Who is Fran Kirby?

Francesca Kirby, more formally known as Fran, was born 29 June 1993 in Reading, England. She began playing football when she was a young girl after she took interest from watching her brother play. At any given chance she had, she would play football in the streets outside her house, at school and in her front garden. Kirby attended Chiltem Edge, Sonning Common where she played against the boys on the football team. However, at the age of 7 she joined Reading’s academy and made her senior debut for the club at 16.

Making her way through the youth teams after she joined Reading, she made her first team debut for the club at the age of sixteen, however, she quit football the following year due to onset of depression after her mother passed away. Kirby returned to the club and the world of football in 2012, to which she went on to become the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division’s top scorer for their 2012-13 season with an impressive 32 goals in 21 appearances.

As Reading got promoted to the Women’s Super League 2, Kirby helped the team place third with 24 goals in the sixteen appearances she made that season. With that, she ended the season as the league’s top goalscorer as she bagged hat-tricks against Durham, Watford and Doncaster Rovers Belles and accumulated four goals against the London Bees. Shortly after her impressive season, she became the first female player from the club to receive a professional contract. Kirby was also named the inaugural WSL2 Players’ Player of the Year.

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

Quite early on in her career, Kirby was a member of the England under-23 squad. She was the first player from WSL2 to be called up to the senior squad for the World Cup qualifiers in 2014 against Belarus and Ukraine. Despite being on the bench for the Belarus game, she made her senior international debut against Sweden in August 2014 as she scored in the friendly win at Victoria Park. Furthering her success, England manager Mark Sampson named Kirby in his final squad for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which took place in Canada. She was deemed a “mini-Messi” by Sampson as she scored in their win over Mexico. However, she was ruled out for further games as she faced an injury.

On par with her international success, her goalscoring form carried on as she amounted 11 goals in 5 league appearances in the 2015 WSL2 season for Reading.  However, following the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Reading accepted an undisclosed transfer fee from Women’s Super League club Chelsea, and she completed her move in July 2015.

After joining the club, she made her first debut in October 2015 as she scored twice in the clubs win over Sunderland, which secured Chelsea’s first FA WSL title; a league and cup double. In that same month, Kirby scored the clubs first ever UEFA Women’s Champions League goal in their win over Glasgow City. Following the 2016 FA WSL season, Kirby secured Chelsea’s return Wembley Stadium as she scored a late, extra-time winner against Manchester City in the FA Women’s Cup semi-final and then followed on by scoring both goals in Chelsea’s WSL win against Arsenal.

In 2018, Kirby was awarded the PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Women’s Footballer of the Year for the 2017-18 season. However, in February 2020, Chelsea announced that Kirby had been diagnosed with pericarditis, which left her ruled out of the team since November 2019. Despite being told she may never play again, she overcame her infection and played 70 minutes in the FA Community Shield win against Manchester City in August 2020.

After a successful 2021 season, she was singled out by observers as the top performer for Chelsea during their double winning 2020-21 campaign. Following on from that, she won FWA’s 2021 Women’s Footballer of the Year award. She later went on to scoring the opening goal in the delayed 2020-21 FA Cup final against Arsenal, helping her team secure the domestic quadruple for the 2020-21 season, leaving Chelsea the first English women’s club to achieve the feat.

Over the space of this last season Kirby has been facing a setback in her footballing career due to another illness, that has not yet been disclosed. However, she announced recently that she’s taking a step back from football to focus on her health, to make sure she’s able to come back fighting as she did previously.