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Grampian Ladies defender Susan McNeil says she’s finally retiring for good – aged 43

Centre-half McNeil has played organised football on and off for a whopping 35 years, with Aberdeen Ladies among her former clubs.

Susan McNeil playing for Grampian Ladies. Image: Jill Runcie/Grampian Ladies.
Susan McNeil playing for Grampian Ladies against Huntly. Image: Jill Runcie/Grampian Ladies.

Grampian Ladies centre-half Susan McNeil insists her impending retirement will be the last as she gets set to finally hang up her boots for good, aged 43.

Susan will stop playing after the remaining two matches of her team’s SWFL North campaign.

Explaining why now is definitely the end of her time on the pitch, Susan – who jokes it is “the 10th time” she’s retired – said: “Age and the body – my body can’t take it anymore after games now. I can be sore for two or sometimes three days after.

“I will miss it – I’ll totally miss it – but the main decision is just about health.

“I have to stop.

“I’m sure the girls won’t miss me moaning!”

Grampian are sitting fifth in their league with a home clash against Dryburgh (Sunday) and away trip to Westdyke (May 19) still to play this term.

Despite being in her forties, Susan thinks she’s still been able to perform well this season against often much younger opposition.

She said: “Don’t get me wrong, sometimes if you’ve got somebody who is a proper whippet, there’s not a chance that I’ll be able to catch them.

“But I kind of think, because I’m old, I’ve got a bit more of the awareness and know my positioning, and where to be to give myself a headstart.”

‘I could be their granny!’

Last summer, Grampian Ladies – who have a full youth development pathway – made the decision to step down from the national SWF League One to play at regional level in SWFL North.

Susan thinks their season can ultimately be viewed as a success, as, though Grampian have had older heads in their ranks, the league has been a good environment for several promising youngsters – the club’s future – to gain experience.

She said: “Everybody wants to win the league, of course you do, but given the amount of youngsters who haven’t played in this kind of league before who are all still learning, I think mid-table is quite good.”

Grampian Ladies, with Susan McNeil fourth from back right. Image: Aaron Pirie/Grampian Ladies.

Rating her young team-mates’ future prospects, Susan added: “They’ll be flying.

“There’s Lana… Amy Cappleman… Beth Bowyer…

“There’s an even younger lassie, who’s 15 or something, Siobhan Davidson. She’s pretty decent.

“Isla Stephen, as well, she’s really good. She plays upfront and is a cracking player.”

Susan has viewed her own role in the Grampian squad, and that of fellow “oldies” like Jenni Taylor and Sarah Stout, who are both in their mid-to-late thirties, as helping to guide their more youthful team-mates – some who are young enough to be their daughters – through games and in training.

She said: “I’m pretty sure I could be their granny as well!

“You sort of try to help people, because even during a game, if somebody’s not sure where they should be or what they should be doing, you’d just say: ‘Next time, do this.'”

‘Retiring’ from Aberdeen Ladies in 2016, and playing with Boyle, Corsie and Fleeting

Susan’s playing career has coincided with a period of significant growth for women’s football.

Her first taste of organised club football was 35 years ago.

She said: “There’s such a difference. When I first started I couldn’t play football because there was no girls’ teams and you weren’t allowed to play with the boys (past a certain age).

“That’s come on and there are so many girls’ teams now and even youth tournaments.”

Reflecting on the teams she has played for over the years, Susan added: “It was actually Bridge of Don Boys’ Club where I started, and then somebody asked me to go along to East End Girls, and from then it was Cove, then Aberdeen, then Grampian.

“I technically ‘retired’ from Aberdeen when I was 36 – in 2016 – because that was Premier League we were playing and the training was too brutal for my body.

Susan McNeil (then Murray) receiving a guard of honour when she retired from Aberdeen Ladies in 2016.

“I think had about two seasons out, and then they (Grampian) asked me to come. I’d known Dod (chairman George Duncan) and (captain) Lauren (Boylan) anyway.

“I’d missed the banter and missed playing football on a Sunday. I didn’t miss the training – but when Dod hassles you, you can’t say no!”

Susan McNeil (then Murray) playing for Aberdeen at Pittodrie in 2000.

Having also earned 11 caps for Scotland under-16s and U20s in her younger days, former Oldmachar Academy pupil Susan – who started out as a striker, before moving to midfield and then into defence – has played alongside several big names during her career.

Hibs midfielder Rachael Boyle, and recently retired Aberdeen Women stars Kelly Forrest and Loren Campbell were all team-mates when the city’s premier women’s outfit – now part of Aberdeen FC – were still the independent Aberdeen Ladies.

So, too, was current Scotland captain and centre-half Rachel Corsie, while legendary Scots striker Julie Fleeting was in the national youth ranks with Susan.

She said: “Rachel was at Aberdeen for a while. She was a winger then and was amazing.

“Julie Fleeting – I played football with her in the Scotland squad. She was big, strong and had so much talent. You knew you could just give her the ball and she could do anything.”

As to whether she’ll remain in football, as a coach or administrator, housing officer Susan – who lives with husband Craig and labrador Denzel – is unsure, saying: “I genuinely don’t know.

“I’ll be chilling out during the summer and watching the Euros, then we’ll see.”