STEVEN Naismith last night expressed hope that Scotland’s involvement in the Women’s World Cup will have a positive long-term impact on the sport in this country and ensure female footballers don’t have to struggle to reach the top in future.

Naismith, the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich City striker who is currently in talks with Hearts about a new deal, has been delighted to see Shelley Kerr’s girls make it through to the finals in France for the first time.

He is friendly with Rose Reilly - who was, like him, born and brought up in Stewarton in Ayrshire – and knows the difficulties the legendary former Scotland and Italy striker had to overcome in order to play the sport she loved.

Reilly was banned sine die by the Scottish Women’s FA during the 1970s for going abroad to play professionally. She switched allegiances to Italy and helped them win the unofficial women’s World Cup in 1984.

“For years when I was back in Scotland I’d take the dog for walks around the town and an older woman would come talk to me - Rose Reilly,” said Naismith.

“I didn’t know anything about her at the time, but she would chat about football. Now when you have that conversation you know if someone is full of mince - and you know when somebody has a bit of knowledge.

“She would make comments that made me think: ‘She knows her stuff!’ It was only in later years when my dad said: ‘Do you know who that is? She’s won the World Cup’.

“I know Rose well now and talk to her quite a lot. She has given more back to the game than the game has probably given her. I know what she did to just play.

“When you bump into her and chat it’s clear she just loves the game. It’s fantastic that people like Rose are getting recognition for that."

Naismith has been pleased to see Scotland competing in the Women’s World Cup and is optimistic they can bounce back from their 2-1 defeat to England in Nice on Sunday in their second Group D game against Japan in Rennes tomorrow.

He is also keen to see the publicity that Rachel Corsie and her team mates are currently receiving boost the popularity of the sport in the years to come.

“In recent times the exposure that they’re getting is fantastic,” he said. “When I was in the gym at Hearts I’d bump into a few of the girls training at Oriam and they are as dedicated as us guys who are full-time employees.

“And they have been as dedicated when it hasn’t been as full-time in the women’s game, they are doing it for the love of the game. They have done tremendous to get to the finals so I’ve been watching with interest.

Naismith added: It’s important there’s a legacy after this so that the interest doesn’t just fizzle out.

“Going back to the programme about Rose Reilly and how tough she found it just to play. We’re miles ahead of that now but it does need to travel on and continue to grow.

“My daughter is just starting school and even at that level they are pushing sport in general, but what I like to see is the number of opportunities in football that they are giving.”