For a lot of people, 2020 has been a bad year and for Fran Kirby, it couldn’t have been tougher.
This year is her fifth at Chelsea after she signed from Reading in 2015 and she has enjoyed a lot of success during her time in London.
A Women’s Super League title and two FA Cups as well as a host of individual awards are just some of the awards she has won whilst at the club. But in late 2019, this success took a step aside for something quite serious.
In November of that year, following Chelsea Women’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United, Kirby contracted an illness called pericarditis, which is caused by an inflammation of the sac that protects the heart.
It’s a shock to many that Kirby fell ill to this – pericarditis is said to affect men more than it does women. Fran Kirby’s absence was a mystery to fans – I will admit that even I didn’t know where she was for quite a while. In February this year, she finally revealed in an article that the pericarditis virus was the cause of her missing football, but she assured fans that was on the road to recovery.
“I am feeling 100 times better compared to when this started. I was struggling with understanding how it happened and why it happened and when I became ill I didn’t even have the energy to feel frustrated that I was ill like this.”
Pericarditis’ symptoms are said to include sudden chest pain, fever, and extreme shortness of breath. The seriousness of the illness was amplified when Kirby revealed that she was close to ending her playing career if she didn’t slow her everyday life down slightly.
“There was a period where I was told by the cardiologist that if I didn’t slow down, I might not play again. I had no idea what pericarditis was when I got diagnosed with it, and I struggled to find a situation where someone said they had overcome it.”
A virus that no one says they have overcome is certainly going to scare one of England women’s finest and she revealed that the intensity of the symptoms were a lot fiercer than the ones stated.
“It was a bit scary,” Kirby said. “I went a bit lightheaded, a bit all over the place, a bit disoriented and was stressful because the chest pain wasn’t like heartburn or anything, it was really intense.”
“I had no emotion and energy and it took over my life,” added Kirby, who at this point has been absent from football for five months. Any sportsperson who is not involved with their sport for an extended period of time will tell you how tough it is.
Regardless of what team you play for, a manager should always be there to help you and that is exactly what Blues women’s boss Emma Hayes did for Kirby, the 27-year-old revealing how much of a crucial part Hayes was during the worst parts of her illness.
“She’s been incredible. She’s been my rock. She’s been the person who kind of made sure that I was protected from everything.”
When Kirby revealed to everyone the seriousness of her illness, she said that Hayes was the one always questioning the doctor to find ways to help her get better.
“ ‘Can we try this? Can we try that?’ She was always the one trying to find the answers to help and it meant so much to me as a player.”
“She [Hayes] is great everyone, it wasn’t her just caring for me because I was ill. She makes sure she has time for all the players, no matter what situation they’re in.”
Over a year since that dark day when her career took a turn for the worst, Kirby made a return to football in Chelsea’s Community Shield victory over Manchester City in August.
And last Wednesday, it got better as she officially achieved legend status at Kingsmeadow, becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer, scoring her 69th and 70th goals for the club in a 5-0 win against Benfica in the Women’s Champions League on Wednesday, eclipsing Eni Aluko’s record of 68 Chelsea goals.
After such a tough past year and almost ten months out from football, since her return, it’s been a joy to see Kirby light up the women’s footballing world yet again, playing some of the best football of her career, and long may it continue as Chelsea remain in the hunt for continued success, both domestically and in Europe.
Written by LuK Foley @UOGLuka
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5