‘Heading in the right direction’

Middlesex Ladies footballers greet England stars Kelly Smith and Siobhan Chamberlain

By Andi Krasniqi, BA Journalism and Communication student

As the England women's team prepared to take on Germany at Wembley on Sunday 23 November, Kelly Smith and Siobhan Chamberlain came to Middlesex University to promote the game.

The two England internationals took part in a training session with the Middlesex women's football team before being interviewed by journalism students.

Chamberlain and Smith have both played at numerous big clubs, the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Fulham are just a few names that spring to mind, but where did it all begin for them? What made them want to become professional football players?

For Smith, it was her general love and enthusiasm for the game. "I just loved the game from a young age, as I was growing up I realised that I wanted to become a professional footballer," she says. "My role models were Ryan Giggs and Ian Wright." She points out, however, that opportunities were limited.

Chamberlain echoes that statement: "I never set out to become a footballer when I was younger, because it did not seem possible to think it could ever happen at the time."

But women's football has come a long way since then and opportunities are not as limited as they once were – just last year, the FA launched a two-year scheme with the aim of increasing the number of participants in women's football.

Whether it's popular or not is another discussion, but a record 55,000 tickets were sold for the game against Germany – eclipsing the number of tickets sold for the Men's friendly against Norway in September.

I asked both players if enough was being done to promote women's football. Smith believes things are headed in the right direction and thinks social media can be key to attracting new fans.

"I think things are heading in the right direction in terms of coverage," she says. "The women's Super League is now televised on BT Sport. Twitter and Facebook are big too as they allow us to liaise with fans and try and get them to the games."

Chamberlain is keen to stress that comparisons between women's football and men's are difficult to make. "Men's football is massive and the income that it generates is crazy! It's hard to compare women's football to that," she says.

"I think it's important to separate the two of them to get women's football to improve, so you're looking to compare women's football to where it was and where it is now."

 
Of course, similarities can still be found. As both Smith and Chamberlain play for Arsenal ladies, I was curious to find out if the philosophies and style of football has been passed down from the men's team to the women's.

"Yeah, definitely," says Chamberlain. "We like to stay within the club set up and we like to pass it, build a goal and keep possession – whereas other teams are more direct."

Representing your country in any sporting event is a huge honour. Kelly Smith is able to recall the moment she was called up to the England squad for the very first time aged 16.

"I remember being really nervous but excited at the time. I was really thrilled because, as a young child, to reach the top playing for England was a dream come true and every time I wear that jersey its always a proud moment."

For Chamberlain, turning up at her first under-18 camp was a nervous experience; "I was very nervous because I was meeting the players for the first time," she says.

With over 140 caps between the two, Kelly Smith and Siobhan Chamberlain have had the honour of representing their country on the biggest of stages, but playing at the new Wembley for the first time will be a completely different experience altogether and one that they are relishing.

Their opponents Germany have yet to lose a game in over two years and will prove stern opposition in front of a large crowd at Wembley. Smith, however, is relaxed ahead of the game.

"I don't think there is any pressure. The players have played in big games before and this is certainly a big game. There is nothing riding on this as they have qualified for the world cup but we want to go out there, win the game and show that we are on the right path to Canada.

"There is no better bigger occasion than to do it against Germany, who are one of the best sides in women's football"

No matter who comes out on top when these two sides meet, the real winner will be football. Smith and Chamberlain are now role models for aspiring female footballers across the country, and it just shows how far women's football has come over the last 20 years as it continues to grow.

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