When Chloe Kelly’s 2022 began, the idea that a photo of her would capture one of the defining moments in women’s football history in England, let alone the year, was far from her mind. Kelly was struggling to recover from an ACL injury that put an end to her Olympic dreams. She would return to the pitch in April, 11 months after her injury, and she faced a race against time to catch up for the Euros in July.
“It’s crazy,” the 24-year-old Manchester City striker says of the tournament. “Sometimes I look at the footage and think, ‘Wow, that really happened.’ It’s an incredible memory that will stay with me forever, and what he can do for the sport is huge.”
That her celebration, removing her shirt and shifting in her bra, after scoring the extra-time goal that would give the Lionesses a first major trophy, was unplanned “makes it even better.” “At that moment, I celebrated the goal for what it was. I just went crazy,” says Kelly.
Having recently recovered from injury, Kelly cherished every moment of the Euros. “I just tried to live in the now and embrace the experience,” she says. “I didn’t feel the pressure of anything. It was such a big tournament, but I played fearlessly and enjoyed it. I had spent so much time off the court, you just want to appreciate the moments when you are on it.”
After the Eurocup, Kelly’s world exploded. She was in the midst of a whirlwind of attention and media coverage that hasn’t ended yet: appearances on television and at sporting events, rumored endorsement deals, civic honors. In August, for example, Kelly was offered the freedom to eat for the West London district where he grew up.
“It was very crowded of course, but it was amazing to see the impact of the summer and how it has changed the women’s game,” she says. “It has been great to see how many children we have inspired, and also adults.” Las Leonas have also had an impact on women’s sportswear; reportedly search for “soccer sports bra” increased by 1,590% after Kelly’s celebration.
Increased attendance at home games, at all levels, is “what the game deserves,” he adds. “May it continue for a long time and continue to improve. It is what we have been pushing for many years. Therefore, we will not take our foot off the accelerator now.”
The accelerator is still firmly pressed – England finished 2022 unbeaten in the calendar year and are yet to lose under Sarina Wiegman. “Looking back at the memories we’ve created and how much change we’ve made, that’s pretty impressive,” says Kelly.
The momentum is on your side, and there’s more to come. Next up is the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 2023, where England will be one of the favourites. Then in 2024 there will probably be a Team GB women’s team competing in the Paris Olympics, and in the summer of 2025 the EuroCup will return.
In addition to the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Euros, it means five consecutive summers of major international competitions for the women’s team. That will lessen the time players have to rest, but it also provides opportunities to fuel the fire within the England team. And winning is addictive. “It’s an amazing feeling,” says Kelly. “As soon as you win a big medal, you say, ‘Okay, what’s next? What can we get now? When they instill that in you, it’s brilliant because you’re hungry and you’re so ambitious.”