Last summer, Chloe Kelly soaked up the atmosphere around the men’s Euros as a fan, but the Manchester City forward couldn’t bear to watch Team GB’s women’s team compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Kelly had ruptured her ACL in the penultimate game of the 2020-21 season in May, ruling her out of the team for Tokyo and much of the new season, putting her in a race against time to get fit for England’s Euro 2022 squad.
“I didn’t actually watch any of the Olympics because I couldn’t face watching it,” says Kelly, whose journey over the last 13 months is illustrated through the snaking scars on her right leg as she sits in the team hotel in south-west London. “That was difficult for me, but I knew I had to focus on my rehab and my journey in that moment. Now, I’m here, I enjoy every moment of being with the team, supporting the girls on the pitch, thinking: ‘What can I do to support the players on the pitch and how can I bring something when I do come on the pitch?’ So, yeah, it’s a different look on things but I’m just enjoying myself.”
Kelly had been a certainty for the Olympic team, having impressed for City, scoring 10 goals from the wing before her season ended. Now, though, she is enjoying her first major international tournament with a very different mindset as a result of her experience with the knee injury.
“I’ve got a completely different look on things and a different mentality,” says the 24-year-old. “I enjoy myself, I’m just living in the moment, enjoying the moment.
“When something like that happens to you and you’re away from the game for so long I think nothing really fazes you afterwards. Whereas before, I’d get quite nervous before games, when I speak to my family now and they ask if I’m nervous, I don’t really have those nerves as I did before because I’m thinking: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I’ve been through the worst … I have to enjoy every moment, playing with no fear.”
That is definitely a nice place to be in, she adds. “You learn so much about yourself. Before maybe I’d get a little bit too worked up in the moment, now I’m just enjoying myself and living in the moment.”
There is a relaxed vibe at the Lensbury hotel. Sarina Wiegman has worked hard to set up a training-base environment that gives the players freedom. They roam the streets of Teddington in search of the best coffee and retire to the chill room to compete on the basketball arcade machine, at darts and at pool. Some sit glued to other matches being played around the country, others escape and watch Love Island.
Should the team go all the way, they will have been in camp for 10 weeks, so letting them ease open the door of their bubble locally has been important. It has also given them a glimpse of the mood of the public, as they stop for socially distanced selfies.
“You see people in the streets and they’re sending their support even across the road,” says Kelly. “It’s lovely, really touching and it’s nice to see England fans getting behind the girls.
“Last summer I was going to games and really enjoying the moment as a fan and now this summer to be a part of it is brilliant. I went to the final and we had some parties in the garden watching the games. I’ve always done it as a kid, supporting England, my mum’s got flags outside her window and everything, and she’s done it again.
“This summer, the whole nation getting behind the girls is amazing, and hearing the fans after the games singing Sweet Caroline is brilliant.”
Kelly has come off the bench in England’s first two Group A games, in the 64th minute of the opener at Old Trafford and in the 70th minute of the 8-0 thrashing of Norway. Now, with England having won the group with a game to play, against Northern Ireland on Friday night, there is the possibility Kelly might get her first start.
“I think it is just we are all fighting for a place,” she says. “We all have to train well. The quality is brilliant so far this tournament and I think the players that haven’t got a chance on the pitch yet, we all bring quality on to the training pitch, which I think lifts the group as well. I think we all have to be ready for the moment.”
Standing between Kelly and a place in the starting XI is the electric form of Beth Mead. “She had a great season and she’s on absolute fire,” says Kelly. “It’s brilliant for her and she’s a brilliant girl. We’re just getting behind her and thinking about how we can help her bring the best out of herself, give her the ball because she’s doing so well. I think we all just need to appreciate it and look after her, make sure she recovers right. Give the ball to Beth and something will happen.”