You, yes you, may well be thinking that there is no top-level club football taking place in London tomorrow, seeing as it's an international weekend. Well well Mr/Mrs 'smarty smarty I know everything about football can't you tell by my big boffin glasses obscure European club replica shirt and copy of Rothmans football yearbook sticking out of back pocket of expensive designer jeans', YOU'D BE WRONG. So there.
Arsenal Ladies play FFC Frankfurt in the first leg of their UEFA Cup quarter-final at Barnet's Underhill ground tomorrow , and it promises to be an absolute cracker. UEFA's premier competition for womens' clubs is now in its fourth year and Arsenal have got better and better each time they've been involved . Last time round they lost out in the semi-finals, but the feeling around Highbury is that they are now ready to go all the way. Manager Vic Akers believes that his squad, which includes England captain Faye White and Scotland captain Julie Fleeting, is the strongest he has ever been able to assemble, which is just as well, as Frankfurt represent a formidable challenge and have their own designs on the trophy.
If Arsenal are to prevail, they may well need another outstanding performance from Kelly Smith . The Watford-born striker, who returned to the club last year after a successful spell playing professionally in the US, is quite simply the best player in the country. We cajoled Kelly into a quick chat about Saturday's game, her career and the state of the women's game in general. And of course we also asked her if she's ever been sick on the tube.
Hello Kelly. We get the feeling that Arsenal Ladies fancy their chances of winning the UEFA Cup this season, how confident are you of success against Frankfurt on Saturday?
It’s going to be a tough game, but we are confident going into it. We’ve got our game plan in place and our squad is really strong this year, so we don’t fear anyone.
Excellent. What difference has the return to the club of Rachel Yankey and Alex Scott made to the team?
They are two strong additions, both international players, so they’ve brought the kind of experience which you just can’t buy.
How frustrating was last season, given your injury problems?
It was bad….but that was last season. I’m fit now though so for me, the only way is to look forward.
How close is the Arsenal Ladies team to becoming fully professional?
We’re not looking to go professional. At present we have very good support from the men’s team and the chairman, David Dein is really behind us.
Have you ever seen Vic Akers smile?
Vic is a great guy, he does actually smile but probably not on game day as it’s business.
Ok, you’ve convinced us. Now, in terms of the team, who is a) the most vain and b) the most foul-mouthed? Come on, dish the dirt.....
I’ve definitely got a mouth on me when I’m in the heat of the moment of a game but then I’m quiet passive off the field. The most vain is probably Emma Byrne , our goalkeeper.
Well…she has every right to be in our opinion. Ahem. Sorry…where were we. Ah yes, what has the growth of womens' football in this country meant for your life?
It’s brought a lot of joy to my life. The game has really moved forward since I first started playing. Before and since the European Championships we have got a lot more attention, people recognise us in the street now and we are slowly becoming more household names, and not just for the young girls who play.
If the WUSA hadn't folded, would you still be living and playing in the US?
Once the league folded I lost my work visa. I struggled to get another one and grew frustrated so decided to come back to England. I felt that the time was right as well.
We've always enjoyed womens' football for (and we're speaking generally here) its commitment to an attractive passing game. But in the games that we've seen recently, the ball seems to be hit long more and more often. As female players get stronger and quicker, are they trying to borrow too much from the men's game, with the nature of the game losing something in the process?
No I don’t think so. I can’t speak for the other teams but we try to play a neat tidy passing game.
That told us. But following on from that, are there enough female coaches in the game? And do you plan to be one in the future?
We have just two woman coaches in the league, one at Leeds and the other at Everton and we’ve also got Hope Powell in charge of the England team. I would like to see more woman coaches in the game. Personally, I’m still learning and would like to go as far as possible in coaching.
What would be the best goal that you've scored?
It would have be my 40 yard goal I scored against the Czech Republic this year for England. As soon as it left my foot I knew it was going in.
Get in. How long before the England team can mount a real challenge for the top prizes?
We showed in the Euros that we can compete with the best teams on the continent. We are improving as a team and learnt a lot from the tournament in the summer, our main goal now is to qualify for the world cup in 2007 which is being held in China.
You’re from Watford. Are you a Hornets fan then?
I look out for Watford’s scores but I am actually an Arsenal fan have been my whole life.
That’s what they all say. What's your favourite London bar or restaurant then?
I don’t really go out in London.
Rock and roll. What London place or thing would you declare a landmark?
The new Wembley Stadium I think is going to be amazing and I can’t wait to go to a game there.
Same here. Have you ever thrown up on the tube?
No and I don’t have any plans too.
You can never say never though Kelly…just bear that in mind eh? And finally….the world is ending in 24 hours. How would you spend your last day in London?
I would try and climb the walls/gates of Buckingham Palace and see if I could get into building to speak with the Queen.
Stalker! Thanks Kelly and good luck on Saturday.
Tomorrow's kick-off is 1pm and admission is £2 for adults and £1 for children and OAPs (admission includes a free programme). Your support would be very much appreciated!
Many thanks to Kelly Smith and Katie Willis at Arsenal.