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The Rise of Fran Kirby

As the England women's side make history and head in to the semi-final against Japan, we take a look at the international journey of Reading's own home grown hero dubbed "mini Messi" by head coach Mark Sampson.

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Fran Kirby has rocked the headlines recently for England! At just 22 years old this June she has gone from a promising 8 year old for Reading FC Women to an international superstar dubbed "mini Messi" by the England coach Mark Sampson himself.

2014 was her year, unlike the multiple leagues in the men’s game there are only two major leagues in the women’s game, Women’s Super League (WSL) 1 and WSL 2. Reading finished third in WSL 2 at the end of the 2014-2015 season and with two teams being allowed promotion to WSL 1 for the 2015-2016 season instead of just one, they became hot favourites to finish in one of the promotion spots.

Kirby managed an impressive feat of 29 goals in 22 games making her the top goal scorer in both leagues and her exceptional talent didn't go unnoticed as she received the call that every player dreams about, the call to say she had been selected to join the England senior training camp.

Her England debut

Her first game would be a starting 11 position in a friendly against Sweden at Hartlepool in August 2014 and with all the attention on home girl Jordan Nobbs, not many supporters in the crowd knew much about the young striker from Reading and some didn't know who she was at all which as far as Sampson was concerned was a bonus because it meant that Sweden may not have known too much either and it definitely worked in his favour.

Kirby marked her debut with a cracking goal in a 4-0 win (taking a slam into the post and a nasty bruise for her efforts in the process) and would then be awarded another game against Wales coming on for Fara Williams in their next game shortly after cementing her place in the squad’s future.

Apart from the upcoming World Cup, Kirby would fulfil another dream of playing in England’s famous white kit at Wembley stadium in a historic match which saw 55,000 tickets sold (capped due to tube closures on the underground) and there could only be one opponent for a game like this…welcome Germany! Possibly biting off a little more than they could chew against a two time World Cup winning side, Lianne Sanderson would hit the crossbar after about 10 seconds in what was an incredible game.

Kirby came on around about the 75 minute mark and even though there wasn't much time for the young striker to do what we all knew she could, she certainly showed the visitors she was no push over and almost got on the score sheet herself. Unfortunately, Germany’s clinical nature did claim a 3-0 victory however, the fans cheered for the girls and the atmosphere of the day made the result insignificant.

The next pre-World Cup friendly for England wouldn’t be easy either as Sampson decided they needed another challenge and invited world number two, USA for a kick about at MK Don’s stadium and Kirby would start! The game was tight but Alex Morgan for the USA would make it 1-0 as her header just crept past Manchester City’s Karen Bardsley’s fingertips. Throughout the game Jodie Taylor and Fran Kirby were a force to be reckoned with up front as their connections between each other were perfect.

With Taylor playing out in the states, the USA were well aware of her talent but were again unaware of the threat of Kirby as she struck the bar almost levelling it up. The two would again pair up fantastically as Kirby made a beautiful pass to Taylor who put the ball in the back of the net only to have her goal called offside by the lineswoman. Replay’s on the BBC would later prove that Taylor was not offside and the game should have finished 1-1. If England beat Japan to go through to the final on July 5th against the USA then there’s a good chance the women could do what the men have failed to do since they met Germany in 1966…win the World Cup!

The final friendly before the World Cup started was supposed to be against France but as they were drawn to meet first only a few weeks later the game was cancelled and China were invited to Manchester City Women’s stadium. She scored after just ten minutes in the 2-1 win much to the delight of the home crowd of nearly 6,000.

Again, Taylor and Kirby up front were just too much for China to contend with as Taylor made it 1-0 in under a minute and Kirby’s goal just nine minutes later. I personally would love to see Sampson play Taylor and Kirby up front against Japan but only time will tell what tinkerman Sampson will do, he may play Taylor next to Sanderson and then bring on Chelsea’s Eniola Aluko for Taylor around the 60-70 minute mark but previous games surely show that Kirby would be a great asset in what could be the most historic moment since 1966.

The World Cup begins

Kirby would come on in the 68th minute in England’s first group game of the World Cup against France and even though she worked incredibly hard, her team mates just couldn't get the ball through to her as France were solid and took a narrow 1-0 win. People back home in England were starting to know who Fran Kirby was but her skills were still relatively unknown to the world until that fateful day.

England played Mexico in the group stages of this year’s World Cup and Fran Kirby, playing in the number 22 shirt was on the starting line-up. Throughout the game she proved she was a threat and Mexico were not sure how to handle her and on the 70th minute, tackled by two defenders she toe poked the ball in with incredible accuracy giving England their first goal of the competition and an injection of life which they carried through the game.

Kirby came close to getting a second goal and eventually Karen Carney sealed the 2-1 win by heading in a brilliant goal. The world had just met Reading FC Women striker Francesca Kirby who played an entire 90 minutes and was awarded Player of the Match for the game as well.

Regular fans of the WSL 2 would not be shocked by her achievements in this tournament as Kirby had previously won the golden boot and Player’s Player of the Year for WSL 2. Starting the final group game against Colombia, tinkerman Mark Sampson opted to substitute Kirby halfway through the second half after some incredible tackles against a side England had struggled to gain possession from. Kirby got another start in the quarter finals against Norway before being subbed again after 54 minutes but something tells me that this isn't the last we've seen of the young player dubbed "mini Messi".

Can Kirby and the girls go all the way? I think they could!

Reading FC Women’s first game back after the World Cup is July 11th at Farnborough and only £5 on the day for adults and £3 for concessions so why not take the kids and welcome back your very own homegrown hero as they take on Durham Women FC and continue their journey to promotion! Kick off is at 6pm.