Lewis goalkeeper Rachael Johnstone is star for Celtic and Scotland

After humble beginnings growing up on the Isle of Lewis, teenage footballer Rachael Johnstone is now established with Scotland under-17 women and the Celtic Women first-team squad.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 12:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th December 2020, 12:46 pm
Lewis football ace Rachael Johnstone in Celtic colours

Former Lewis and Harris women’s ace Rachael, 16, is in her debut season with Celtic’s first team, having previously played for their under-19s.

Joining the Hoops is an obvious highlight of her career so far, but she said playing for her country tops even that.

She told the Stornoway Gazette: “Signing for Celtic and making my Scotland debut are my two highlights, probably the Scotland one more, because I made my debut against Poland away and I think I was only about 14, maybe even 13, and that was with the under-16s so I was a bit overwhelmed being in that team at such a young age.

“Probably my favourite save so far was when I was playing for Scotland under-16s in a UEFA development friendly tournament in the Algarve in Portugal last February against the Netherlands.

“The save came in a penalty shootout.

“We were winning 1-0 up until the 80th minute but they scored from a corner.

“We ended up actually losing on penalties but saving a penalty for your country I think speaks for itself. It’s quite a big moment.”

Rachael, who has also starred for Stornoway Athletic’s under-15 boys’ team, has only been between the sticks seriously since playing for another Lewis side – Aths – around five years ago.

She said: “I was an outfield player at first but I got thrown in goal for an under-13 tournament with Aths, and I played pretty well, so they thought I may as well just stay in goal.

“I have always wanted to be an outfielder but I’m a goalkeeper now.

“I guess I do just like diving about and trying to help save the team.

“I like contributing to the game and I feel like when you’re in goal, you contribute to the game quite a lot because you can keep your team in it.

“You can do things like make a save in the 90th minute.”

Sadly, there was heartache for Scotland women’s side beyond the 90-minute mark in last Tuesday night’s 1-0 home Euro 2022 defeat to Finland at Easter Road.

Our girls were knocked out in the cruellest fashion as they dominated the game but missed a host of chances before the Finns netted a fortunate last-minute winner when the ball rebounded in off Amanda Rantanen’s nose after an initial save by Scots keeper Lee Alexander.

Rachael said: “Obviously it’s heartbreaking. It’s such a shame because I think Scotland were on top of Finland for the whole game.

“It takes you back to last year’s World Cup and that Argentina game when they were playing so well (Scotland led the group game in France 3-0 before collapsing and being held to a 3-3 draw, putting them out of the tournament last June) then it all just went to pieces in the final minutes.

“But no doubt Scotland will qualify for tournaments another time because the squad that Shelley Kerr has put together is unreal.

“It’s definitely a goal of mine to play for the Scotland senior team one day.

“I think there’s quite a lot of goalkeepers ahead of me – for, example Jenna Fife, who’s the second choice, she’s still young, so she’s got plenty of years ahead of her when Lee Alexander stops playing.

“Hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long.”

In the more immediate future, Rachael is doing her best to push herself into Celtic women’s starting line-up as she is currently understudy to Chloe Logan.

“I made my debut against Hearts in a pre-season friendly, so that was my first game for them,” Rachael said.

“I was due to make my competitive debut before Christmas but I tore my hamstring at training the other night so it’s looking in doubt.

“I just went down for a foot save, overstretched and I felt a pop in my hamstring, but it’s not too bad, definitely better than we first thought.”

After a lengthy delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Celtic Women are at last under way definitively in this season’s SWPL1, sitting third with 13 points from six games.

Early leaders Glasgow City have a maximum 18 points from their six fixtures, while second-placed Rangers have 15 points at the same stage.

“We’re doing quite well this season,” said Rachael, whose side drew 2-2 at home to Forfar Farmington in their latest league game on Sunday.

“We lost our opening game 2-0 to Glasgow City but we’ve recently won 1-0 against Rangers with a last-minute penalty by Summer Green, which was really good, then we won 6-2 against Hibs in our next game.

“I think our aim is probably to qualify for the Champions League, but that number one spot is up for grabs really.

“I definitely think with the squad we have that we can challenge Glasgow City, reigning champions for the last 13 years.

“This season it’s a lot more competitive.

“You’ve got Hibs, Glasgow City, Rangers and Celtic all investing in the women’s game.

“It will be exciting to see what the standings will be at the end of the season.”

Although she’s only 16, Rachael stressed that she is just one year younger than some of the other Celtic Women’s squad members.