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Claire Emslie: From pre-dawn runs to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s finest

Scotland’s Claire Emslie has been reflecting on her journey (Steve Welsh/PA)
Scotland’s Claire Emslie has been reflecting on her journey (Steve Welsh/PA)

Scotland forward Claire Emslie took inspiration from a Hollywood classic as she set off on a football journey that she hopes will take her to a second World Cup.

Now she is one of the star attractions for some of the leading lights in the film industry after moving to play for the newly-formed Angel City.

The Los Angeles-based player is back in Scotland this week preparing for Thursday’s World Cup play-off against Austria at Hampden.

Head coach Pedro Martinez Losa encouraged his players to write a letter to their younger selves ahead of the first of what could be several knockout games on the road to New Zealand and Australia.

Emslie told “wee Claire” that “early-morning runs before school, early bed times, eating right, extra training and missing out on your friends’ parties will be so worth it”.

The 28-year-old revealed her path had possibly started with watching Sylvester Stallone pounding the roads in the Rocky films – with Cornbank Park in Penicuik, Midlothian, replacing the famous steps in Philadelphia for her.

“When I was a kid, even before primary school, I used to get up and run round the park before I went to school, because I thought that the fitter I was in a game, I will be able to score more goals and run more,” she said.

“I think back now, how did I know that would lead to what I’m doing now? I think I must have been crazy as a kid but I’m glad I did it.

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character proved an inspiration (Ian West/PA)

“I don’t know exactly where I got it from but I think it was just off watching Rocky Balboa when he just used to run and prepare for things. I thought, ‘Oh, I need to run in the dark because it better prepares you’.

“I don’t know, my mum and dad always encouraged me as well. I think they thought I was a bit nuts.

“It was Pedro’s idea that this might be a good thing to do to reflect on where we are as a team and as a country in Scotland with women’s football. We would like to inspire the next generation in Scotland to stick in at football and see what they can achieve.”

Emslie’s journey has taken her to the likes of Hibernian, Manchester City, Orlando Pride, Melbourne City, Everton and now Angel City.

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman is among Angel City’s owners (Ian West/PA)

The club’s owners include Oscar winner Natalie Portman and fellow actor Eva Longoria, former United States international Mia Hamm and tennis great Serena Williams.

“It’s their first season in the NWSL,” Emslie said. “It was created by a bunch of female ex-sportswomen and celebrities that invested. There have been a few teething problems, but we have surpassed our targets and it’s a really good team.

“We are getting 20-22,000 at every home game so there’s a real appetite for a soccer team in LA, which there has never been before.

“Natalie Portman comes to a few games. It’s mad, she tags you on Instagram when you score a goal. You think, ‘Oh my, she’s in the DMs’. It is pretty cool.

“At games there are always celebrities that they invite. If there’s a corner or a throw-in, they go to the fans on the big screen. James Franco was at the game the other day. There’s always someone famous there.”

Scotland could have a similar-sized crowd at Hampden against Austria on Thursday as Emslie and her team-mates look to set up another play-off against Republic of Ireland, which could either lead to qualification or an intercontinental play-off.

“We know they are a good team, they did well in the Euros, so it’s going to be a tough challenge,” she said. “But we are on the back of some good performances and we’ll be ready.”