Alex Scott is used to being thrown into the thick of it. Her first FA Cup quarter-final as lead presenter came as a last-minute replacement for an ill Gary Lineker: “I had two hours,” says Scott. “I had a call from my boss: ‘Alex, we need you down in Brighton’. It's Mother's Day, I've booked to take my mum out, and I've not even seen her! I had 20 minutes in makeup, and then I was presenting the live game.”
But the off-the-cuff world of football media is where Scott thrives. The fourth-most-capped England player in history has rapidly become one of the country's most reliable voices on the national game, first as a pundit for the BBC and Sky, and now as a headline presenter whose CV includes two World Cups and the main chair for Football Focus. Though not confirmed, she'll almost certainly be on the BBC's presenting team throughout July for the biggest Women's World Cup ever held.
“If I'd tried to fit in and be like somebody else, then it wouldn't have worked,” says Scott. “I think what people liked when I came into the space was that I was fresh, I was me, and they could relate to that. I wasn't scared to say what I saw, or if something was funny, I would sit and laugh because that's what I did on my sofa at home. It's about being unique and looking at what you can bring that's different, because you already have that.”
We're sat in a plush executive box overlooking the halfway line in an empty Emirates Stadium, killing time before Scott is taken to see the Arsenal ground's new external artwork. Of particular interest to today's group – which includes England captain and Scott's close friend Leah Williamson's mother, Amanda – is a legends piece. The usual suspects are in attendance on the thoroughly modern frescoes adorning the ground: Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Tony Adams, Frank McLintock. Pointing ahead, commanding one of the club's famous cannons, Alex Scott is front and centre.
Her spot in the heart of the action is fitting for someone who played a vital role in making Arsenal history: for all the talk of Manchester City's treble this season, not enough people know that such a feat has not only been achieved elsewhere, but bettered. In 2007, Scott was part of an Arsenal side that lifted the UEFA Women’s Cup – the first and only time an English club has done so – on the way to a historic quadruple, and eventually captained her childhood team.
Even then, the Arsenal and England right-back was a natural on camera. Anticipating life after the game, Scott began studying for a professional sports writing and broadcasting degree at Staffordshire University while she was still playing. “I couldn’t understand why there weren’t any more females doing it or wanting to get into that space,” says Scott, “so I said to myself, If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it the right way, so no one can ever say anything.”
Very quickly, Scott was juggling her playing career with presenting. She started out on Arsenal TV covering the men’s games, and would run from the training ground to get to Kensington for her weekly show on London Live with Jimmy Bullard. “I did so many things – I had work placements at Sky Sports and the Football Association. Friday was our day off at Arsenal, so I travelled up to Manchester to present the kids’ Match of the Day that would go out on Saturday mornings. I was putting in so many hours, but no one saw all of that.”
It’s typical of the 38-year-old, whose amiable energy and rich knowledge of the game have made her one of the most respected pundits in football. Part of that is Scott remaining true to herself, whether it’s in advocating equality for the women’s game or in standout moments like choosing to wear the banned OneLove armband on camera in Qatar.
When the news broke that the England team weren't going to wear the anti-discrimination armband, Scott, who was scheduled to work on the game that day, was floored. “You're excluding so many people who love the sport,” she explains. “How they're going to feel in that moment is so wrong. It made me sad, thinking that we should be celebrating football, but it's really about so much more than that. I was standing in the stadium and thought well, no one's told me I can't wear it.”
As the live feed went to Scott and presenter Kelly Cates ahead of the match, the decision was a surprise to everyone besides Scott and the England kit man. “No one knew – I had my earpiece in and I heard the producers shouting to Kelly to ask about the armband because they didn't even know,” she says, laughing at the memory. Armband perfectly angled towards the camera, you'd expect a seasoned presenter like Cates to immediately discuss the armband, but she'd been asked to refrain.
“I asked her not to mention it,” explains Scott. “I didn't want to have to articulate or give my reasons for doing it – wearing it was enough to show my support and that I stand in solidarity with everyone.”
Despite her glittering playing career and substantial credentials, Scott has been the subject of scrutiny rarely seen elsewhere in her profession. The unfounded criticism has been a struggle. “It does get to me, because of the hard work I've put into my career,” she confesses. “I constantly get that I don't deserve to be here or be given respect for everything that I've done.
“But I wouldn't change it. It makes me the character I am. What makes me so proud is the number of females now coming through and where the game is. I look on TV and see people like Jill Scott all of a sudden on the same path as me. That's why I need to keep going.”
Scott, like the Lionesses, has lately started to see her resolute work towards equality slowly paying off. “Young boys – not just girls – stop me in the street now, because it’s so normalised for someone like Alex Scott to be interviewing someone about men’s or women’s football,” she says. “Nobody in the playground sees a difference.”
See Alex Scott at GQ Heroes in Oxfordshire, from 19-21 July, in association with BMW UK. For more info and tickets, visit GQHeroes.com
Photography by Jamie Salmons
Styling by Violetta Kassapi
Makeup by Brooke Turnbull
Hair by Jay Birmingham