An email conversation with footballer Kelly Smith: 'The leading players feel undervalued. Some feel like giving up'

Keeping Arsenal firing on all cylinders; Leading England towards Euro 2009; Raising profile of the women's game
Click to follow
The Independent Online

England's qualifying campaign for the European Championship seems to be ticking along nicely. How confident are you that England will reach Euro 2009? Pretty confident – we're the favourites to get out of our group, which is a first. The Czech Republic and Spain have already dropped points and they're our main rivals.

How do you rate Spain, whom you play on next Sunday at Shrewsbury? Probably the toughest team in the group. We played them a few years ago and I scored twice but, like us, they've moved on since then.

Germany have dominated the Uefa Women's Championship since 1991, winning five of six tournaments, including the last four. What makes German women's football so strong? I don't really know how their league works, but their sides are always strong and well organised. I think there's a lot of grass-roots development there. They're favourites to win again but we drew 0-0 with them at the World Cup this year, which was a big result for us. I've played them a lot in my career and we're getting closer every time.

What's your abiding sentiment about losing 3-0 to the US in the World Cup quarter-finals: disappointment at not going further or satisfaction at getting that far? Disappointment, because we didn't play as well as we'd have liked to. The first goal was always going to be important. They got it from a set piece and we fell apart. Heads went down and you just can't do that.

You've had an exceptional year, featuring Arsenal's unique quadruple and the World Cup. Has the return to domestic matches been a downer? Yes, emotionally and physically. We won every honour last season, what's left? A number of Arsenal's England players are struggling, assessing their careers. Maybe the hunger's gone a bit. We've gone from the world stage to games like the recent 9-0 win over Cardiff in front of 100 people. From the highlight of your career to a bump to earth. But there are challenges ahead. We play Lyons on Wednesday in the European quarter-final second leg after only drawing 0-0 last week away.

Did you get a chance to do any sightseeing in China? What was the best and worst thing? No sights. We were there on business. It was the insides of hotels, and back on a plane at 5am the day after we went out. I saw one flea market, the hustle and bustle was interesting. The best bit was being part of the World Cup; the fans really got behind it.

There was controversy last week when your England team-mate Eniola Aluko said £40 per day for internationals on duty was unfairly low. Your thoughts? I agree. Senior players want more investment. The FA put £4.5m into grass-roots women's football, which is great, but the top players feel undervalued. Some have full-time jobs to allow them to play. Others have two part-time jobs. Would it be better to give up the football and earn a proper living? Some feel like that. We're elite players trying to compete and it's tough.

You played for Philadelphia Charge in the US in the only fully professional women's football league the world has known. That folded after three seasons in 2003 but a new eight-team league is due to start in 2008. What do you think about its long-term viability? Could it happen in England? It was disappointing that it folded but it was probably just too ambitious, too big. This time the business plan looks smaller, there's a strategic development, it should have a good foundation. As for England, I can't see it, not in the next five to 10 years. We need it, though.

As a one-time US resident and follower of sport in America, do you think David Beckham can raise football's popularity there? He's already raised it, hugely. He's got a great fan base wherever he goes. When I was in America, the MLS wasn't that popular. Even if you just look at all the extra tickets sold so far, Beckham's helped.

What is your proudest achievement in the game? What else do you have burning desire to win? Playing professionally in America. Playing in the World Cup and scoring four goals. And I want to retain the European Cup.

Vera Pauw, the Netherlands coach, said this year you were "the best player in the world". The former US coach, April Heinrichs, said you would have graced the American side at their best. Do you ever feel like moving to a country where women's football has bigger crowds and more money? Or does such a place not exist? It'll exist in the US next year. But at 29 I don't know if it would be the right move.

You're joint-15th favourite to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. Who do you think will win it? Will Arsenal Ladies win anything? Lewis Hamilton is the favourite and I can see why; he's done fantastically and as the only black driver. So he'll probably do it. But I'd like to see it go to Joe Calzaghe. I've heard we might be nominated for the team award. Just a nomination would be great.

A 29-year-old male England footballer with your record would have had at least one autobiography out by now. Any plans? And what's the best football book you've read? I'm going to sit down and talk to a publisher soon. I've got some stories to tell! Best book? Gazza's was good. His problems are such a shame but he was a wonderful footballer.

What are the most played tunes on your iPod? Leona Lewis's " Bleeding Love" and something by Nelly Furtado.

What is your most treasured possession? From my football career, my European medal.

Tickets for England vs Spain will cost £5 for adults and £2.50 for concessions, by calling the Shrewsbury Town ticket hotline on 01743 273943

Attachment

* Born Watford, 1978.

* Position Striker.

* Clubs Arsenal (1995-96); Seton Hall University, US (1997-99); Philadelphia Charge (2000-03); New Jersey Wildcats (2004); Arsenal (2004-07).

* Awards Player of the Year; Newcomer of the Year (America, 1997); leading scorer 1998, 1999; had Seton Hall No 6 retired in her honour; only British woman to have played as a professional in US.

* Club honours Arsenal 2006-07 quadruple: Premier League, both domestic cups and Uefa Cup; Smith scored 30 goals in all competitions

* England 65 caps, 25 goals

Comments