Erin Cuthbert column: Scotland World Cup exit tore me apart

Chelsea and Scotland striker Erin Cuthbert looks back to this time last summer and the national team’s heart-breaking first appearance at the Women’s World Cup.

I’ve tried to erase last summer’s World Cup from my mind. That might seem a strange thing to say but I needed to so that I could move on after the way it ended.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always remember the experience, but for months afterwards, the 3-3 draw with Argentina that cost us a place in the knockout stages was the last memory in my head from the tournament.

There was a period where it was on my mind every single day, just going round and round tearing away at me. But once you separate the emotion from it, you realise that it’s football and sometimes football is cruel.

It’s difficult to do that, though. Even now, 12 months on, I feel a combination of anger at the referee and at VAR and anger that we didn’t shut up shop better when we were 3-0 up with 16 minutes to go.

We already felt aggrieved because decisions didn’t go our way in the first couple of games, and we maybe felt a bit like we didn’t really belong at the tournament.

But in the last 10 minutes on the pitch that night in Paris, I felt every emotion I’ve ever felt.

Happiness when Lee Alexander saved the penalty in stoppage-time to keep it 3-2. The world was a brilliant place in that moment. But then anxiety when the referee ordered a retake.

My legs were actually shaking because I couldn’t believe what was going on. I couldn’t handle not being able to affect something that was happening on the pitch – I just wasn’t used to that.

That was maybe the worst feeling of the lot. I just wanted to dig a hole and climb into it because I felt ashamed, even though there was nothing I could have done.

Erin Cuthbert breaks down at the full-time whistle against Argentina in Paris

‘It felt like my dad was on the pitch with me’

I’d got my goal and that put us 3-0 up and everything seemed rosy at that point. We were 20-odd minutes from the last 16 in our first World Cup. Happy days.

While I have tried to forget what happened, that’s something that will always stick with me. No other goal I’ve ever scored comes close to what it felt like running towards thousands of celebrating Scotland fans. It was almost an out-of-body experience because it was so surreal, but I remember it so clearly.

In one of my columns last summer, I talked about the wee picture my dad gave me before I went to France. It was of me when I was a kid outside Ibrox with a Rangers ‘trackie’ on and he had written on the back of it, ‘Do it for this wee girl who had a dream and practised and practised until it came true’.

For the first two games, against England and Japan, I had it in my washbag but there was so much riding on the Argentina match that I wanted to carry a bit of the old man with me. I always looked at him for approval when I was playing as a kid, so I stuffed it down my sock and it almost felt like he was there on the pitch with me.

I swear, it genuinely never crossed my mind to celebrate with it. I just remember whipping it out instinctively. He was at the game, obviously, and I just wanted to show my appreciation to him and show that every young girl can live her dream.

Erin Cuthbert holds up the picture of her outside Ibrox as a child after scoring against Argentina

‘Cote d’Azur is just like Irvine on a sunny day’

It was only a year ago, but it feels like so much longer because so much has happened. I came home, got injured, went through rehab, won the cup and league with Chelsea, moved back to Ayrshire for 10 weeks during lockdown, then headed back down to London and moved house.

One thing that’s come of it is that I definitely get recognised in Scotland. People ask me for selfies in cafes, which is just weird.

Speaking to them, it seems like the whole of the country was watching those games, which is just mind-blowing. Thing is, that fame comes with responsibility, though. I need to be mindful of what I’m doing.

But the thing that makes me most proud is that we inspired people. Ma wee cousin in Kilwinning now wants to follow in my footsteps because she saw me and Scotland at a World Cup. That’s just magic.

It reminds me of when I was a wee girl. I went to Paris with Crosshouse Boys Club for a tournament and I remember taking a picture with my dad at the Eiffel Tower. If you’d told that wee lassie she’d be back, god knows how many years later, taking that same picture with her Scotland team-mates at a World Cup, she’d never have believed you.

BBC Scotland charts the nation’s hopes as Scotland qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Actually, that is one thing I’ll take from the finals – getting to spend a big chunk of time with the girls. We don’t normally get that.

I’ve got incredible memories of just having a carry on in the games room every day, being silly and listening to music together. Staying in a castle in Rennes, being on the Cote d’Azur – which is just like Irvine on a sunny day – and manager Shelley Kerr taking us through Japan’s tactics on a Subbuteo table.

There was a lot of noise around us – good and bad – but we held each other together and were the glue for each other. That is something I’ll remember, even if there are bits I’d rather forget.

Erin Cuthbert was speaking to BBC Sport’s Richard Winton