Kelly Smith’s memoir Footballer: My Story is out today from Bantam Press and available in hardcover and Kindle format on Amazon. The book promises a look at the storied career of England’s greatest female footballer, as well as some of the personal battles Smith has fought through over the years.
The club Smith will always be most closely identified with is Arsenal Ladies in her home country, but she spent an enormous amount of time in America, starting with a record setting collegiate stint at Seton Hall. Her pro club career saw her emerge as one of the play making stars of the Women’s United Soccer Association‘s Philadelphia Charge (2001-2003), a brief stint with the W-League’s New Jersey Wildcats, and then a return to America with the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer from 2009 to 2011.
The program at left is from a sparsely attended (3,128) Wednesday evening match against FC Gold Pride (San Jose, CA) at Harvard Stadium on June 17, 2009. Smith entered the match in the 63rd minute as a substitute, assisting on the equalizer by Jennifer Nobis in the 77th minute to pull out a 1-1 draw for Boston. Smith was a two-time All-Star for us in Boston in 2009 and 2010.
As General Manager of the Breakers during the club’s final two seasons, I didn’t get to know Kelly well. I respected the way she carried herself and her intense competitiveness but we rarely spoke. As tenacious and vocal as she is on the pitch, she is reserved and shy off the field and, for my part, I rarely socialized with our players since my job often involved being the bearer of bad news.
One of the least pleasant aspects of my job was an acrimonious six-month negotiation with Kelly’s agent Steve Kutner to substantially reduce her salary prior to the 2011 season. The Breakers (and much of the league) were in the midst of draconian across the board budget cuts. Kelly was among the top 2-3 highest paid players in WPS every season and remained in that elite group in 2011, but that also made her contract a target in an austerity process where we had already sliced out a lot of muscle (including our entire front office staff, save for one).
For her part, Kelly was coming off her strongest season in Boston, after scoring 11 goals in 2010 and leading the Breakers to the within one game of the WPS Cup championship match. She couldn’t have done more to justify her contract on the field, but in this particular sport at this particular time, that wasn’t enough. We never spoke about it – there’s really nothing you can say to justify or sugarcoat taking away what you’ve promised to someone when they’ve done everything you’ve asked.
One funny story comes to mind about Kelly’s Jekyll & Hyde personas on and off the field. (And I’ll admit now that I wasn’t there. This was relayed by our ops manager at the time). The Breakers went to Florida for pre-season camp in 2011 and played a scrimmage against MagicJack, the infamous club owned by MagicJack honcho Dan Borislow. MJ had a neutered head coach named Mike Lyons at that time. Borislow, by all accounts, really managed the club, dictating formations and personnel decisions. Lyons spent the moments before the match crouched on the ground hurriedly taping his players ankles, since the MJ organization regarded the athletic training profession with the same level of disdain that Scientologists reserve for psychiatry. During the match Borislow prowled the sidelines shouting out instructions to his players.
Smith played a rough game, leading the Breakers in fouls committed in each year of WPS, save for 2011 when she missed half of the season for the World Cup. Midway through the scrimmage, she collided with a MagicJack player, sending her opponent to the turf like a rag doll. Borislow, vocal all day in the quiet environs of a crowd-less scrimmage , got up on the sideline and made some aggressive noise about the foul. Annoyed, our English superstar turned to WPS’ newest investor/savior and concisely explained the boundaries between bankrolling a team and being part of one:
“SHUT THE F*!# UP!”
With that, Kelly turned her attention back to the game. Impossible to imagine off the field, totally in character on it, even during a scrimmage.