Getting to the top in football is hard but it is tougher to stay there - Sue Smith

I was pleased to see two long-serving footballers I really admire get some well-deserved credit in the past week.

Milestone: Jill Scott, in her 150th England appearance, left, congratulates Ellen White for scoring against Northern ireland.

Doncaster Rovers’ 40-year-old midfielder James Coppinger wrote his own headlines last Saturday when, playing in a gold shirt he and his children designed to mark his 17 years at my old club, he came off the bench on his return from injury to score a stoppage-time equaliser from a free-kick.

On Tuesday, my former team-mate, Jill Scott, won her 150th England cap, only the second woman to do that.

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Just playing at the highest level as long as they have is impressive. Getting to the top of your sport is really hard but it is harder still to stay there. You have to have a lot of talent but you also have to live your life right.

I first got into the England squad when I was 16 and living at home. I watched the other players and saw how they ate differently to me. I had always eaten pretty healthily but I would still have chips, a steak pie or a bottle of pop every now and then.

I remember saying to my mum this was what I wanted to eat and drink now and I did the extra training drills I saw. When I got into the team, my ambition was to be the best player.

Jill has always been of a similar mindset. She is a winner and a workhorse.

It was always a competition between us in the fitness tests because neither of us would give up. I remember one bleep test where we reached level 14 and one of the sports scientists said we needed to go for lunch so she got us agree to stop at 14 – then Jill did another! I was fuming but that is how competitive she is!

Lucy Bronze scores England 's third goal against Northern Ireland at St George's Park. Picture: FA Handout/PA

She is selfless, too. England won a penalty when 5-0 up against Northern Ireland on Tuesday and I really wanted her to take it, but she insisted debutant Ella Toone did.

Afterwards, she deflected talk from her 150th cap to the four players winning their first.

Jill and James have been lucky with injuries but I think the biggest thing is you have to enjoy it. Some ex-professionals I speak to just played the game because they were good at it.

I miss playing football and am hating not being able to play five-a-side at the moment.

Doncaster Rovers' James Coppinger celebrates scoring their sides third goal to level the score at 3-3 against Hull City. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

I never retired when I stopped playing at 37 because I did not want to say it! Even now if someone offered me a professional contract I would honestly consider it.

I often hear former sportsmen and women say they knew the time was right but I never really had that. I still go to women’s games and miss the pre-match nerves, the highs and lows.

My dad died in my final season so I had a lot of time off, and being out of it for so long made it difficult to go back but I was still one of the fittest and quickest. I kept thinking maybe I would play the next season and drop down a level but life just got in the way.

I think I would struggle to play part-time. I still tell the boys off in five-a-side when they are not doing things properly because I always have to do that and to win.

Ellen White scores England's second goal at St Georges Park, against Northern Ireland in midweek. Picture: FA Handout/PA

Players find it hard when they do not have anything to go into.

When Faye White, Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey retired, straight away they had a baby. My new focus was being as good as I could be at my media work.

Although I had a serious injury in 2012, I never reached the stage where my body kept picking up niggles. My former England and Doncaster team-mate Jodie Hanley kept suffering calf injuries one pre-season and just could not do it any more.

Coppinger showed last week he still has it. When I saw Doncaster made it 3-3 at home to Hull City my first thought was, “I hope it was him.”

But that was his first game since December and he sounds ready for his retirement in May.

“If I was coming to the end of my last season playing a lot more minutes and doing really well it would have been harder to hang my boots up,” he said last week. “It’s made me say I couldn’t do this again, regardless of whether the club offered me a contract.”

Other people do not want the lasting memory to be when they were past their best.

I once made up the numbers for some friends of a friend in a five-a-side game. The boys were excited to have me along but my first shot ended up in the netting in the ceiling and took 10 minutes to get down. You do not want to play too long and embarrass yourself.

People say play for as long as you can, but I would not go along with that. It is such an individual thing, I do not think the same advice works for everyone.

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