Kelly Smith: Women’s game on pathway to progress despite disappointing attitudes

Former England striker Kelly Smith is confident a strong pathway is in place from grassroots girls’ football to the Barclays FA Women’s Super League – despite the “disappointing” comments of former Football Association chairman Greg Clarke.

Clarke resigned on Tuesday after making a number of offensive remarks before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, which included using the word “coloured” to describe black players.

The 63-year-old also said a women’s coach had told him that the lack of women goalkeepers was due to girls not liking the ball being kicked at them.

Former Arsenal striker Smith, England’s record goalscorer, retired in 2017, but has no doubt talented young players coming into the women’s game now have every opportunity to make it at the top level.

“There is a pathway there – there are academies and youth teams structured within the FAWSL,” Smith, a Barclays football ambassador, told the PA news agency.

“When I was playing, that just wasn’t there and didn’t happen, so the game is evolving and growing. It has come full circle.

“I was only training two nights a week and playing on the weekend, but now it is a full-time professional game in this country and it is heading in the right direction.”

Smith feels Clarke’s “archaic” comments must not be allowed to overshadow the FA’s ongoing drive for equality – with the WSL and Championship set to be showcased by staggered kick-offs across ‘Women’s Football Weekend’.

Greg Clarke resigned from his role as FA chairman on Tuesday
Greg Clarke resigned from his role as FA chairman on Tuesday (Tim Goode/PA)

“Certainly when it comes from the chairman and leader of the organisation, you expect better,” Smith said.

“It is disappointing, but I think it raises the issue and awareness that there is still a problem within the game across all levels.

“But we have to take this as a positive, that there is an opportunity to make positive change within the FA whomever now they appoint into that role.

“The FA are also doing great things on their diversity programmes, it is just disappointing we hear these comments.

“I don’t want this to overshadow what we have this weekend with the women’s game, who are all doing great and fantastic work within their clubs and the community.”

The WSL games on Saturday will begin with the derby between leaders Manchester United and Manchester City, followed by another as Aston Villa host Birmingham.

Everton are then at home against Reading, before Bristol City will look to move off the bottom of the table when they tackle Tottenham in the evening game.

Sunday will see West Ham versus Brighton followed by Arsenal against Chelsea. The matches will be available to watch via either the BBC, BT Sport or the FA Player.

Also on November 15, the Women’s Championship clash between Blackburn and Liverpool will shown on the FA Player, while Charlton v London City Lionesses and Coventry v Leicester will be streamed by the home clubs.

“There’s a lot of top talent to watch over the weekend,” said Smith, who scored a record 46 international goals from 117 England caps.

“It is probably the best league in the world now, with the amount of attention on it and amount of top-level international players coming over and making it so competitive – everyone wants to tune in and watch.”

:: Kelly Smith is a Barclays football ambassador.

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