ERIN CUTHBERT: Scotland’s Euro 2020 stars must remember to live their dream

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To fill the time between matches at the 2019 World Cup, Erin eliminated Cuthbert by tuning into nighttime episodes of Love Island.

As she watched the characters in the hit reality TV show embark on neatly structured personal journeys, the Chelsea star couldn’t imagine finding herself in the middle of a drama far too imaginative to be scripted any time soon.

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

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

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

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

As she prepared to leave for France, she witnessed her likeness on a giant billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus as one of the banners of the high-profile tournament.

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

But the spell was quickly and brutally broken when Argentina scored three goals in the last 16 minutes to send Scotland home.

The equalizer came four minutes into stoppage time; a penalty taken twice by Florencia Bonsegundo after VAR ruled that Lee Alexander came off her line to save her first spot.

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

“I’m over it now – but it’s been a good year,” said Sportsmails new columnist.

“When I injured my ankle before the preparation for the season at Chelsea, just after the World Cup, I hated football.

“I probably shouldn’t have played back because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

“But when football is taken from you, you realize what you have lost.

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

“We won the double with Chelsea that year and we won the double this year too.

“Trophies and success helped me get over it. I also have very good teammates who put an arm around me and looked after me.

“But I still haven’t watched Argentina’s match. I don’t know what I would see. I would just sit there and watch the VAR forever. It would be boring!

“But we could have – should have – got out of the group stage.

“We had a good enough team. We shouldn’t have thrown away a three-goal lead. I think it was a little naive on our part.’

Steve Clarke's men aim to take Scotland past the knockout stage for the first time ever

Steve Clarke's men aim to take Scotland past the knockout stage for the first time ever

Steve Clarke’s men aim to take Scotland past the knockout stage for the first time ever

The whole experience gave Cuthbert a lot of advice to pass on to Steve Clarke’s squad as the men’s team prepares for its first appearance in a major final in 23 years. But we’ll come back to that later.

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

The experience helped her cope with the disappointment of domestic double winner Chelsea who lost 4-0 to Barcelona in Gothenburg last month in the Champions League final.

“I’m home now and it’s great to see 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 before everything.

“Of course it was upsetting to lose the Champions League final, but there are people who have died in the country during this pandemic.

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

“But my family gave me a little perspective on life when we were on FaceTime.

‘My mother was on leave for so long. I have family who work for the National Health Service.

“Being able to play football was an extreme privilege at this time, but I’m glad I have my family to keep me up and give me that perspective on life.”

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

Whether it’s quizzes, games or teammates jumping in the dark to scare each other in a ‘haunted’ castle outside Rennes, it all adds to the group’s spirit and camaraderie.

However, as Love Island’s final season doesn’t start until June 28, the Scottish men will have to reach the Euro 2020 knockouts if they want to watch it together at their Rockliffe Hall base near Darlington.

“I know what a few players are like in Scotland and they’ll be watching Love Island 100 per cent,” Cuthbert laughed, capped 42 times.

“In France we had a games room at our three different bases, so we played PlayStation, Subbuteo or pool. When you laugh and play games, time passes faster.

‘In the castle in Rennes we stayed in small chalets outside the main building. It was pitch dark and everyone thought it was funny to scare each other.

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

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

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

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

“It’s all about balance when you’re in a tournament. Some people like their own space, other people like me are social butterflies. You also need to rest. But it’s a balance because you don’t want your thoughts to take over when you’re resting.

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

The famous photo Cuthbert held up after she scored against Argentina in 2019 was handed to her before the tournament by her father, when he urged her: ‘Do it for the little girl who had a dream and practice and practice until it came true. ‘

The celebration was her unscheduled ‘thank you’ to her family for their support. Her advice to Scots heading to Euro 2020 is to urge players to stay true to the little boy in them and do it for themselves and their loved ones.

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

“I never intended to take that photo out of my sock,” she recalls. “It was kind of an out-of-body experience, but it was great. That was my way of being grateful to my family. The dream literally wouldn’t have been possible without my parents.

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

“All the boys from Scotland will be so grateful for the support that has brought them to the European Championship.

“Going out and giving your best performances and making their families and Scotland proud is a great way to give back.

“The boys who play in the tournament also have to remember that they were once little boys kicking a ball in the park. Now they are living the dream. They can’t forget that.

‘Try not to get carried away by the fact that it is ‘the euros’.

‘You’re just playing football, like you did in your garden fifteen years ago.

‘Just on a higher level. Remember that and be proud of how far you’ve come.

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail during the Scottish campaign this summer

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail during the Scottish campaign this summer

Cuthbert will be a columnist for Sportsmail during the Scottish campaign this summer

“But the guys also have to be professional. We have so many high-level players in the Premier League and the Championship and the Scottish Premiership, and they have experience and maturity. But they must be able to manage and kill matches.

‘My only advice? No regrets! Don’t leave anything in your legs.

‘Literally give everything because you may never get this chance again. It has been 23 years since Scotland was last at a major tournament.

“There were plenty of good quality Scottish players back then who would have loved to be in these guys’ shoes now. So enjoy every moment – and do your very best.’

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