Fran Kirby raring to go at Women's EURO after year out
Diminutive forward sparkled at Canada 2015
England kick off campaign against Scotland
“I didn’t care about scoring goals, I didn’t care how the ball was going into the back of the net, I was just happy I was able to play football after the year I’ve had.”
Long stretches on the sidelines are often cited as the toughest time in a player’s careers. Relegated from where they feel most comfortable, they have to search for positive glimmers amid the endless grind of rehab and gym sessions until a ball is back at their feet.
Still aged just 24, England’s Fran Kirby can now stand tall, knowing she has wandered that path of doubt and frustration, standing on the brink of the UEFA Women’s EURO brimming with self-belief after knee and ankle injuries have blighted the last 12 months of her career.
“It has been a tough year personally,” she told FIFA.com from their preparation camp in Valencia, Spain. “At the time, it was very difficult – there were some really low points during the injury.
“I didn’t know when I was going to be able to get back, I didn’t know when I was going to be able to train, I wasn’t allowed to do certain things. Even when I did return, I had another little setback, so it was really tough.”
Kirby has spoken bravely in the past about the challenges of depression, but a strong support system and flipping this setback into an opportunity has seen her ride the wave. “I had great people around me,” she said, with the normality of shared meals and movies with housemates – alongside the family unit at Chelsea – being key after a thankless slog at the gym.
“It has been a bit of a blessing in disguise because I have been able to do things like that and work on myself in ways that I need to off the pitch,” she explained. “I think it has helped me grow as a player and a person. I had to come out of my shell a bit as I wasn’t able to communicate on the pitch, so I had to make sure I was doing it off it.”
And, once she was back, she hit the ground running. In two starts and three sub appearances to round off a triumphant FA Women’s Super League Spring Series for Chelsea, she scored six to finish top of the scoring charts. With another for England against Switzerland, it is clear there has been little rust to shift.
“It was always a slight worry in my brain of ‘what if I get on the pitch and can’t perform the way that I have before the injury’,” the tricky forward admitted. “I’m coming into the EUROs knowing I can still score goals and I can still create things.
“Being top scorer in the spring series definitely was a massive boost for me, as if I had come in having not even scored a goal I would probably have been doubting my own ability a bit.”
— Fran Kirby (@frankirby) May 25, 2017
With England fully focused on silverware in the Netherlands, having been Europe’s best performer at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ – where Kirby burst onto the international stage, they begin their tournament by reigniting the “passionate” rivalry with neighbours Scotland.
While bragging rights will be up for grabs on 19 July, the Lionesses’ aspirations are aimed much higher and, thanks to their experiences in Canada, arrive even more equipped.
“It’s about knowing that pressure and dealing with that pressure,” Kirby insisted. “Even against Germany in the match for third place, it was that pressure of ‘if we don’t win this game we go home without a medal’. Awfully, we did get knocked out in the semi-finals and we know how much that hurts. We don’t want that to happen again.”