Though it often lives in the shadow of the men’s game, women’s football has taken massive steps forward in recent years. It continues to grow rapidly and there have never been so many opportunities for young girls to get into the game. It’s something that wasn’t the case around a decade ago. There was a lot less interest and for a young female, to make it in football seemed like an almost impossible task.
There’s one local talent who did defy the odds and make the grade. It wasn’t easy – she played in boys’ leagues until she was twelve (alongside yours truly!) and opportunities to play locally with other girls were limited. However despite the obstacles in front of her, she worked hard and has reaped the rewards. Now she wreaks havoc on defences in the Italian Women’s Serie A.
Lana Clelland’s career has flourished ever since she first started kicking a ball as a young kid. The former Perth Grammar school pupil had to play in boys’ leagues with her local side Methven until she was almost a teenager before she made the transition to the women’s game. She adapted quickly though and successful spells in the Scottish Women’s Premier League with Rangers and Spartans would open doors she could only have dreamt of when she first started playing.
“I had been playing in the SWPL for Rangers and then Spartans and had just come back from an injury towards the end of the season. I'd been playing well but still felt I was lacking match fitness and needed to get some game time.
Then suddenly an agent contacted me on social media from Italy. I was offered to come over and play with Bari and jumped at the chance to experience another country. The rest is history!”
Lana is nearing the end of her second full season in Italy and has excelled in her new environment. However, she still looks back fondly on her first steps in the game when she made her Rangers Ladies debut - even though it seems like a long time ago now!
“I was very young at the time so to get a chance to make my debut for a club like Rangers was a massively proud moment for my family and I. It made it all the sweeter that I managed to score too!”
That goal was a sign of things to come as the prolific forward notched 21 goals in 36 games for Rangers before she signed for SWPL rivals Spartans. She enjoyed another successful spell there too despite some injury setbacks, netting 31 times in 47 matches for the Edinburgh side.
However, the Scottish Women’s Premier remains an amateur league and it was when Bari came calling in December 2014 that Lana finally signed a professional contract to play in the Italian Women’s Serie A. She netted an impressive 12 goals in 16 appearances and for someone who had never played on the continent before, she certainly hit the ground running. So much so, that it wouldn’t be long before big guns UPC Tavagnacco were after her signature.
“When I joined Bari it was just on a short-term deal. I was playing well and scoring and then Tavagnacco approached me at the end of the season. They are a big club in the Italian women’s game and the squad – which contains many experienced international players – just seemed like it would be a great fit for me and I felt like I could improve as a player there.”
She made the move to stay in Italy and was beginning to find her feet in her new surroundings. Lana is the only non-Italian player at Tavagnacco, and just like her days playing in the boys' leagues in Perth, being the few among many doesn't faze her and she has gone from strength to strength with her new club.
“I settled into life in Italy very quickly on the park. Playing football is what I have always loved to do so it doesn’t matter where I’m playing I’m always going to be happy playing the game I love. Off the park it took a little while to get used to it! The language, the food and the lifestyle are different to back home but after about six months I was very settled.
I’ve actually picked the language up pretty well now and it really doesn’t bother me being the only non-Italian in the squad – they’re a fantastic group of girls and they’ve really made me feel part of the family.”
She continued to shine with Tavagnacco and after a great first season where she added more goals to her personal tally, she signed for a second year. With just two games remaining in her second campaign, Lana tops the goalscoring charts with 20 league goals and has a Coppa Italia quarter-final match against Verona to look forward to at the end of May. Always the professional though, she has clear objectives about what she wants to achieve in the short-term.
“I’m currently the top goalscorer although I’m only ahead of my rival for the golden boot by one goal and I am desperate to win it! We actually play against her team next so it could go right down to the wire! From the team’s point of view, we are just two games away from the Coppa Italia final and it would be absolutely incredible to play in that.
I see myself staying in Italy again next season and as always I will be trying to improve on the season before – but I don’t look too far ahead. I want to make sure I’m in the Scotland squad for the European Championships in Holland this summer too, which would be an amazing experience!”
Lana has played her part in Scotland’s European Championship qualification, and has 12 caps to her name so far. She has also represented her country at every age-group since under 15’s.
It would seem her selection in the squad would be a foregone conclusion given her incredible goalscoring form in one of Europe’s top leagues, but she doesn’t take anything for granted and always feels humbled and honoured to pull on the dark blue jersey.
“Nothing can really come close to the pride you feel when you pull on the national team’s shirt – it would be the same for any sport. It’s an absolute honour for me.
I remember making my debut against Cameroon and waiting to come on as a substitute. It seemed like the longest few minutes ever! It was the moment I’d waited my whole life for and it was the realisation of a dream for me. I scored my first goal a year later against Serbia and that was a special moment too."
It’s clear that Lana is a fantastic role model for young girls both locally and nationally when it comes to getting into football. She has scored goals in Scotland and Italy, and has represented her country too. She’s very keen to see others follow in her footsteps and has advice for any youngsters looking to emulate her success.
“Work hard every day, believe in yourself and never give up! There are lots of opportunities to get into the game so get out there, play and prove any doubters wrong!”
The opportunities were a lot more scarce for Lana than they are for today’s new generation, and Live Active Leisure has teamed up with the Scottish Football Association and Gannochy Trust, to introduce a brand new initiative aiming to get young women into football. It’s a scheme that Lana fully supports and she's delighted to see her home city making positive steps towards improving the women’s game.
“In the past decade, things have improved dramatically for women’s football from club to national level. That's apparent by how successful the Scotland women’s team has been and that some of our home-grown players are turning professional. Any initiatives to improve the amount of females getting involved in football – whether it’s playing, or the Live Active scheme to get young women into coaching and other roles, is a really positive step and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in football or sport to get involved!”