From cage football to championship winner — how Lioness Chloe Kelly brought it home

·7-min read
England’s Chloe Kelly (right) celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)
England’s Chloe Kelly (right) celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)

During last night’s tantalizing Euros final there was a moment where it looked like the historic England versus Germany match might go to dreaded penalties.

Then, just ten minutes before extra time was up, wonderkid Chloe Kelly booted the ball into the net taking the Lionesses to a 2-1 victory over the German team. The record-breaking crowd of 87,192 fans, which is the highest attendance of any European Championship final – men’s or women’s – descended into mayhem as the star player yanked off her top and waved it around her head while bolting around the pitch.

Described by former Everton coach Willie Kirk as “fire and ice” due to her explosive temperament which is balanced by a composure that defies her years, the 24-year-old’s winning goal is only her second goal for England since her debut in November 2019. However, it was arguably the most important of the tournament.

England's players talk on the pitch as they celebrate after their win in the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final football match between England and Germany at the Wembley stadium (AFP via Getty Images)
England's players talk on the pitch as they celebrate after their win in the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final football match between England and Germany at the Wembley stadium (AFP via Getty Images)

Germany has enjoyed dominance in the European Championship, having won the competition eight times and the national team even beat England 6-2 in the tournament’s final 13 years ago — making the victory all the more impressive. What’s more, Kelly suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury last May which prevented her playing in the 2021 Olympics Game and delayed her return to training.

“Oh my God, look at them [the fans] – it’s amazing,” she said in a post-match interview. “Thank you to every single person who came out to support us. This is unreal.”

In a moment that will go down in sporting history, Kelly – ensnared by a pitch-wide rendition of Sweet Caroline – mic-dropped mid-interview to join her teammates in the singalong. “This is what dreams are made of. As a young girl watching women’s football and now this, wow, it’s unbelievable,” she continued as she rejoined the interview.

“Thank you to everyone who played a part in my rehab, because I always believed I could be here, but to score the winner … wow. These girls are special, the manager is special and what a special group of staff. This is amazing. All my family are in the crowd. My mum, all my brothers, my sister, all my nephews, everyone. I just want to celebrate.”

Cage football with her brothers to a Queens Park Rangers debut

England’s Chloe Kelly (left) and Ella Toone celebrate with the trophy after England win the Euro 2022 final at Wembley (Nigel French/PA) (PA Wire)
England’s Chloe Kelly (left) and Ella Toone celebrate with the trophy after England win the Euro 2022 final at Wembley (Nigel French/PA) (PA Wire)

Kelly was born into football as the youngest of seven siblings,  including five older brothers Daniel, Jack and triplets Ryan, Jamie and Martin who all pushed the youngster into the sport. She credits them for “toughening her up”, stating in a BBC Sports interview in 2019 that: “If I was on the floor, it was: ‘Get up or you don’t play with us,’” the former Arsenal and Everton player said. “So they definitely shaped me into who I am today, and I appreciate that. She continued: "If they had made it easy, then I probably wouldn’t be here. Where I lived we had two bumps in the road so we’d play ‘bump to bump’ football. We made what we could of it. It was basically street football without any rules. I think I’m quite a skilful player and I got that from playing street football.”

Growing up in Ealing, the family would also play in cages around Windmill Park Estate, which Kelly acknowledges as the reason for her creative playing side. “The whole summer we would get out in the cage early mornings, go back for some food and be straight back there. A few years later, someone melted a bin in the middle. It wasn’t the best, but we had to make do with what we had!”

The Manchester City winger grew up close to Wembley Stadium and would sneak down to the FA Cup finals on the No 92 bus to buy a programme and get a buzz off the “vibe around Wembley”. In fact, aged 16 she watched her hero Bobby Zamora win in the 2014 Championship play-off final against Derby County.

Her other sporting hero is Brandi Chastain, who tweeted, “I see you” at Kelly following her excitable celebrations where she ran around the pitch waving her shirt around. At the 1999 World Cup the American footballer performed a similar celebration after scoring the winning goal, with the New York Times describing a photograph of Chastain’s celebration the “most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete”.

Her high-flying football career

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Kelly’s career started at Queens Park Rangers, after she was scouted at a school tournament. ”It was my first real game because I was used to playing in cages,” she has said. However, it didn’t take long for the rising star to be tapped by Arsenal, who invited the young cub to play at their centre of excellence.

After five goals in just 16 games, the rising star was spotted by Everton who signed her for a two-year deal in 2016. Although the move up north caused a severe bout of homesickness, Kelly has no regrets over her decision. “If I hadn’t gone to Everton, I don’t know if I would be in the position I’m in now at City and pushing on in my career,” she said in an interview with Versus earlier this year. “I could have been satisfied with sitting on the bench at a top club but I needed minutes under my belt. I needed to show what I was capable of on the pitch, not just the training pitch. I don’t think a lot of people would make that leap of moving to a city I’d never been to before at such a young age. It was very daunting. Because I was such a family girl, I got homesick and every opportunity I got I would be back, but I knew it was the best for my career.”

At Everton she was coached by Willie Kirk, who praised her for “moving with the ball very well” which he called “a nightmare for defenders”. While Kelly’s first England call-up came while she was still a Toffees player, it wasn’t until she joined Manchester City in 2020 that things really started to gather momentum.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

In her opening 20 games she scored 10 goals, which landed her in the Women’s Super League team of the year. She also netted 16 goals from 34 appearances to help City win the FA Cup, for which she won the Player of the Season award.

The brutal injury that nearly dashed her dreams

Just as she was on top of the world, disaster struck. At the tail-end of her debut season, Kelly suffered a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury that led to her missing the 2020 World Cup and spending the majority of the season on the side-lines.

Understandably, it caused a massive toll on her mental health. “I spent some time with my family back home and at that moment in time I didn’t think I could overcome it. I’d just sit there and cry, I was in so much pain and couldn’t actually get out of bed myself, my boyfriend and my mum had to literally lift my leg and place it on the floor. You feel worthless,” she revealed candidly in an interview with The Guardian. She then went on to explain her saving grace throughout this time.

“I spent a lot of time with Lucy (Bronze) who was doing her rehab at the same time. It was a difficult moment (for both of us) but you get each other through. I think when you get through that you accept you’re going to have tough days but they shape you for where I am now back on the pitch. I’ve been through the worst. I have to enjoy every moment, playing with no fear.”

Thanks to the Lionnesses’ success, the FA has pledged for 75 per cent of schools to provide access to girls’ football and 75 per cent of grassroots clubs to have at least one girls’ team, paving the way for the future generation of superstar sportswomen.

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