‘This goes beyond football’ – Stott makes inspirational return to Football Ferns

At this stage, it should come as no surprise: Rebekah Stott ticking professional goals off the list at ferocious pace as she returns to the New Zealand international setup less than 12 months after her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis. 

But yet, at each significant milestone Stott reaches in the game since finding out her cancer was in remission, the reaction from the football world has always been the same: awestruck adoration for one of the Liberty A-League greats. 

On Tuesday, Stott received the call-up to the 23-player Football Ferns squad set to take part in the SheBelieves Cup later this month, alongside six fellow Liberty A-League stars. 

The announcement comes one year on from Stott’s original diagnosis of Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February, 2021, which cut her dream move to FA Women’s Super League side Brighton and Hove Albion short as Stott returned to Australia to begin treatment. 

Stott would miss out on a lot of football during the four-month stint of chemotherapy which followed. The FA WSL season pressed on, as did the formerly-named W-League. The Football Ferns travelled to Tokyo and back for the 2020 Olympic Games. But while her football teams went to battle on the pitch, Stott engaged in one off it.

In mid-July, 2021 came a happy milestone: Stott’s return to football: a late stint off the bench for Bulleen Lions in Victoria’s NPLW. In the eight precious minutes of game time provided by best friend and coach Caitlin Friend, Stott was unable to wipe the smile off her face – and neither could all who watched on.

It was during the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Football Tournament when Stott was told she was in complete remission – coincidentally on the day New Zealand faced the Matildas at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Stott signed on with Melbourne City for the 2021-22 Liberty A-League campaign in August, and has since revelled in her return to professional football. She claimed sole ownership of the all-time City appearance record with her first game back in the league, and clocked four consecutive 90-minute shifts in a row in January before coming off after an hour against Western Sydney Wanderers on February 6. 

Now comes Stott’s next significant milestone, as she prepares to link up with the Football Ferns for the SheBelieves Cup alongside City team-mate Hannah Wilkinson, Lily Alfeld (Wellington Phoenix) Malia Steinmetz (Western Sydney Wanderers), Elizabeth Anton (Perth Glory), Paige Satchell (Sydney FC) and Claudia Bunge (Melbourne Victory).

Football Ferns head coach Jitka Klimkova says recalling Stott to the international squad is an important moment which surpasses the usual significance of moments in the game.

“This goes beyond football,” she says.

“Stotty’s situation is very unique – very few players have gone through what she has and returned to international football.

“She is a fighter. We all hoped and believed that she would come back, and watching her performances each week for Melbourne City has shown what a role model she is.

“She means so much to this team and we’re honoured to have her back.”