Kelly Smith (England)
Born: 29 October 1978, Watford, England
117 international caps (46 goals)
Widely regarded as the best women’s player England have ever produced, Kelly Smith has had an undoubted impact on the female form of the game in her home country. She remains her nation’s top goalscorer, with 46 international strikes in a 20-year, 117-cap career with the Lionesses.
She played an integral role during England’s return to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ after a 12-year absence in 2007, scoring a brace in her first game on the global stage against Japan. Her goals and iconic celebration – taking off her left boot and kissing it – were seen around the world and elevated her already feted status to that of superstardom. She would go on to score two more at China 2007 before the Lionesses bowed out to the USA in the quarter-finals.
During the 2011 finals, her coach Hope Powell labelled her “one of those players who comes along only once or twice in a lifetime,” comparing her to “Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi, players with a unique talent.”
Struggling with injury – something that dogged the super-talented forward throughout her career - Smith unfortunately failed to live up to that lofty praise at Germany 2011, unable to find the net in her four matches. Her Women’s World Cup journey ended on a low point. Despite converting in the quarter-final shoot-out against France, following a 1-1 draw, the Lionesses ultimately crashed out after being beaten 4-3 from the spot.
That was to be Smith’s Women’s World Cup swansong, as injury prevented her joining up with Mark Sampson’s squad for their historic third-place finish at Canada 2015.
Despite not lifting the fabled trophy itself, there is no doubt that the former Arsenal Women star is one of the pre-eminent figures in the women’s game, a giant of her era. Indeed, Carli Lloyd – twice named the world’s best player, and 2015 Women’s World Cup winner – ranked Smith the best player she’s played with.
FA Women’s Premier League (1996/97, 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09)
FA Women’s Super League (2012)
UEFA Women’s Cup (2007)
FA Women’s Cup (2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2013/14, 2015/16)
Third in FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year (2009)
On scoring her first Women’s World Cup goal
“When I scored the first goal I took off my boot and kissed it and for the second goal both boots came off! I’d had a few injuries in the build-up to that tournament so for me it was overcoming injury, it was living my dream of playing on the world stage and obviously scoring two goals. I think you could say that the goals are my greatest achievement. It was my first World Cup, to score on the world stage – it’s the elite, the best of the best. I’m a team player but to score, from an individual point of view, was unreal.”
On the feeling of playing at a Women’s World Cup
“You just pinch yourself. This is something that I'd worked so hard for and dreamt of since I was a young kid. When I was in the line-up for the national anthem I was really emotional because I saw my dad in the crowd and I just knew that I’d arrived at the big stage. I remember the arena [for the first game against Japan]. You walked up a load of steps to get onto the playing field and all the cameras were taking pictures, their lights were going. It was just unreal, because I’d never experienced anything like that in the build-up to the tournament.”
On her toughest opponent at the Women’s World Cup
“The USA when they were in their prime [at China 2007, in the quarter-final]. They were so strong in every department, and were the people that you really looked up to because they had an aura about them. They were household names, because of the stature of the game in the US, we knew about these players. Leslie Osborne was man-marking me. Anywhere I went on the field, she followed me. She didn’t look to get on the ball, her main job was to stop me. It’s like a wasp buzzing around you the whole time. You just want to scream and kick out. It is a compliment, but you don’t take it like that at the time. Now, you look back at how they set up, to stop me, because I was the playmaker, the key player – so if they stopped me, they stopped England.”