Pregnant Fleeting vows that she'll return to game after child is born

JULIE Fleeting has put her football career on hold after learning she is pregnant with her first child. The Arsenal and Scotland striker, who celebrated her 28th birthday last week, said last night that she already stopped playing on medical advice, but that she plans to return to the game after giving birth in the summer.

"I love playing for Arsenal and for Scotland, and I have every intention of playing again after the baby is born," said Fleeting, who is married to the Greenock Morton goalkeeper Colin Stewart. "There's no way I plan to retire just yet.

"I have told the people at Arsenal that I want to get back to playing for the club again, and the same goes for Scotland if I'm selected. If I can I would love to go back. That's my intention at the moment, though obviously I don't know what the future holds for me.

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"I'm still an Arsenal player, just one who is unavailable for selection at the moment. In that sense it's no different from someone who is out with an injury."

If all goes to plan, Fleeting's absence from the international scene may only last a couple of games. Scotland's failure to qualify for Euro 2009 means the team will have a quiet year, with just two fixtures scheduled before the summer.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have a busier programme, and could miss Fleeting badly. The most successful club in English women's football have been league champions for the past five seasons, and in recent years have relied heavily on their Scottish striker's goals. That was never more the case than in the 2005 FA Cup final, when she scored a hat-trick in a victory over Charlton just a day after picking up a shin injury while playing for Scotland.

While that incident exemplified her physical robustness, Fleeting explained that she had been advised not to carry on playing beyond her current stage of pregnancy. "The medical advice was that you can't go on playing a contact sport," she said, highlighting the difference between the likes of football and other activities such as athletics, where leading runners such as Paula Radcliffe have been known to keep on training until days before they gave birth.

"I've played up till now only because I was told it was safe to do so. But there's no way I could go on longer."

Now back in Scotland and planning a family Christmas, Fleeting intends to keep in touch with her team-mates and coaches at Arsenal. While she is making no presumptions about walking back into the Scotland team, she will also keep thenational coaches informed about her progress.

Whatever she does from now on – even if she changes her mind and does not go back to playing football – Fleeting's place in the sport is assured. She has already served Scotland for over a decade, having made her international debut at the age if 15 in 1995, and now has over 100 caps and 100 goals.

She was awarded an MBE in June.