‘I had to start from scratch’ – Kirby

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July 5, 2021
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    Kirby 'massively proud' to be selected for GB Olympic squad

    "Happy, lucky and proud" is how Fran Kirby feels after making Great Britain's women's football squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

    Kirby was diagnosed with a heart condition at the end of 2019, which left her confined to a sofa for two months and walking around like a "zombie" – but a remarkable turnaround has followed.

    Eighteen months ago, the Chelsea forward was struggling to walk up the stairs. Barely able to communicate, let alone do any physical activity, she considered retiring from football.

    Competing at the Olympics – as Great Britain prepared to send a women's football team for only the second time – was out of the question.

    Then in March 2020, the Tokyo Games were postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it offered Kirby another chance.

    It did not feel like it at the time, as she was still struggling to manage a condition called pericarditis, which showed up immediately after a heart scan. It would take her another five months before she was back playing again.

    But once the 28-year-old recovered, she then helped Chelsea to win the FA Women's Super League and Continental Cup, and reach the Champions League final. She also won the Professional Footballers' Association and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards.

    Yet despite all those honours, Kirby was surprised to be included in GB head coach Hege Riise's 18-player squad – who fly out to Tokyo on Wednesday.

    "I knew I wasn't in a position to be selected for the [2020] Olympics and I never thought about Olympic selection this time because I was basically starting from scratch," Kirby tells BBC Sport.

    "I just thought 'if I get to play some part of Chelsea's season, then great'."

    Kirby played a starring role in that Chelsea season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions as she shone alongside Australian strike partner Sam Kerr.

    Fran KirbyFran Kirby says she hopes to inspire future Olympians

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    "When I got the email, I was like 'wow'," Kirby says. "All the hard work that you've done has paid off because you are going to be part of something that's incredible.

    "It's quite funny. My aunties always believe I'm the best player ever, regardless of whether I play well or not, so when I told them, they were like 'of course you've been selected'. That's just your family, isn't it? They always believe you are the best.

    "Everyone was just really happy for me after everything I've gone through. I stayed with them as much as I could during everything, so they saw it first hand. For me to tell them I got selected was really special. It was a massively proud moment for me and my family."

    Sam Kerr and Fran KirbySam Kerr and Fran Kirby scored 37 goals and provided 18 assists between them in the league last season

    Kirby's story is one touched by adversity.

    The strong bond that she shares with her aunties was forged after her mother suddenly died from a brain haemorrhage when Kirby was 14.

    At 17, she turned her back on football for a while, leaving Reading, her first club – but then returned there, driven by a wish to make her mum proud by succeeding as a professional.

    Kirby went on to break scoring records with the club, before getting a goal on her England debut, aged 20. She scored on her World Cup debut in 2015 as the Lionesses went on to finish third in the tournament in Canada.

    As with every other athlete, Kirby's family won't be able to travel to Tokyo for the Games, and crowds will be limited for events such as football.

    But after overcoming such a huge challenge to even get there, Kirby wants to inspire future generations – just as she was inspired during London 2012, when Great Britain had a women's football team taking part in the Olympics for the first time.

    "I don't think you can take the shine off an Olympics," she says when asked about the lack of crowds or families.

    "It's the biggest sporting event in the world. I know it will be tough for us because our families won't be able to come out and watch, but I'm sure they will be glued to their TVs back home and made to feel part of it by Team GB.

    "I always watched the Olympics on TV growing up, whether it was gymnastics, tennis, badminton, everything, I was so involved in it.

    "I get a real buzz off seeing other people succeed, so being part of the Team GB group now, going in there and seeing another athlete winning a gold medal, I feel like it will just motivate you so much to get to the same level.

    "My highlight of London 2012 was seeing the girls play at Wembley, seeing the crowd and them going out there and really inspiring people to get behind women's football.

    "I think that was the turning point for women's football in this country and hopefully we can take it one step further and inspire those who are watching to think 'I can go and play in the Olympics as a Team GB footballer'."

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