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Princess Pauline: the new King Kenny

This afternoon, when Pauline Hamill lines up for Scotland, the 35 year-old forward will create a little piece of history by gaining her 103rd cap, thus overtaking Kenny Dalglish's tally of appearances in the blue jersey.

Pauline Hamill has been in her element these last few days, eating, breathing and sleeping football, and indulging in thoughts of her past, present and future.

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This afternoon, when she lines up for Scotland, who tackle Slovakia in a European Championship qualifier match in Vienna, Bratislava, the 35 year-old forward will create a little piece of history by gaining her 103rd cap, thus overtaking Kenny Dalglish's tally of appearances in the blue jersey.

As she admits, it has been an arduous ascent from the foothills of Coltness Ladies in Wishaw to the summit of achievement of becoming her country's record-breaking internationalist, but Hamill is feisty company, unashamedly proud of the efforts which she has channelled into the sport, both on and off the pitch. If the likes of Mike Newell, the self-proclaimed male chauvinist, choose to denigrate the soccer sorority, then that's their problem.

In her day job, Hamill works as the girls' football development officer at Falkirk's Westfield Stadium and it is a measure of the surge in popularity in women's football that, when she arrived in the post three years ago, there was virtually nobody playing the game.

"Now we have about 250 girls turning out every week," she said. "We have also created an academy structure for the most talented youngsters, where they learn about strength and conditioning, diet and nutrition all the things the boys are taught, and our goal is basically focused on telling any girl who wants to pursue a career in football: Here is your pathway from school age on to the senior circuit'.

"Hamill's own development from promising primary pupil to the Scotland ranks was the consequence of her own determination, tackling the boys in the badlands of Lanarkshire, dressed in her replica Scotland strip.

"Back then, there was no kind of representative ladder for people like me. If we impressed for our clubs Hamill, once of Doncaster Belles, is now on Hibs' books, the word would eventually get around that we were worth a call-up to the international squad, which is how I gained my first cap in 1992 a 1-0 defeat against England, but it was a huge learning curve.

"Nowadays, there are under-15, under-17 and under-19 Scotland teams, the SWFA holds regular training camps and we have established close links with the SFA. The whole structure reflects the increasing professionalism which means that we should be starting to qualify for major tournaments. I have always been pretty hard-headed and I hate losing."

The next week will be pivotal to Scotland's European Championship prospects. Thus far, they have just one point from two matches, having drawn with Portugal and lost away to Ukraine - "a hard one to take, given the chances we created," says Hamill - but, if they can manage a victory over the Slovaks and repeat that against the Danes at McDiarmid Park on Wednesday evening, they will have enhanced their aspirations significantly.

The days have long gone - if they ever existed in Hamill's sphere - when respectability was deemed sufficient and certainly, casting one's eye down the team sheet, which includes such stalwart characters as Julie Fleeting, who will attain her century of caps in Perth, it is obvious that Anna Signeul's outfit boast the experience, ambition, and collective will to tap into the current feelgood factor permeating Scottish football.

"The guys have done a terrific job in 2007 and it would be tremendous to follow their exploits with a couple of wins in the next five days," says Hamill, who boldly informed her father that she would play for her country when she was seven and who believes that all her subsequent achievements are as much due to her parents' supportiveness as her own enthusiasm.

"I never imagined when I was starting out that I would be on the verge of passing the national cap record set by such a great player as Kenny Dalglish, but the sport has undergone a massive transformation in the past decade. We have to realise that the rest of the world is improving as well, so this is a very exciting time, but it is also one where we have to turn potential into victories and points."

Hamill may be approaching 36, but there is no sign of her relinquishing her competitive fire. On the contrary, working with the girls at Falkirk is keeping her young and dreaming of glorious feats in store. When she began her Scotland shift, it would have been unthinkable that Hampden would stage an exhibition about women's football, or that the chief executive of the SFA Gordon Smith would be making a presentation to Fleeting next week. Yet barriers are being dismantled and prejudices exorcised.

"You have to change people's perceptions and you will always get a few negative comments, but I think that most of the men have grown to appreciate that we love football and all we are asking is for the opportunity to drive the sport forward," says Hamill. She views the momentous occasion in 1998, when Scotland required a 17-0 success - and did the needful - against Lithuania to move up from Class B status and into the globe's elite, as a watershed occasion.

"We have made a lot of progress since then, and we are starting to reap the rewards of years of missionary work. When I look into the eyes of some of the youngsters at Westfield, I recognise the expression - once, that was me, and I will still be really excited when I am singing the anthem on Saturday."

She has neither accumulated lavish wealth from her footballing forays, nor enjoyed any of the accoutrements of celebrity which have routinely been handed to Dalglish. But her Scotland caps are like precious stones to Hamill.

Call them the Pearls of Pauline.

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