When Chloe Kelly’s 2022 began, the idea that a photo of herself would capture one of the defining moments of women’s football history in England, let alone of the year, was far from her mind. Kelly was battling back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended her Olympic dreams. She would make her return to the pitch in April, 11 months on from her injury, and faced a race against time to get up to speed for the Euros in July.
“It’s crazy,” the 24-year-old Manchester City forward says of the tournament. “Sometimes I look at the images and I’m like: ‘Wow, that actually happened.’ It’s an amazing memory and one that will stick with me for ever, and what it can do for the sport is just huge.”
That her celebration, whipping her shirt off and wheeling away in her bra – after scoring the goal in extra time that would hand the Lionesses a first major trophy – was unplanned “makes it even better”. “In that moment, I celebrated the goal for what it was. I just went crazy,” says Kelly.
Having recently recovered from injury, Kelly appreciated 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 without fear and enjoyed myself. I had spent so much time away from the pitch – you just want to appreciate the times when you’re on it.”
After the Euros, Kelly’s world exploded. She was in the middle of a whirlwind of attention and media coverage that is yet to die down: appearances on television and at sports events, rumoured sponsorship deals, civic honours. In August, for example, Kelly was offered the Freedom of Ealing by the west London borough where she grew up.
“It was very busy, 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’s been brilliant to see how many children we’ve inspired, and adults, too.” The Lionesses have also made an impact on women’s sportswear; according to reports, searches for “football sports bra” increased by 1,590% after Kelly’s celebration.
The increase in attendances for domestic games, at every level, is “what the game deserves,” she adds. “Long may it continue and keep improving. It’s what we’ve been pushing for, for many years. So, we won’t take our foot off the gas now.”
The accelerator is still pressed firmly down: England have finished 2022 unbeaten in the calendar year, and are yet to lose under manager Sarina Wiegman. “Looking back on the memories that we’ve created and how much change we’ve made, that is very impressive,” Kelly says.
Momentum is on their side, and there is more to come. Up next is the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in summer 2023, where England will be one of the favourites. Then, in 2024, there will probably be a Team GB women’s side competing at the Paris Olympics, and in the summer of 2025 the Euros are back.
On top of 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 gives opportunities to fuel the fire lit within the England team. And winning is addictive. “It’s an amazing feeling,” says Kelly. “As soon as you’ve won a major medal, you’re like: ‘Right, what’s next? What can we get next?’ When that’s instilled in you, it’s a brilliant thing to have because you’re hungry and very ambitious.”