Stateside Scots: Claire Emslie, Flying The Hibernian Flag In South Florida

Written by Ian Thomson

Claire Emslie was a 16-year-old pupil at Penicuik High School when she scored the winning goal for Hibernian Ladies in the 2010 Scottish Women’s Cup semi-final against Glasgow City before helping her team triumph over Rangers in the final.

Emslie began playing for the Hibernian Girls’ team when she was 12 years old. She progressed through the club’s youth ranks while also representing Scotland at the Under 15, 17 and 19 levels.

In 2012, Emslie joined the soccer program at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. She led the Owls in scoring in each of her first two seasons with a combined 17 goals and has added another four so far this year. Emslie still plays for Hibernian Ladies when she returns home during the summer months, and she earned her first full international cap in June 2013 when she made a substitute appearance in Scotland’s 3-2 win over Iceland in Reykjavik.

TSO spoke to Emslie by telephone ahead of FAU’s weekend double-header road trip to face the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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Emslie in action during Florida Atlantic's 1-0 win over Brown on Sept. 14 (Photo courtesy of FAU's athletics department).
Emslie in action during Florida Atlantic’s 1-0 win over Brown on Sept. 14 (Photo courtesy of FAU’s athletics department).

How did you end up at Florida Atlantic?

By chance, really. Rhonda Jones was captaining Hibs when I broke into the team. She played here in her younger days and she was the assistant coach too for a little while, so it was her that recruited me. She’s a good friend. I trusted her judgment about what life would be like for me in Florida.

[TSO Note – Jones led FAU to the Atlantic Sun Conference championship final in 2000 and 2001 before being named as the conference’s Player of the Year in 2003. She was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009. Jones earned 117 caps for Scotland).

How does the standard of college soccer compare with playing for Hibernian Ladies or the Scottish national teams?

There’s more emphasis on fitness and strength here. We always play the ball out from the back at Hibs. Here, a lot of teams are more direct and less composed. It’s all ‘attack, attack, attack.’ I found it hard to adjust to the tempo at first because everything was 100 miles per hour. You feel like you’re sprinting the entire game.

Claire Emslie (Photo courtesy of Florida Atlantic University's athletics department).
Claire Emslie (Photo courtesy of Florida Atlantic University’s athletics department).

So not only is it 100 miles per hour, but it’s also 100 degrees. How do you cope with that?

I really struggled in my first year when I came across for pre-season. The coaches had to make me sit out a few times when I was getting dizzy from the Florida heat and humidity. Obviously you sweat a lot more here than back in Scotland. Your whole training kit is drenched by the time you’ve finished warming up.

So now when I go home in the summer I make sure that I come back really fit. I come back about two weeks before our pre-season starts so I can acclimatize. I’m handling it a lot better now. Your body gets used to it.

What’s the best thing about life in Boca Raton?

I feel like I’m on holiday every day. It’s always sunny and hot. I live two minutes from the beach. I feel like I’m living in paradise. I’m really lucky. And there’s so much to do. When my family comes over we take trips up to Orlando to visit the theme parks. Miami and South Beach are great to see.

What baffles you about the United States?

How much food they give you at restaurants and how cheap it is to eat out. Those big portions last me two or three days. And everyone here is really enthusiastic. People you meet on the street will just start talking away to you. Nobody would do that in Scotland.

Another thing is I’ve got a scooter here. I don’t have a car. Every day I’m thinking this is so weird because if I was driving around on a moped in Scotland I’d be getting pelters. Here, it’s a normal thing to do.

You played in Malibu, California earlier this season. That’s a slightly more exotic away trip than you’ve experienced in Scotland, I guess?

That was ridiculous. I felt like I was in a movie. We were in Nashville, Tennessee a few weeks ago too. That was a really interesting place to see with all these cowboys everywhere.

We went to Las Vegas during my first year here. That was a big deal seeing everyone all dressed up on the Strip, all these crazy characters and people giving away free T-shirts everywhere.

It’s great being able to travel and see so many different parts of America.

Okay, it’s sounding like you’re having too much fun. So how do you balance playing and training with schoolwork?

It’s hard, especially in the fall semester when we are in season. We train on Monday morning. We have Tuesday off because we have to have one day off per week. We have our big training session on Wednesday. Thursday we’ll train, and then we’ll have our game on Friday night. We’ll do some recovery on Saturday and then our next game is on the Sunday.

Playing twice a week is a lot and there’s a lot of work to do for school. I’m studying Health and Exercise Science. You just need to be well organized. Our coaches and academic advisors help to keep us on track.

WATCH — Emslie’s two goals in FAU’s 2-0 win at Cal Poly on Aug. 31.

Watch Claire Emslie's two goals at Cal Poly. #FAU won 2-0.

A post shared by @fauwomenssoccer on

What do you miss about Scotland?

My family and friends. And I do miss the odd cold day every so often when I’m playing and it’s just so hot. I don’t miss the rain though.

You played with Hibs from the age of 12. Presumably you’re a Hibee?

No, I support Celtic. My dad was a Celtic fan and that’s how I was brought up. We had season tickets at Parkhead.

What’s your standout memory from going to Celtic games?

I was in the front row behind the goal when Alan Thompson scored to beat Barcelona 1-0 (TSO Note – in the UEFA Cup in March 2004. Thompson’s goal proved to be the winner in the two-legged tie). That was probably the best game I’ve been to. The best atmosphere I’ve experienced.

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Oct. 7, 2014 — Stateside Scots: Simon Doherty, From Cowdenbeath To California

Sept. 18, 2014 — Stateside Scots: Hamish Law, University Of Pittsburgh Forward