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Kelly Smith

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


"The Wayne Gretsky of soccer", was how Sports Illustrated for Women described England's 22 year old star striker from Watford, Kelly Smith.
Smith's performances have been earning rave reviews in her first season as a professional player for the Philadelphia Charge, where she was singled out by the New York Times as "a complete player" for her unique combination of instinct, strength and superior ball control.
"I'm just so excited about playing in Philadelphia" said Smith, "I've always dreamed of playing professionally and now it's coming true".
Smith was signed up by Philadelphia Charge in April following her astonishing record-breaking collegiate performances at Seton Hall where she scored 76 goals in just 51 games - a goal ratio that even bettered the records of legendary American stars such as Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett.
Growing up in London, Smith's youthful love affair with soccer wreaked havoc in a sport that didn't take girl players seriously. Kelly was once kicked out of a mixed team when boys complained about competing against her superior skills. She was also then forced to play, at age 12, on a women's team where most of her team mates had children Smith's age or older.
Her childhood hero was Arsenal's legendary striker Ian Wright, so it was no surprise when, at the age of just 18, she was to be found scoring two goals and creating a third as she powered Arsenal Women's team towards a 3-0 win over Liverpool and the English Premier League title. Her exceptional talents won her a scholarship to Seton Hall, where three years of record-breaking performances in the NCAA league assured her of a breakthrough in the professional game.
"There's no question that Kelly's absolutely loving life in the US", says Katherine Knight, The FA's spokeswoman for women's football. "No-one is at all surprised by her success. She is absolutely an exceptional player and a very determined individual - the former coach of the US Women's team stated that if Kelly had been American she would be one of the Top 3 US players around at the moment. In terms of skill she has incredible touch and is the most talented player England's produced so far".
However, Kelly has admitted there are still a few things about England that she misses: "I used to complain about how bad my mum's cooking was, but I really do appreciate it now when I'm away from home. Obviously I miss my family and close friends but I keep in touch as much as I can. I can't watch my favourite soap opera "Eastenders" although they do show very old reruns over here. I also miss "Match of the Day" which is disappointing."
Nevertheless the rewards of achieving her ambitions far outweigh missing out on the latest plotlines from British soaps. Although there are plans to launch a professional women's football league in England in 2003, the popularity of women's soccer in the USA is already huge and the game's biggest stars are just as well known as Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs in England. It's a status that Kelly is slowly getting used to: "I was on a lift with a few men who were talking about how they saw Brandi Chastain in the hotel lobby - even they recognised her!"
As for whether other English players could follow in her footsteps, Kelly is certain that the rapid improvement in the standard of women's football in England will help her compatriots prosper. "We definitely have some very talented players in England who could do well playing over here. I hope I've opened up doors for English women and that some will have the opportunities that I've had."



Michael Lee, November 2001

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