ERIN CUTHBERT: Scotland’s Euro are living the dream

To fill the time between matches at the World Cup in 2019, Erin Cuthbert would switch off by tuning into nightly episodes of Love Island.

As she watched the characters on the popular reality TV show embark on neatly-structured personal journeys, little did the Chelsea star imagine she would soon find herself in the middle of a drama far too fanciful to be scripted.

The Irvine-born attacker had left for the World Cup on a high, scoring against Jamaica at Hampden; a goal of such stunning quality that it gathered well over a million hits online.

Erin Cuthbert (centre) has words of wisdom to pass on to Scotland's men ahead of Euro 2020

Erin Cuthbert (centre) has words of wisdom to pass on to Scotland’s men ahead of Euro 2020

As she prepared to head to France, she witnessed her image plastered on a giant billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus as one of the poster girls of the high-profile tournament.

And when Cuthbert scored to make it 3-0 against Argentina in Scotland’s final group game, she famously pulled out a picture of her seven-year-old self to celebrate a World Cup fairytale come to life.

But the spell was swiftly, brutally, broken as Argentina scored three times in the last 16 minutes to send Scotland home.

The equaliser came four minutes into stoppage time; a twice-taken penalty by Florencia Bonsegundo after VAR judged Lee Alexander came off her line to save her initial spot-kick.

After losing 2-1 to England and 2-1 to Japan, the Scots needed victory to progress. For Cuthbert, the after-effects of being on such a dizzying rollercoaster of emotions would take time to heal.

‘I’m over it now — but it took a good year,’ said Sportsmail’s new columnist.

‘When I injured my ankle before pre-season with Chelsea, just after the World Cup, I hated football.

‘I probably shouldn’t have been back playing because I was not in the right mind-frame.

‘But when football is taken away from you, you realise what you have lost.

‘For me, football had to be taken away from me in order for me to fall in love with it again.

‘We ended up winning the double that year with Chelsea and we won the double this year, too.

‘Trophies and success helped me get over it. I’ve also got really good team-mates who put an arm round me and looked after me.

‘But I’ve still not watched the Argentina game back. I don’t know what I would see. I would just be sitting watching VAR for ages. It would be boring!

‘But we could — should — have got out of the group stage.

‘We had a good enough team. We should not have thrown away a three-goal lead. I guess it was a bit of naivety on our behalf.’

Steve Clarke's men are looking to take Scotland past the knockout stages for the first time ever

Steve Clarke's men are looking to take Scotland past the knockout stages for the first time ever

Steve Clarke’s men are looking to take Scotland past the knockout stages for the first time ever

The whole experience left Cuthbert with plenty of advice to pass on to Steve Clarke’s squad as the men’s team prepares to make its first appearance at a major finals for 23 years. But we will get to that later.

Firstly, her mental strength in the aftermath of that World Cup was further bolstered by the support of her family as she spent a year away from parents Jacqueline and Stephen during the pandemic, spending Christmas in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.

The experience helped her process the disappointment of domestic double-winners Chelsea losing the Champions League final 4-0 to Barcelona in Gothenburg last month.

‘I’m at home now and it’s amazing seeing my family again after a year,’ she said.

‘It puts things in perspective. Football is just a sport. It’s just a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, football is my life but it’s still a hobby. Family comes first over everything.

‘Of course, losing the Champions League final was upsetting but there are people who have died in the country during this pandemic.

‘I think you can live in a bubble in football where it’s all about the sport and nothing else matters.

‘But my family have given me a bit of perspective on life whenever we’ve been on FaceTime.

‘My mum was on furlough for so long. I’ve got family who work in the National Health Service.

‘Being able to play football has been an extreme privilege during this time, but I’m glad I’ve got my family to keep me right and give me that perspective on life.’

Cuthbert knows from her own experiences at the World Cup and the European Championships two years earlier that team bonding activities are vital.

Whether it’s quizzes, games, or team-mates jumping out in the dark to scare each other in a ‘haunted’ chateau outside Rennes, it all adds to the spirit and camaraderie of the group.

However, with the latest season of Love Island not due to start until June 28, the Scotland men will have to reach the knockouts of Euro 2020 if they are to watch it together at their Rockliffe Hall base near Darlington.

‘I know what a few of the Scotland players are like and they will 100 per cent be watching Love Island,’ laughed 42-times-capped Cuthbert.

‘In France, we had a games room at our three different bases so we played PlayStation, Subbuteo, or pool. When you’re having a laugh and playing games it makes the time pass quicker.

‘In the chateau in Rennes we stayed in little chalets outside the main building. It was pitch black and everyone found it funny to scare each other.

‘It was a good laugh but I’m a bit of a scaredy cat! I found it terrifying, although all these little things add to team bonding.

Cuthbert believes the players should already be proud of what they have achieved so far

Cuthbert believes the players should already be proud of what they have achieved so far

Cuthbert believes the players should already be proud of what they have achieved so far 

‘It’s all about a balance when you’re at a tournament. Some people like their own space, other people like me are social butterflies. You need to rest as well. But it’s a balance because you don’t want your thoughts to override when you are resting.

‘You want to be able to zone out in your downtime.’

The famous picture Cuthbert held up after scoring against Argentina in 2019 had been handed to her by her dad before the tournament, as he urged her to: ‘do it for the wee girl who had a dream and practised and practised until it came true.’

The celebration was her unplanned ‘thank you’ to her family for their support. Her advice to the Scots heading to Euro 2020 boils down to urging the players to stay true to the little boy inside them and to do it for themselves and their nearest and dearest.

And, with a nod to that Argentina debacle, she warned Clarke’s players not to return from the tournament nursing regrets.

‘I never planned to take that picture out of my sock,’ she recalled. ‘It was kind of like an out-of-body experience but it was amazing. That was my way of showing gratitude to my family. The dream would literally not have been possible without my parents.

‘You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have the support like I had it’s not going to work for you.

‘All the Scotland guys will be so grateful for the support that’s got them to the Euros.

‘Going out and giving your best performances and making their families and Scotland proud is a great way of giving back.

‘Also the guys playing in the tournament need to remember that they were once little boys kicking a ball around the park. Now they are living the dream. They can’t forget that.

‘Try not to get caught up with it being “the Euros”.

‘It’s just you playing football, like you did in your garden 15 years ago.

‘Just at a higher level. Remember that and be proud of how far you have come.

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail throughout Scotland's campaign this summer

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail throughout Scotland's campaign this summer

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail throughout Scotland’s campaign this summer 

‘But the lads also need to be professional. We have so many players playing at a high level in the Premier League and the Championship and Scottish Premiership, and they have experience and maturity. But they need to be able to game manage and kill off matches.

‘My one piece of advice? Have no regrets! Don’t leave anything in your legs.

‘Literally give everything because you may never have this chance again. It’s been 23 years since Scotland were last at a major tournament.

‘There’s plenty of quality Scotland players during that time who would have loved to have been in these guys’ shoes right now. So enjoy every moment — and give your absolute best.’

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