Rose Reilly

Image: Rose_Reilly_Milan_1975 by Unknown Author

Rose Reilly: The Scottish Woman Who Won the World Cup with Italy

Few Scottish footballers can claim to have enjoyed as much success abroad as Rose Reilly. Raised in Stewarton in Ayrshire, the former striker left her homeland at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a professional football player and ended up winning the ultimate prize.

Early career

Reilly was already a multiple trophy winner and a Scotland international by the time she signed for Reims in France in 1973. Reilly’s decision to head abroad resulted in her being banned indefinitely by the Scottish Women’s FA along with two other players, Edna Neillis and Elsie Cook.

Switch to Italy

Despite signing a two-year deal with the French side, Reilly caught the eye of AC Milan and signed for the Italians just six months later. That marked the beginning of a career in Italian football that would last 22 years. Four of those years were spent in Milan where the forward won two league titles. She played for eight more Italian teams over the next 18 years and won four more league titles and four Italian Cups.

Two league titles in one season

Remarkably, in the 1979/80 season, Reilly played for Lecce in Italy on Saturdays and Reims in France on Sundays, winning league titles in both countries. She was crowned the Italian Golden Boot winner in 1978 and 1981 with tallies of 43 and 45 goals respectively. During these years, some top-flight women’s games in Italy were attracting bigger crowds than men’s Scottish First Division matches.

Alaska Trani 80 della stagione 1984
Image: Alaska Trani 80 della stagione 1984 by Nino Losito

World champion

Thanks to her time in Italy, Rose was able to obtain dual nationality, and she was subsequently selected for the Italian national team. She captained the side to World Cup glory in 1984 when they beat Germany 3-1 in the final to claim the Mundialito title (the competition ran from 1981 to 1988 and was the precursor to the official Women’s World Cup). Naturally, Reilly scored one of the three goals. In the 1985 edition, Reilly featured again as Italy finished runners-up to champions England. Italy also inflicted a 1-0 defeat on the USA women’s team who were making their first-ever international appearance.

Recognition back home

Rose stayed in Italy following her retirement and ran a sport’s shop in Sicily before returning to Scotland in 2001 to care for her mother. There, she finally achieved the recognition she deserved and remains the only female player to be inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. In 2019, she was awarded an MBE.

Mixed loyalties

An Italian champion with a Scottish heart, Reilly will no doubt be keeping an eye on the progress on both nations as they attempt to qualify for next year’s Women’s European Championships. Italy will likely emerge as one of the favourites in the football betting, having won all six of their qualifying games so far. Scotland also started with a 100% record (two wins from two) but still have six games left to play before their fate is decided. The tournament was due to be held in England in the summer of 2021 but has now been postponed to July 2022.

Reilly is a legendary figure in Scotland and Italy and is regarded as one of the game’s greatest ever players. She joined Reims at the same time as Irish player Anne O’Brien, who also switched to Italy two years after Reilly and spent 18 years on the peninsula, winning six league titles and two Italian Cups. Those two, along with Spain’s Conchi Sánchez and Denmark’s Susy Augustesen are considered the best foreign players ever to have graced the women’s game in Italy.

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