IT has been a while since Scotland could last lay claim to a genuine top-class footballer. Regarded as one of the best strikers in Europe, an opinion offered by one of Holland's most capped players, with an international goals ratio of almost one a game, there has been no shortage of interest from the biggest clubs around.

Forget Roberto Baggio, Julie Fleeting is the real divine ponytail. At the age of 20 she has already reached the kind of career milestone that the likes of Ally McCoist and Denis Law waited two decades to achieve. By colourful coincidence, her fiftieth international appearance was made against Wales recently - celebrated with four of the goals in a 5-1 win at Almondvale - the same opposition for her debut four years ago.

Her club, Ayr United, have also hosted the UEFA Women's Cup at Somerset Park, finishing a creditable third in a group populated with semi-professional teams from France, Ukraine, and Croatia. Such is the way of it this erstwhile all-male preserve, there is no fame and no fortune for tanner ba' burdz. At least not yet, anyway.

The efforts of Fleeting and the rest of the Honest Women (well, if the nickname's good enough for the guys . . . ) have gone largely unnoticed, though, with an average crowd of 500 - ''many of them were players from other teams, which was nice'' - turning up to cheer them on during their European adventure.

It is a far cry from tentatively tackling her famous footballing father not long after she was able to take her first few steps. Jim Fleeting, the former Norwich, Ayr United, Clyde, and Morton defender, who also had a spell in charge of Kilmarnock before assuming his current post as development officer for the Scottish Football Association, has played an active role in her rise to the top of what remains her hobby.

Until Vera Pauw, former Dutch internationalist and wife of Rangers' assistant manager, Bert van Lingen, was appointed as SFA technical director to improve the stature and skill of the women's game in Scotland, Fleeting the faither was the gaffer as well.

Starting off as a goalkeeper with her first team, Cunninghame Boys' Club, oddly enough, Julie has gone from back to front with great success, but in her final year studying Physical Education at Edinburgh University, she is now approaching a crossroads in her career.

With little recognition and certainly no remuneration for her efforts, the semi-professional American women's league is an enticing option. However, the old Scottish trait of self-doubt is evident even in the women's game, it would appear, despite 'Fleets' feats and the endorsement from Pauw, who has already offered to open the door to the land of (equal) opportunity. With a gooey glance towards her boyfriend of two-and-a-half years, Kilmarnock's up-and-coming goalkeeper, Colin Stewart, Julie pondered the American dream.

''I'm thinking about it more than I was a year or two ago and I would like a shot at the big league in America,'' she concedes, ''but I have a lot here with my family and Colin, so it's not a decision to make on my own.''

Unless persuaded otherwise, it seems she will shun the States for home and is already on the lookout for a job as a PE teacher in one of the nearby schools. Doubtless Vera will have something to say about that, but the headstrong striker has already declined the offer of a scholarship at Stanford University, where a certain Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods honed his craft.

''Vera has already given me some advice and asked me what my thoughts are on my future. It's nice to know she is willing to help me, but at the moment I'm just concentrating on finishing my degree. In any case, America is a big step up and everyone wants to play there. It's okay standing out here but if you put me in a national team like France, who have four top-class strikers, then it might be a different story.''

Until recently, knowledge of women's football in this country extended to Dee Hepburn and the dorky John Gordon Sinclair in the grotesque Gregory's Girl. Contrary to popular belief, the women's game is not a labyrinth of lesbianism, either. ''That was one thing people commented on after the Wales game, we looked like 11 athletes out there.''

So what do you talk about in the dressing room? ''Er . . . well . . . ah . . . um . . . I haven't really thought about that.'' The same things as guys? ''Maybe, there are a few characters in our team, but I've never been in a guy's changing room. What do they talk about?'' Colin squirmed and fidgeted on the sofa.

If Julie was a tomboy as a kid - she was also pretty adept at basketball and hockey and does not seem the type to have befriended Barbie - her svelte, athletic frame and mane of blonde hair (sorry, Colin) now suggest otherwise.

It is not inconceivable that within the next few years she will replace Kenny Dalglish as the most-capped Scottish footballer and she is already well on her way to topping the scoring charts.

While she was out posing for the photographer, Colin, who has just begun a month's loan at Stenhousemuir, revealed he has taken part in the odd pre-season training session with Ayr United's women's team and reports that ''she has everything''. Julie has also put a few past him in her time, he added, somewhat reluctantly.

So how big is the gap between the men's and women's game? ''Sometimes you watch a game and the guys can effortlessly kick the ball from one end of the field to the other,'' she says appreciatively. ''There is no way we could ever do that.

''The game is an awful lot faster as well so what we have to do is concentrate on our technique.''

While revealing, quite surprisingly, that she had no sporting heroes during her teenage years, she does hold Celtic's Henrik Larsson in high regard, ''not because he plays for Celtic; I just love watching him''. With her own gift for goalscoring, what price that partnership?