Fran Kirby eager to give England fans ‘an escape’ from life’s struggles

Fran Kirby eager to give England fans ‘an escape’ from life’s struggles

Fran Kirby is trying to stay level-headed but admits putting smiles on fans’ faces during a difficult time for the country is driving England on ahead of Tuesday’s Euro 2022 semi-final.

A dramatic 2-1 extra-time win over Spain on Wednesday has added to the growing sense of momentum, with the last-four showdown with Sweden set to be screened in Trafalgar Square for up to 5,000 supporters.

Some of the celebrations after Georgia Stanway’s sensational winner at the Amex – and again at full time – were reminiscent of the scenes produced by England’s men’s team last summer.

While Gareth Southgate’s side fell at the final hurdle, the Lionesses are determined to go all the way and Kirby is acutely aware of the strain being placed on people by the cost-of-living crisis.

She said: “As the tournament has grown, we have been walking down the river and seen people leaning over and going, ‘Well done, girls – we’re supporting you!’

“It’s great and not something we have been used to in terms of the level the Women’s Super League creates compared to this, it’s incredible. Hopefully we are giving the country something to smile about and to be proud of in terms of the way we are playing and the way we have been playing.

“The other thing is that if we get the chance to win in the semi-final and get through to the final, I think it will be incredible for people in this country to have something to celebrate and enjoy. We want to do that as much as possible.

England celebrate their quarter-final win over Spain
England celebrate their quarter-final win over Spain (Adam Davy/PA).

“As much as we want to win, we want to put a smile on people’s faces. They may be going through a hard time in terms of the fuel costs and the cost of living now, so hopefully we can give people an escape for 90-plus minutes when they turn their TVs on.

“We want them to have something to cheer about, something to watch and they will see how passionately we play for this country. Hopefully it gives them a sense of pride and they can switch off from everything that is going on.”

England were six minutes away from exiting their home tournament in the quarter-finals before Ella Toone’s late volley at the end of normal time.

While even boss Sarina Wiegman got carried away in the heat of moment at the final whistle, Kirby insists she is staying calm, having now reached the last four of a major tournament with the Lionesses for a fourth time in a row.

Fran Kirby battles with Spain's Irene Paredes during England's quarter-final triumph
Fran Kirby battles with Spain’s Irene Paredes during England’s quarter-final triumph (Gareth Fuller/PA).

It means the Chelsea star is not yet allowing herself to dream of lifting silverware at Wembley in a week’s time.

“I am quite cool and calm. With some of the celebrations, some of the girls get involved, but I like to stay subtle,” Kirby said.

“I haven’t allowed myself to think of it just yet, no. I’ll save the celebrations until after the final – then I can just go wild!

“Of course we’d love to finish this tournament with the trophy, but it’s not just as easy as that.

“Every team left in this tournament will give you the same answer – they want to win, so for us it’s about focusing on being in the best place going into the final, winning the semi-final.

“For me, I would love to win the trophy, 100 per cent. I’m a very competitive player when it comes to football, so I would love to win. My sights are on winning the tournament, but I know to do that we have to have a good performance in the semi-final.”

Triumphing in the last four of a major tournament is a hurdle the Lionesses are yet to conquer, having lost at that stage in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups and the last European Championships five years ago.

Kirby added: “I don’t want to be another player who loses in a semi-final and doesn’t get to the final of a major tournament with England.

“It’s in the back of the minds of a few of the girls who have been there. We’ve been in the four semi-finals now, but for us it’s about the present and making sure we’re not in that position again.

“No-one has really spoken about it in the camp, in terms of the ones who have been in that situation, so it’s about winning the game and getting to the final.”