Clare Docherty

Game-changer

David Milloy

Clare Docherty from Ardrossan has achieved something that few people, male or female, have done, and that’s to have not only played for both Rangers and Celtic but also for Ayr United and Kilmarnock.

Now working hard, both on and off the pitch for Ayr United, Clare talks to Ayrshire Magazine about her footballing journey.

How did you first become involved in football?
I used to play football in the back garden with my (male) cousin. There weren’t many girls’ football teams around back then so I didn’t get to play in a team environment until I was selected to play for my school team when I was in Primary 5. I was the only girl in the team. Looking back, I suppose it was a bit like the film Gregory’s Girl.

What was the first all-female team you played for?
I was told that Ayr Caledonian FC had a girls’ team, so I joined them when I was 11 and played with them for three years. I left them because I’d been asked to join Kilmarnock FC, and playing for one of the big Scottish teams was too good an opportunity to pass up.

How long did you stay at Kilmarnock?
I was there for seven years. I had a very successful and enjoyable time with Kilmarnock and was selected to play for Scotland at age-group level.
That’s quite an honour. How many times did you play for Scotland at that level?
Twenty-eight times over the years. It was a great experience on and off the pitch, particularly as I got to play abroad and was given the opportunity to travel to countries such as Finland and Slovenia, that probably wouldn’t otherwise have been open to me at that time.

Where did you go when you left Kilmarnock?
I quit football for a time. I was working shifts as a firefighter and couldn’t always make training. It was a tough decision to have to make. As it turned out, though, I wasn’t away from football for very long. After moving to Stranraer because of my job, it wasn’t long before I was asked to help coach a local team. Rangers then invited me to join them. I accepted their offer and moved back to Ardrossan. I played for Rangers for a time before leaving for personal reasons.

Where did you go to next?
Celtic, for whom I played for three years. I left after I became pregnant.

That wasn’t the end of your playing career, though?
No. After I had my first daughter, I joined Motherwell, who were playing in what was then the equivalent of the SFL Championship. I helped them to win promotion but had to stop playing when I found out that I was pregnant again. I didn’t know it but I was three months pregnant when I played my last match for them.

I didn’t plan to return to football after leaving Motherwell but once again it didn’t quite work out that way. I gave birth to my second daughter in June and was back playing by November.

What made you change your mind?
I got a call from a girl who plays for Ayr United asking me if I could come and play for them in a friendly game against East Kilbride. I agreed to do it, played the game and scored a hat-trick. I was then asked to join the club as a player-coach. I felt that some of the girls weren’t taking their football seriously enough, so I was initially a bit hesitant about accepting the offer. As it turned out, however, my experience of having played for some big clubs as well as being that bit older and a mum, was very helpful in my role as a coach; the players listened to what I had to say and worked hard to improve. The club was also able to bring in some experienced players, and this was reflected in our results. A lot has changed for the better over the six years I’ve been with the club. It’s a great club to play for and there’s a terrific team spirit.

Apart from playing for the club, you’re also now the Head of the Women and Girls’ Academy. When did you take up that post?
I was appointed to the role in 2021. It’s a great job, as it gives me the opportunity – with the wholehearted backing of the club – to help to further raise the standard of female football at the club and make it an even more appealing place for girls and women to come and play football.

You’ve been doing well on the pitch too, scoring 20 goals last season and being crowned Championship Player of the Season in the Scottish Women’s Football Awards.
It’s the biggest individual award I’ve received. Four players were shortlisted for the award as the result of votes cast by both players and clubs, and I was selected from that shortlist by a panel of judges. I was greatly honoured to be given the award, particularly in view of the number of talented players in the Championship.

Finally, do you have any advice for any young girls who want to play football?
Just give it a go. It’s a lot different now to how it was when I was growing up; there are no longer any barriers that stop girls from playing the game. Playing football isn’t just good for social reasons, it’s also good for fitness and mental and physical health and wellbeing. And, of course, it’s great fun too.

www.ayrunitedfc.co.uk

Ayrshire Magazine would like to thank sports photographer, Alan Graham, for his permission to use several of his images to accompany this feature. A large selection of Alan’s excellent photographs can be viewed on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AlanGraham58Photographs.