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Women’s football legend turned down arranged marriage for Italian citizenship because of her Catholic upbringing

Scotland’s most successful female footballer has revealed that Italian officials tried to set her up in an arranged marriage so that she could continue playing for the country but she turned the offer down due to her Catholic upbringing.

Football legend Rose Reilly, 65, who was awarded an MBE as part of this year’s New Year Honour list for her services to women’s football, has opened up about her international career, which saw her represent both the Scottish women’s football team and the Italian women’s football team.

A trailblazer in women’s football, the striker from East Ayrshire moved to Italy as a teenager to play club football and, although she had already played for the Scottish national team, she was selected for the Italian side after her impressive performances for A.C.F. Milan. From there she helped lead the Italian team to the Mundialito, the unofficial precursor to the Women’s World Cup, in 1984 and was voted best player in the team.

Speaking on Sean McDonald’s Blethered podcast, the Scottish Football Hall of Famer, who has previously described herself as a “Scottish heart beating under an Italian jersey”, said: “Scotland’s my mother and Italy’s my lover, so don’t split me up from one of them”.

Despite having already represented Scotland and having no formal links to Italy prior to her move to Milan, Reilly was only able to play for Italy as women’s football had not yet come under the official umbrella of FIFA and UEFA.

“In those days every nation had their own federations but then they all got together,” Reilly explained. “Then FIFA and UEFA had decided ‘we’ll take over women’s football’, with their rules and regulations.”

Reilly pointed out that this posed a problem for her, as citizen eligibility rules were introduced and she had not yet been naturalised as an Italian, which meant that she wouldn’t be able to represent the country in international games.

However, Italian officials proposed a plan to Reilly that would allow her to gain citizenship and allow them to keep their star player.
“Actually, the president in Italy said ‘how do you fancy marrying some old guy in a nursing home?’, and I said ‘I’m from a Catholic family’. My mother really would have killed me!”

Reilly, who eventually gained dual citizenship, joked: “But nowadays I think, ‘If he was a millionaire, I should have done it’.”

Picture: File photo, dated 28th May 2019, of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Rose Reilly. (Andrew Milligan/PA).