Ahead of a warm-up friendly against Sweden later on today, Team GB star Kelly Smith has told Sportsister of her hopes for a lasting legacy for women’s football in this country.
The 33-year-old Arsenal and England forward battled injury to secure her spot on Team GB. As England’s top goalscorer and easily the most celebrated player in the squad, she agrees the Olympics was the natural next step.
“Getting to the Olympics was the goal,” she told Sportsister. “The Olympics is such a major event in sporting terms that I just can’t wait to get going.”
With Great Britain’s first competitive Olympic match against New Zealand in Cardiff next Wednesday, Smith spoke of the challenges she had faced to ensure she’d be match fit come the Games.
“It was a tough start to the year,” she says. “I broke my leg playing for England and then kind of made the injury worse.
“I’m glad I’ve been selected for the Olympics because it was touch and go whether I would be involved. I just needed games and match fitness.”
Kelly returned to English club football at the beginning of the year following the collapse of the Women’s Professional Soccer League in America and she agrees that it couldn’t really have come at a better time.
“It’s a good time to be back playing in England,” she says. “The new FA Women’s Super League format seems to be doing very well.
“Obviously the big one to raise the profile of the women’s game are the London 2012 games starting next week, so it’s a great opportunity for the women’s game to grow as a sport and hopefully we can leave a bit of a legacy after, to get more girls playing and more people watching the sport.”
And Smith knows that GB’s success at the Games could make or break that.
“We’ve all got to pull together,” she recognises. “We’ve all got the same goal of trying to win a medal so we’re going to make it as fun and enjoyable as possible but also really focused at the same time.
“Obviously USA are ranked number one in the world, they’ve got many key players and are a very strong outfit. You’ve got Japan who are world champions, they won the World Cup last year and are another very difficult team. Brazil are always very talented and skillful so I’d say they’re the top three we’ve got to watch out for.
“Overall it’s a massive opportunity for women’s football in this country to try and grow as much as possible.
“It’s major, all eyes are going to be on that opening game so hopefully we can really put in a good performance and bring more attention to the women’s game in general.”
You can catch GB Women v Sweden on BBC One Match of the Day Live today at 15:45-18:00. Want to find out more about Kelly? Her autobiography ‘Footballer: My Story’ was published yesterday – a tale of ‘how to live your dream, and of how it feels and what it means to be a woman at the very top of her game’.
Jessica Whittington, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Following the Olympics, Kelly will be returning to her position as striker for Arsenal Ladies, as the second half of the Women’s Super League kicks off on Aug 15th. Fans can catch Kelly and other Olympic football stars on Aug 19th when Arsenal play Everton at the Arriva stadium. Full match details can be found at www.fawsl.com/matches.html