Author Topic: Kelly Smith Interview  (Read 1526 times)

Offline Gooner

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Kelly Smith Interview
« on: April 01, 2009, 10:45:32 AM »
By Rachel Saunt

Women’s and girls’ football continues to grow with more players competing in affiliated competition than any other team sport in the country.

There has been an increase in the number of players, clubs, leagues and competitions in women’s football since the last decade and as women’s and girls’ football continues to grow, England forward Kelly Smith welcomes the new generation of girls to the game, after the success she has had at club and international level.

She started playing for a boys’ team in her hometown of Watford before the England Ladies senior squad spotted the teenager. The idea of inspiring girls to play football is one that Smith sees as a good thing.

“It’s very important to get girls into football. It’s the most played sport for girls in England. I think it’s particularly good for their overall fitness.”

“It is important in for girls in their teens to get into a team environment where they can make friends and socialise whilst doing sport. Obesity is a factor in which sport can be done to tackle it. Any sport is important from a young age.

“At school age I was always playing football with the boys and I think its vital now and it’s important for the girls to be active.” She said.

Smith’s earliest football memories were playing for her younger brother’s team and it was not just the boys that had a problem with her playing for their team it was their parents.

“There were lots of times when I was discriminated against whilst playing on the boys’ team, but it wasn’t so much from the boys it was more their parents.

“A couple of times I was kicked off the boys teams because their parents didn’t want them playing with a girl. There wasn’t a girls team in my area so I had to travel quite a distance.

“It was heartbreak for me growing up, all I wanted to do was play football.” She explained.

With incredibly supportive parents, Smith chose football as her career and they did everything that they could to support their daughter as a footballer. Many parents are not always supportive of their children when it comes to careers but Smith had made up her mind from a young age and her ambition drove her to the great success she has achieved at all levels.

“My parents knew that I wanted to be a footballer so they supported me every inch of the way. My dad was very good he actually ran the team that my brother played for but after a few years he sat me down and said "Look Kelly, you can’t actually play for the boys' team anymore, we are going to have to find you a girls team to play on.”

An Arsenal fan through and through, Smith’s idol Ian Wright inspired her to do her best and work hard to achieve great things. Without a female footballer to look up to the defender’s determination and encouragement from family she is one of the most highly recognisable figures in football globally.

“As a youngster I looked up to Ian Wright who played for Arsenal. I just loved it how he had so much energy on the pitch, the way he played the game, he always had a smile on his face, he lived for the game.

“He was my main inspiration. I loved his enthusiasm for the game.” Explained Smith.

Smith is globally recognised for her achievements and tremendous skill at international level and club level. At the age of 30 she has accomplished more than any of her England colleagues, yet she still remains the down to earth girl whose love for football is greater than ever and does not see herself as a football icon that women and girls look up to.

“I’ve never really considered myself to be an icon for girls. I have always just played football because I love to do it.

“I am very ambitious and want to reach the top. I am hungry for success and just enjoy the game so much, so if that can help youngsters along the way and they can look up to me and do what I’ve done then that’s only a good thing I see.”

Since Smith’s early playing years she has experienced some changes, from playing in a boy’s team, then a girls and then playing for her country at 16 years of age. The facilities that are available to girls now are completely different to what they were when Smith started out.

Many girls’ teams start at under 9s, under 12s and under 15s, all the way up to women’s teams. At international level the FA have teams involving under 15s, 17s, 19s and 23s.

“There have been some great changes since I started playing. There are obviously girls and women’s teams now, when I played at a young age I didn’t have to option of playing for a girls’ side. At just 16 I made my senior debut for the England women’s team.

“There are a lot more opportunities for the girls to learn international football at an earlier age which will help them so if they do make their senior debut.” Smith explained.

The popularity of women’s football has grown immeasurably over the years and now a Women’s FA Cup Final is just as important as the men’s. Women’s football has now overtaken netball as the most popular sport in England. Times are changing and record attendances, impressive form, good TV ratings and great talent, all proved to drive the women\'s game into the public interest for a short time.

“The popularity of the game has grown since I started playing. The FA Cup final attendances have definitely changed. Last years attendance was just over 24, 500, this was a record.

“The year before in 2007 the attendance for the final was greater than the crowds at two men’s Premiership matches on the same weekend. This shows how popular the women’s game is getting.

“There will be a semi professional league happening next summer in England. This will be a change from a 9 month season to a 6 month summer league so I think that will help with attendances as there will be no competitive football, men’s or women’s in the country so hopefully women’s football will gain fans from there.” Kelly Smith said.

The England Ladies will be looking forward to the European Championships in Finland this year as they qualified in style with goals from Smith throughout their campaign. After years of progress many of the girls will feel they are approaching the point to achieve something truly memorable on the international stage and in their careers.

Compared to the men’s international side, the women are one up on their male counterparts in qualifying for a major tournament. It could be quite possible that we see the England Ladies win a European Championship before the men.

“I’d like to think that we can win a major tournament before the men. Obviously over the past years the men’s side haven’t done too well in terms of qualifying for the Euros and getting knocked out of the quarter finals of the World Cup.

“With the support that we’ve been getting from the FA it’s been better as the years have developed and we feel going into the European Championships this summer that this is a time for the national team to step up and actually show what we can do.

“We have been a young squad for a number of years but we have gained a lot of experience in Euros in England 2005. Nobody expected us to do well in the World Cup, but we got out of the group and into the quarter finals.

“The team has been growing individually and collectively with players gaining more caps and experience. We see this as our year and the competition to win something.” Explained Smith.

The incredible success that the England Women’s side has achieved with increased attendance and progression to qualify for major tournaments and reaching the quarter finals in a World Cup, it is possible that the success is underrated.

Smith has been involved in the national side for over 13 years and has seen them go from strength to strength. Many of the girls that are new to the set up are used to winning goals in consecutive patterns, achieving great things and qualifying for tournaments.

“From my point of view the success that the women’s side have had is a little underrated. I have been involved with the national team for over 13 years so I’ve seen the development. A lot of the players haven’t been involved for that long.

“They see England as just qualifying for a European Championship or getting to a world cup quarter final and that’s not good enough.

“Whereas I’ve seen us not even qualifying for tournaments, but now we are qualifying, finishing top of the group and reaching latter stages of tournaments, before this never happened.”

England will be looking to keep moral high in the camp whilst preparing for the Euros. Playing in small friendly tournaments in preparation, Hope Powell will be looking for the best team to play in the tournament whilst fitness levels are high. With new players playing in these friendlies this gives the Coach plenty of options in order for the team to win their first tournament.

“We’ve got a lot of warm up games before the tournament in August and at the moment everyone is fighting for places and to be part of the competition.

“At the moment there is a squad of 30 players and we’ve got to reduce that by quite a big number. Some of the players have had a feel for the world cup and want to play in another big tournament.

“I do think we have a very good chance with the players we’ve got to at least get to the semi finals and then who knows.” Smith said.

Smith’s move back to America will not hamper the England preparation as she quits club football at Arsenal to play in America’s biggest women’s leagues, Women\'s Professional Soccer league, signing a three year contract with a one- year option with Boston Breakers.

Saying goodbye to Arsenal with a hat trick against Doncaster, helping the team to their 10th Premier League Cup Smith leaves her goal tally at 31.

Smith’s American adventure has now started after 6 agonising months and a tough decision to leave the club she has supported all her life and gained so much experience and responsibility with.

“It’s been a hellish 6 months weighing up the pros and cons of staying in England and moving back to America. It was very tough because Arsenal is such a great club, I worked for the club and was a representative for them.

“It was a very hard decision, obviously the opportunity is there to play professional football again and you can’t turn down too many opportunities to get that.

“I’m 30 years old now, people could be asking why I am going to play in America because I have already done it before, but at the end of the day careers are short and if you can play professionally for as long as possible then that is certainly a reason to go back. I’ve got a good contract. The money is very good too.” She said.

Smith will be sorely missed at Arsenal but feels she has achieved all she can in the English league and it is now time to spread her wings in the peak of her career. She now has the European Championship to look forward to in the summer, as well as the build up games to keep her fitness up.