Borehamwood FC Sunday 19 February 14:00
by Andrew Crawshaw
At the end of last season Kelly Smith MBE announced that she was retiring from playing professional football. She was however taking up a permanent coaching position with Arsenal Ladies so the club will continue to be able to call on her experience and expertise.
Kelly was born on 29 October 1978 in Watford. She started playing as a youngster on boys teams until other opponents parents complained. That ended her reign as the leading goalscorer at Garston Boys Club – she was 7 at the time.
Her father formed Pinner Ladies club which enabled her to continue football. She then moved on to Wembley Ladies making her senior debut for them in the 1994/5 season aged 16. she joined Arsenal Ladies in 1996 aged 18 and scored two and assisted for the third goal that enabled the Ladies to win the 1996/7 season as they beat Liverpool Ladies by 3 – 0. At the time she was a student at West Herts College.
In 1997 she transferred to Seton Hall University in the USA where she was a student-athlete playing for the Seton Hall Pirates. She was the outstanding player of the season setting a scoring record and was awarded both the Newcomer of the Year and the Offensive Player of the Year awards at the end of the 1997 season – the first player in any sport to achieve those honours. After three years at Seton Hall, the Pirates gave her the singular honour of retiring her No 6 shirt, she had scored 76 goals in 51 matches.
Kelly remained in the USA after completing her studies and joined the New Jersey Stallions for the 1999/2000 season.
Major change then came to the Women’s game in the USA with the formation of the professional Women’s America Soccer Association. This meant entirely new teams with the typical American concept of a draft pick allowing teams to select players. Kelly was the second overseas player drafted and joined Philadelphia Charge for the three seasons that the League was in existence.
In 2001 she was named in WUSA Global 11 All-Star team but sadly a serious ACL injury meant that she missed most of the 2002 season and a fresh injury to the same knee caused her to miss most of 2003.
When the WUSA folded in 2003 she remained in the USA playing for the the New Jersey Wildcats where she scored 8 goals and 6 assists before another injury curtailed her season again, this time a broken leg.
She rejoined Arsenal Ladies for the 2005/6 season and was blighted by yet another injury, a stress fracture in her foot. Nevertheless she was back in the team at the end of the season where she scored a 30 yard screamer against Charlton to help the Ladies win the title. The following year was one of Arsenal Ladies best ever years where they won the Quadruple – League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Women’s Cup. That season she scored 30 goals in all competitions in 34 games played.
She remained with Arsenal until part way through the the 2008/9 season appearing 112 times and scoring 100 goals – a remarkable achievement.
In February 2009 she returned to the USA following the formation of a new women’s league – Women’s Professional Soccer where she joined Boston Breakers, playing 15 games in 2009, 21 in 2010 and only 10 in another injury plagued season in this time she scored 18 goals and had 17 assists. Unfortunately for Kelly, the WPS folded before the start of the 2012 season leaving her without a team.
She had offers to play for clubs in Germany and Sweden but decided to return to Arsenal for a third term where she has stayed winning further the WSL Continental Cup in 2012, 2013 and 2015 and the FA Women’s Cup 2013, 2014 and 2016.
An England International since 1995 where she played in her first game aged 17 years and 3 days – inevitably she was player of the match. Her first goal against Croatia came in her next match in November. She was a stalwart of the England squad whenever healthy until she retired from internationals in Feb 2015. In her England games she scored 46 goals in 117 appearances.
Kelly is no ‘saint’ and has to fight her own inner demons. Following her injury hell in 2004 she returned to England to spend time at Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic recovering from alcohol problems and depression. She also famously missed both legs of the UEFA Women’s Cup final after being sent off in the semi for giving the crowd the ‘bird’. Most recently she was in trouble in 2015 for calling Sunderland player Abby Holmes not good enough to play in Women’s Super league 1 following a horrific challenge which left her sidelined for 4 months plus. I was there when it happened and it was a truly X-rated foul (personally I thought her comments were remarkably coherent, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as kind).
Before the appointment of Pedro Losa, Kelly took temporary charge of the Ladies team in 2014 directing them to the WSL Cup final and has remained a player coach until her retirement from playing. She is now Assistant Coach on a full time basis.
On the Arsenal Ladies web site Kelly has left a heartfelt message to fans
“One thing has been consistent throughout my playing career: the magnificent support I’ve received from fans. It has been a pleasure to get to know familiar faces at games, and to read the generous fan mail. Thanks to every one of you for your unflagging support for the game, and for me. My career successes would not have been possible without the astute guidance I received from many talented people along the way: Vic Akers, Pippa Bennett, Norman Burns, Nicki Combarro, Robin Cunningham, Tony Dicicco, Shelley Kerr, Betty Ann Kempf, Steve Kutner, Pedro Martinez Losa, Hope Powell, Clare Wheatley and so many more. All of you helped to make me the player I became….
I’m excited to confirm my next step, which will see me take up a full time coaching role within the club. A fantastic opportunity to pay back the club I love, and to nurture the next generation of female football talent.To thank you for all your unwavering support, we’re holding a celebration game on Sunday, February 19, 2017 at Boreham Wood FC.
There will be a host of amazing players from around the world as well as past and current stars of the women’s game, to play against the new Arsenal Ladies squad for 2017!”
Read more at http://www.arsenalladies.com/news/smith_my_message_to_the_fans.html#B8V0eXfyMRWDZpJx.99
Kelly has also announced that as she is three months pregnant she won’t be playing in this game but will be concentrating on managing her all star 11.
Tickets must be bought in advance from Arsenal.com as you won’t be able to get them on the door. The game is on Sunday 19 February and as Men’s FA Cup game against Sutton is on BBC TV on Monday evening there really isn’t any excuse not to come and support Kelly and Arsenal Ladies.
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