Abi Harrison was 14 years old when she made her debut for Celtic in 2011, becoming the youngest player ever in the Scottish Women’s Premier League.
Back then she was juggling school work, exams and the tribulations of being a teenager with a pathway that would eventually lead to fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional footballer.
A decade on, now 24 and settled into her third season at Bristol City, striker Harrison has been enjoying a prolific run, scoring nine goals in eight league matches at the end of 2021 as well as a first goal for Scotland.
“I think I’m playing definitely the best football since I came to England, and as an all-round player probably the best I’ve played in my career,” Harrison told BBC Sport.
Harrison joined the Robins in 2019 after eight years in her home country. She signed a contract extension last spring despite the team’s relegation from the Women’s Super League.
The club is rebuilding, though, and a run of four matches undefeated has pushed them up to fifth in the Championship.
“In terms of what I wanted to do in the WSL I probably didn’t do that, and I had to raise my standards and be the striker that scored goals that Bristol needed,” Harrison said.
“As a striker, where we are as a team, I’m seeing a lot more of the ball and getting a lot more goals rather than the last two seasons when it was a bit more defensive and playing on the counter.
“Would I like to challenge myself at the highest level? Of course. But for now I’m scoring goals, and I’m happy, and I’m able to do the job I love every day.”
Coming full circle
Harrison’s form earned her a Scotland call-up in November, her first since 2019. Against Ukraine in a World Cup qualifier she scored the 93rd-minute equaliser that salvaged a draw, with her family watching in the stands.
“The opportunity came and I got a lot more game time than I was expecting. Hopefully I’ve taken that opportunity to try and stay in the squad into the future,” she said.
“Hampden [Park] obviously is the national stadium, it’s five minutes from where I grew up. I used to be down there watching my dad when he was a physio for the team that played there. It was a bit of a 360, we went full circle as a family.
“There were tears, there were laughs, but they always remind me that I probably should have had more than one that night.”
The streets of Glasgow were where Harrison fell in love with football, after her elder brother used to put her in goal when he needed someone to play against.
“He dragged me onto the pitch and I’ve never been off it since,” she said.
At the age of nine she joined the newly opened Celtic girls academy, playing for her childhood club. When she moved to Hibernian four years later she won the league’s golden boot two years in a row.
“It’s probably something at the time I thought I was more than ready for,” said Harrison. “Looking back, if Lauren [Smith, Bristol City head coach] brought a 14-year-old up to train I’d probably be thinking ‘what on earth?’
“It was tough in terms of school work, exams, I was balancing going away with Scotland, which was an intense schedule, and being a teenager.
“I probably never lived as a teenager, and I made sacrifices that I had to make, but ultimately now I sit here and I can say I achieved my dream.”
Always striving for more
Late in 2019, Harrison suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury that put her on the sidelines for nine months. It was a period that gave her “a whole new appreciation” for her body and her sport.
Her laid-back attitude, and friends and family, keep her down to earth and have helped stop her burning out too soon.
Still, there is clearly a competitive athlete inside who is always pushing to be the best she can be.
“There’s always more and that’s how I work best,” she added. “I don’t want somebody to say, ‘yeah that was great, you don’t have anything to work on’.
“I want you to come to me with five, six, seven things that I didn’t do good enough in the game and I’ll change that.”
Goalscoring targets are kept close to Harrison’s chest, but getting Bristol City back to the WSL is a primary aim, as well as cementing a place in the Scotland line-up, particularly with a World Cup on the horizon in 2023.
“Ultimately to represent your country at a major tournament is something you can only dream of, and if that becomes a reality, it becomes a reality,” she said.
First and foremost, however, Harrison just wants to be happy wherever her career might take her in the future.
“I can be content with what I’m doing and what I have done in the game, and I hope and I think that I can leave the women’s game in a better place than when I started.”