Everton top scorer Chloe Kelly has lit up the Women’s Super League this season, but it’s the cages in the west London estate on which she grew up that are her true home turf.
Kelly, 21, was the youngest of seven siblings and began her career playing for childhood club Queens Park Rangers before switching to Arsenal’s Centre of Excellence.
Now at Everton, with four goals in nine games, she has helped her side to fourth in the table going into Sunday’s WSL game against fifth-placed Manchester United (12:00 GMT kick-off).
But how did playing on those enclosed football pitches in London and games of “bump to bump” with her five older brothers – three triplets – help shape Kelly’s promising career?
‘Street football without rules’
“If they had made it easy, then I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Kelly’s days growing up in Ealing were spent playing football with her brothers and their friends. She would “wake up, have some breakfast, go to the cage and come back when it’s dark”.
She was the only girl but they did not care and Kelly says her brothers would “smash into her in tackles” like they would with anybody else.
“It was really competitive. I was always treated like one of them and not differently,” Kelly told BBC Sport. “Even my brothers’ friends would be the same. When we see each other now we have that mutual respect because they helped me get to where I am today. I really appreciate everything they have done for me.”
Growing up was “really great” says Kelly, who believes she “learnt her trade” from those days in the cages.
“Where I lived we had two bumps in the road so we’d play ‘bump to bump’ football,” said Kelly. “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.
“Sometimes I go back there now and play with my nephew.”
Sacrifices and playing with her idol
Kelly’s love for football began as a season ticket holder at QPR and it was, she says, “massive” when she started her career there.
But the club, who were “like a Sunday League team at the time”, could not provide the opportunities that Arsenal’s Centre of Excellence did.
“Arsenal was the other side of London,” said Kelly. “I travelled two hours in a round trip to training but that was the sacrifice I had to make. My parents didn’t drive so I had to get the train from school. I’d get home at about 10.30-11pm and go back to school the next day!”
The move to Arsenal also gave Kelly a chance to play alongside her idol – England’s all-time top scorer Kelly Smith.
“When I went up into the first team, she was still there,” said Kelly. “It was a great experience but it was a bit weird. You don’t want to tackle them at first because they are your idol and you’re like ‘woah!’ But it was great playing with her and learning from her.
“They say you should never meet your idol but I’m glad I did.”
‘Hopefully I can catch Neville’s eye’
Kelly, who made her only England appearance as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Austria in 2018, is hoping to push into Phil Neville’s squad following her impressive form in the WSL but is keen “not to rush it”.
She was recently called up to the training squad in October before a victory over Portugal.
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“I’d love to be putting on that shirt for my country but I just need to work hard and keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully I can catch the eye of Phil [Neville],” said Kelly.
“My time will come when I’m ready. It might not be now but in a year’s time or a few more years. It’s not easy to get there, otherwise everyone would be there. Phil comes to some of the games so I have contact with him then.
“I’m enjoying my football so I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”
BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.
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