounced as a “glory hunter” rather than a real fan.

Football had morphed from a way of life into something political and divisive.

And the boys at high school were far less willing to make room for a girl in their games.

Being a girl who liked football was relatively normal in Manchester, but back in Fife in the late 90s, it marked you out.

I watched the Reds from afar, and privately followed the Pars, though football couldn’t occupy the space it once had in a lessthan-hospitable environment. I put my love of the game to one side, until a chance encounter with a stray ball inevitable wakes up the fleet-footed inside me. The footyloving part of my life had been so compartmentalised that my kids didn’t know it existed – until my boys asked me to play with them, explained the game to me, but got keepy-uppies, heel flicks and a mean right foot in return. Even to their generation, a mum who can play football with the boys is a novelty.

But – this year I get to do something special. Something I dreamed of as a wee girl, but never thought would happen. I get to sit with my kids and cheer on Scotland in a World Cup. For the first time in my life I get to see women at the pinnacle of the game, playing at the highest level, as professionals who are finally being taken seriously as athletes.

There are girls all over this country with Scotland shirts with women’s names and numbers on the back. They will have the posters on the wall girls like we never had.

They will no longer need to look at the men in the game and try to superimpose themselves into their world. Instead, they have the role models that show a career in football is possible, regardless of your gender.

That possibility no longer requires a leap of imagination.

What’s more, my kids – boys and girl – know their Erin Cuthbert from their Jo Love, their Kim Little from their Claire Emslie. To them, they are not women footballers – they are footballers. They are Scotland. And for me, that support and recognition has been worth the wait. I’ll be cheering for my country, and for every little girl who watches them and decides to kick a ball.