Fran Kirby – Mini Messi

Full name: Francesca Kirby

Date of birth: 29 June 1993 (age 27)

Place of birth: Reading, England

Height: 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)

Playing position: Forward

Club career

Reading

Young Fran Kirby
Young Fran Kirby. Credit | Getty Images

Fran Kirby joined her hometown club Reading when she was just seven years old and she worked her way through the youth teams to the first team where she made her debut at the age of sixteen. Fran quit football the following year after she struggled with her depression, after the passing of her mother. Fran returned to the club in 2012 and she went on to become the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division’s top goal scorer for the 2012/13 season, where she scored 32 goals in 21 appearances. 

With Reading being promoted to the newly formed Women’s Super League 2 in 2014, Fran helped the team achieve a third-place finish, she scored 24 goals in 16 appearances. Fran ended the season as the league’s top goalscorer; netting four goals against London Bees, as well as hat-tricks against Durham, Watford, and Doncaster Rovers Belles. Not long after this, Fran became the first female player to receive a professional contract from Reading and at the 2014 FA Women’s Awards, Fran was named the inaugural WSL2 Players’ Player of the Year.

Fran continued her goalscoring form into the 2015 WSL2 season, she scored 11 goals in 5 league appearances for Reading, including all four goals in a 4–2 away win against Yeovil Town and five goals in a 7–0 win against London Bees. Following the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Reading accepted an undisclosed transfer fee from Chelsea and Fran completed the move in July 2015. It was reported that the fee was between £40,000 and £60,000 which would have been a British record, although Chelsea denied this was the case.

Chelsea

Fran Kirby
The queen of Kingsmeadow. Credit | Getty Images

At the 2015 FA Women’s Cup Final, the first to be held at Wembley Stadium Fran was a cup-tied spectator for Chelsea’s 1–0 win over Notts County. This was Chelsea’s first major trophy. In October 2015, Fran scored twice in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Sunderland which secured the club’s first FA WSL title; a league and cup double. Within the same month, Fran scored Chelsea’s first-ever UEFA Women’s Champions League goal in a 1-0 win over Glasgow City.

Fran’s form carried on into the 2016 FA WSL season, where in April, she secured Chelsea’s return to Wembley Stadium by scoring a late, extra-time winner against Manchester City in the FA Women’s Cup semi-final, unfortunately, Chelsea didn’t go on to win the FA Cup this time losing against Arsenal but only four days later, Fran scored both goals in Chelsea’s 2–0 WSL win at Arsenal. On the 22nd of April 2018, Fran was awarded the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and the first-ever winner of the Football Writers’ Women’s Footballer of the Year for the 2017/18 season. 

In February 2020, Chelsea announced that Fran was diagnosed with pericarditis, which had ruled her out of the team since November 2019. Fran overcame her infection, despite being told by cardiologists that she may never play again, and she played 70 minutes in Chelsea’s FA Community Shield win against Manchester City on 29th of August 2020.

On the 9th of December 2020, Fran scored two goals against Benfica in the UEFA Women’s Champions League where she became Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer taking over striker Eni Aluko.

International career

Kirby for England
Fran Kirby for England. Credit | Getty Images

Early in Fran’s career, Fran was a member of the England under-23 squad and she became the first WSL 2 player to be called up to the senior squad, in June 2014 for the World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and Ukraine. Fran was named on the substitutes’ bench against Belarus but she did not make an appearance. Fran made her senior international debut against Sweden in August 2014, getting the second goal in a 4-0 friendly win at Victoria Park, Hartlepool.

In May 2015, England manager Mark Sampson named Fran in his final squad for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was to be hosted in Canada. Fran scored in England’s 2–1 win over Mexico and was hailed as “Mini Messi” by Sampson the nickname she still carries today. Although Fran was disappointed to be ruled out by injury from the quarter-finals onwards to England’s eventual third-place finish it left her with a positive overall impression of the tournament: “a fantastic experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry.”

Mark Sampson kept Fran in the national team for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 qualifying campaign and in Estonia on the 21st of September 2015, she scored twice in England’s 8-0 win. 

After “12 months of hell” caused by knee and ankle injuries, Fran returned to England’s line-up for UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 in the Netherlands, in England’s opening fixture against rivals Scotland. Fran was England’s second striker where she played a clever dummy to Jodie Taylor where Jodie scored England’s opening goal in a 6 win. In the next match, Fran scored in a 2-0 win over Spain, which secured England’s place in the quarter-final.

On the 6th of October 2018, Fran scored in England’s 1-0 friendly win over Brazil at Meadow Lane. In a post-match interview, England coach Phil Neville breathlessly proclaimed Kirby’s superiority to six-time World Player of the Year Marta: “I’d take my No 10 over Brazil’s No 10, that’s for sure”.

Great Britain

Fran Kirby was hailed as the “stand out player” in Great Britain’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia.

Personal Life

In October 2019, Kirby received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc) from the University of Winchester for her “achievements both on and off the field, in particular her work supporting mental health and wellbeing.”

Player Strengths

  • Attacking playmaker
  • Her passing abilities
  • Big influence across the final third
  • Goals
  • Excellent ballplayer
  • Creative skills
  • Exceptional vision

Honours

POTY
Always a winner. Credit | RA

Chelsea

  • FA Women’s Super League: 2015, Spring Series, 2017–18, 2019–20
  • Women’s FA Cup: 2014–15, 2017–18
  • FA Community Shield: 2020

England

  • FIFA Women’s World Cup: third place 2015
  • SheBelieves Cup: 2019

Individual

  • PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year: 2017–18
  • PFA WSL 1 Team of the Year: 2017–18
  • FWA Women’s Player of the Year: 2017–18

Written by Meg Aherne @meggaherne

Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5


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