Spotlight On Jen Beattie

On Saturday 12th December 2020, Arsenal and Scotland defender, Jennifer Beattie, revealed that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

A sequence of letters that one naturally assumed would never leave their fingertips when writing about athletes at the top of their game, yet, here we are.

This marks the first piece of work I have written in the first person. However, I must admit, I briefly considered taking an altogether different approach. I toyed with the idea of tackling the subject with my typical, almost academically natured dictation, yet such thoughts were very quickly dismissed. This is a piece that needs to come from a place much closer to home.

I realised this as I sat at my laptop unravelling the words before me. A small window of time, in which, I am unashamed to say, the prickling sensation of welling tears threatened to derail my composure. I cannot tell you why the cold, nauseating feeling of upset hit me as hard as it did. Blindsided, maybe. Shock, probably. Guilt, even.

You see, it struck me rather viciously, that in a year in which we have all been caught up with personal demons, it has become somewhat easier to forget that life goes on outside of our own four walls. That, sometimes, it can take horrifically sobering news to bring you crashing back down to Earth.

To clarify, I do not know Jen Beattie, I have never met her. But she is a part of something I hold so very dearly, and so, the news of her diagnosis, perhaps a little unexpectedly, caught me off guard.

Jen Beattie is a steadfast, resolute player. Experienced and reliable in any given situation, she is every bit a resourceful defender, who at 29, is in the prime of her career. Beattie emits a stout winning mentality; she has won four FA titles, plus several other league titles with Arsenal, and with former club, Manchester City.

A mentality that she, quite evidently, carries with her elsewhere. Here, even when dealing with such devastating personal news, Beattie’s robust mindset has prevailed. Not only is she sharing her ongoing experience, something she is by no means obliged to do, she is also personally urging us to look after ourselves. When no one could accuse self-care of being egotistical, Beattie is, rather admirably, bringing visibility to a subject that is infrequently discussed.

This unselfish deed becomes even more commendable when considering the restrictions that Covid-19 has placed upon Beattie, in what no doubt continues to be, the scariest months of her life. As Beattie has opted to continue to play football, she has been unable to fully feel the support of her family in Scotland.

So begins a moment of reflection. As I re-watch the now, poignant, moment Beattie scored against Brighton in October, I recognise Lia Walti’s comforting kiss on the cheek, Leah Williamson’s literal interpretation of having one’s back. I understand the gravity of Arsenal’s eleven standing shoulder to shoulder, surrounding their number 5, a protective huddle encasing the dignity of one of their own.

Yet, I believe, this is a protective huddle that reaches beyond the borders of Arsenals touchlines. It is a huddle that assembles far and wide, cascading a with widespread watchful eye. Because when someone, anyone, who is a part of our community suffers such a blow, we find common ground. We push our rivalries, our differences, our opinions, aside, and we stand together.

As I reach the end of this “open article”, I appreciate that some may feel it is too much. Some may feel, perhaps, it is not my place to write such pouring a piece. Yet, my intention is not to gush, my intention is to thank.

I thank you, Jen Beattie, for sharing your experience. I thank you for bringing attention to a somewhat taboo topic. I thank you for reminding us that we are all guilty of neglecting ourselves from time to time. But most of all, I thank you for being honest.

As Arsenal and Manchester City met at the Academy Stadium, though the stands may have been physically empty, they were overflowing in spirit with support, respect and admiration.

We are with you Jen, all the way.

Photo: @JBeattie91

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