England travel to Latvia for their fourth World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, and it could be a landmark game for Fran Kirby, who is in line to make her 50th appearance for the Lionesses. The Chelsea attacker has been one of the brightest stars in the women’s game in recent years, while also having to overcome many obstacles in her career, which would make this accomplishment even more special.
Kirby has been a key component in England’s and Chelsea’s recent successes, including four Women’s Super League titles, two Women’s FA Cups, two WSL Cups and one Women’s FA Community Shield. She has returned to her best after recovering from pericarditis, a heart condition that could have ended her career when she was diagnosed in November 2019. She has been blighted by injuries as well as the heart condition, and yet has still gone on to represent her country at two World Cups and two European Championships. When she returned to the England fold in September 2020 after battling her illness, then-England boss Phil Neville praised her swift return as an “incredible achievement” before Kirby then stood out above the rest in an intra-squad friendly at St George’s Park.
“Seeing Fran Kirby in an England shirt was unbelievable,” said Neville. “The best thing is the smile on her face. She’s falling in love with football again, she wants to play football. She’s playing like that kid that used to play in the park.”
Last year, the 28-year-old helped Chelsea defend their Women’s Super League title with 16 goals in 18 league matches, as well as providing 11 assists. This led to her scooping up the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards. Kirby’s impressive form has been recognised around the world and has seen her nominated for this year’s Ballon d’Or, which is a brilliant feat considering the significant bump in the road that occurred less than two years ago.
@frankirby on closing in on her 5️⃣0️⃣th England cap!
Returning to her frightening best domestically, she has developed a fruitful on-field relationship with her Blues teammate Sam Kerr, and Blues boss Emma Hayes compared the pair to Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke from that bygone Manchester United era. Hayes said: “You don’t come across these types of partnerships easily and sometimes they are formed over many, many years.
“They just get each other. That’s not coached, that’s just trying to put them in the right spaces, and they figure the rest out. They are talented, world-class players and I think all the praise is fully justified.
“A brilliant partnership. Yorke and Cole, I think about those two, Kerr and Kirby, in terms of the spaces they fill.”
Kirby has a strong relationship with her Blues manager, whom she lauded as her “rock” while she fought the debilitating illness. It was great to see her make a quick recovery and come back to the club stronger than ever, as her form last season has shown. And it has continued into this term with three goals in five matches for the Blues, which has just been fantastic to see.
Now that she is in line to reach a milestone with the Lionesses, her obstacle-filled career has brought her to a monumental moment which she has thoroughly deserved. It is a shame a player of her quality has had to suffer so many setbacks, but the Reading-born star is thriving in the beautiful game after returning to full health. Since making her Lionesses debut in 2014, Kirby has scored 12 goals, including strikes at Euro 2017 and the 2018 SheBelieves Cup.
Speaking on possibly earning her half century of England games, Kirby said: “Hopefully I get to play a part and get the 50th cap. It is obviously something that I am really proud of.
“I have been a part of this team for a long time, so for me to get that 50th cap would be really, really special.
“It is just nice to be back and playing regularly for the team and with the team. I am really enjoying it, so I am excited for it.
“It has been a rollercoaster for sure, but it is a journey I am really proud of and one that I think, looking back, I wouldn’t change a lot. I have been through a lot, but it has made me who I am.”
After everything the exciting attacker has endured during her time as a professional, no one deserves to reach this milestone more than her.