Like many, Kelly Smith’s childhood was spent kicking a ball around the playground with her friends at break time, but she was the only girl.
Smith started playing football in an all boy’s team, also played football at her university days broke a number of school and conference records, got her jersey retired for her excellent performance, but it was not always plain sailing.
There were no youth teams for girls when Smith was growing up, but the former Arsenal striker knew she had innate talent and refused to let the lack of options hold her back. Garston Boys Club, the boy’s youth team she joined in her hometown of Watford, did not mind having a girl in their ranks, but it was their parents who refused to let their kids play against her.
Kelly Smith said “I was playing on boys teams because there were no opportunities for girls to play football. All of my friends weren’t into football, they were into girly things, and even at school in the playground when it was play time, I was the only girl. It didn’t bother me, I was just really happy that I was doing something I loved and I knew I was good at. I was scoring five, six, seven goals a game and word got out that there was this new player that was really good and it turned out, I was a girl.”
“The parents had a problem that I was a girl playing ‘their sport’ so my Dad had to sit me down and say ‘this team are not going to play against your team anymore because they refuse to play against you because you’re a girl’ I was crying, and my Dad put his arm around me and said ‘look, we’ll just find you another team’.
“So we did, we moved across town and played for another team in the Watford area, and the same thing happened. My dad sat me down again and explained the situation – I was devastated and I didn’t understand because I just wanted to play football and my sex was irrelevant, but back then, I was a little less accepted.”
“Deep down, I always had a dream of playing football at the highest level I could. Even at that age, I wanted to play for England and Arsenal. That dream was there but I was told I couldn’t do something I really wanted to do and I was good at.”
“I couldn’t understand why, just because I’m a girl, why can I not play this game that I love? All the boys can play, but why can’t I? It was difficult, my dad said we would find another team, if you’re good at this and want to follow it and want to play football, then we’ll find somewhere else for you to go.”
At the age of seven, she was kicked out of Garston Boys Club despite being the top goalscorer – when the parents of her male opponent’s complaints persisted. She continued playing at Pinner Girls, a team formed by Her father.
She developed her skills at Wembley Ladies and made her senior debut in the 1994–95 season, she went on to have three spells with FA WSL club Arsenal Ladies. Despite being hit by serious injury during her career, She accumulated 117 caps for the England women’s national football team, Smith is England’s record goalscorer with 46 goals. She played for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics.
Kelly Smith from her experience has advised “Your career and pathway is not going to be easy at times, you’re going to get rejections, you’re going to face different barriers along the way – whether it be an injury or something else – but you have to have a thick skin, be strong mentally and talk to people.”
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