When Kelly Smith was eight years old, she smuggled herself to a local football team in Watford by posing as a boy.
Her hair was cut into a bowl-like crop and she dressed as a boy outside the field, often in an Arsenal strip.
She behaved like a boy because, even in elementary school, she knew that if she admitted she was a girl, she would not be allowed to play in her younger brother's team.
She was always the football fan, but it was when her brother or sister, six years old, started to play that she really felt the injustice. She had to stand aside and collect stray soccer balls. Only after she tried to get the coach's attention with her dribbling skills, she was invited to participate.
Kelly Smith, 40, (photo), England's fourth best scorer ever, revealed the challenges she faces throughout her football career
Within a few seasons, she had shown herself to be the best – not surprising, since Kelly Smith (40) is now the greatest female football player England has ever had. She is ranked as England's fourth best scorer ever and beat David Beckham (and just behind Wayne Rooney and Gary Lineker).
As a child this skill and talent had to be her downfall – the prejudice against her is why you may have never heard of her now, although she is very famous in the world of football.
"It was told that there was a new child by the name of Kelly and (people said):" He is really good ", and then it turned out that" he "wasn't a boy," she explains.
When the rumor about her true identity reached the parents of opposition teams, Kelly was asked to leave. "They had a problem with it because I was a little embarrassing to their sons. I was in pieces; just so unhappy. I just wanted to play with my friends.
"We have changed competition and I have joined a new team. Then the same thing happened. The parents there also had a problem with me.
"In the end we had to find a girls' team – a good team, but it was 40 minutes."
It is hard to believe that that little girl with a boy's hairdo became the sporting star in front of me – a former English captain, an MBE awarded in 2008, and a woman who won every possible club award, including winning the Premier League with Arsenal. She looks unapologetically glamorous.
"You learn that you can have a ponytail, wear makeup and still be able to play football," she says. "The female players from England now like to wear nail polish and skirts. You don't have to be a tomboy anymore. & # 39;
Kelly (pictured with her wife, DeAnna) revealed that she already has a size 10 after the birth of her second baby
Four weeks ago, Kelly and her wife, DeAnna, had their second baby, a girl. Kelly underwent IVF, just like she did with Rocco, their now two-year-old son, with the same sperm donor they did the first time, & # 39; so they are blood brother and sister & # 39 ;, says Kelly.
It was always Kelly, not DeAnna, who gave birth. "DeAnna is five years older than me, so it made sense," she explains.
Today, the new mother is wearing 4 in stilettos and a silk shirt while she is heading towards our photo shoot.
She already has a size 10, despite her love for chips and chocolate, and her blonde hair is stylishly marked. She is a poster girl, not just for the changing face of the modern family, but for a new generation of female football players.
When she retired from the English team in 2015, and then Arsenal two years later, she had collected 117 caps and 46 goals.
"I sometimes pinch myself," she says, "thinking:" How could my career have gone so well? "- and now I also have two beautiful little babies & # 39; s."
When the BBC broadcast every phase of the FIFA Women's World Cup on television this summer, it turned out to be a surprising hit, with 11.7 million viewers. (Only 5.7 million tuned to the first episode of The Great British Bake Off this year).
Now, while the Barclays FA Women & # 39; s Super League is starting this week – the equivalent of the men's Premier League, with 12 teams of elite players – a YouGov survey suggests that a third of Britons are fans of women's football , once outright ignored. Almost 70 percent of us want, the research shows, that the game of women must reach the same profile as that of men.
As a child, Kelly (pictured at the age of seven with brother Glen, five) would act like a boy to play in her brother's team
A coordinated campaign from the Football Association and Barclays is now intended to give girls across the country access to football training and lessons – and Kelly is the perfect ambassador for the program, which has succeeded in a much more challenging era.
A problem she faced was the gaping wage gap between men's and women's football. "At the peak (of my career) I earned around £ 25,000 a year," she says. "That's what men get in a week."
In her day, the girls wore the men's package, so large that it hung from their shoulders and fluttered around their thighs.
She trained & night before Arsenal – 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. – because the men trained during the day.
The girls and women came to the stadium after a day of work because they were not paid to play. & # 39; In fact, & # 39; she says, & # 39; we had to pay to play – for the referee and to have our set washed, etc. & # 39;
Kelly made ends meet by working at a kennel and at McDonald's.
Another English player, Alex Scott, washed the Arsenal set for men to earn a crust. Fara Williams, who is still playing, was homeless while she was a member of the English team, while sleeping on friends' couches because she could not afford to pay rent.
"It is different for the new generation of women because they receive sponsorship," says Kelly, "but we still have a long way to go.
"If I had been a man, I would now be a multi-millionaire with my career. But still, baby steps.
Kelly (pictured with son Rocco) who was badly injured in 2001, 2002 and 2003 talks about drinking alcohol to numb the pain and briefly injure himself
"For me, my passion for the game and the ambition to perform at a high level was always there. But over the years many of my teammates have stopped because they could not earn money from it. & # 39;
Kelly & # 39; s dedication, however, came at a high personal price – a price that she is determined that today's female stars do not have to pay.
Unable to live in the UK as a female football player, in 1997, 19 years old, she accepted a football scholarship at an American university, noticed by an American coach.
After completing her studies in 1999, she stayed in America and first played for a team in New Jersey. Only in 2000, when she went to play for another team in Philadelphia as part of the inaugural Women & # 39; s United Soccer Association, things started to go wrong.
She was badly injured – twice with knee damage and once with a broken leg – in 2001, 2002 and 2003. After every injury, she went to a rehab clinic, removed from the camaraderie and support of her team, and was emotionally isolated for a long time.
She had to spend hours alone, doing small exercises, getting her limbs mobile, and then trying to regain her condition – only to find herself in the hospital again. "It was bad luck." She started drinking vodka to numb the pain and even briefly injured herself. "I'm really locked up," she admits. "I didn't know how to talk to people and how to deal with my feelings. I was low and didn't want to be on the planet anymore. I have lost my identity. It was horrible. & # 39;
Kelly (photo), who sometimes felt suicidal, recovered by a gentle reintegration into the arsenal fold
She continues: "Then I finally opened up to my father. He said, "Right, I'm coming to get you." He booked a flight to Philadelphia the next day. & # 39;
With the help of her father, they ended her Stateside life. Her car was sold, arrangements were made to send her dog to the UK, and in 2004 Kelly flew home with her father.
Damaged by a sense of failure, she sometimes felt suicidal. "I was a completely different person then," she says. "I was probably too young to leave the house." After a failed rehabilitation period in The Priory, Kelly was checked into the Sporting Chance Clinic set up by former English football captain Tony Adams. There, her fight began to play the sport she loved.
She says: "I have been in love with football for a while. But now I don't see it as a negative point because it made me the person I am. I learned a lot about myself.
"Now I am open. I'm honest. On some days you may feel ** and talk about it. I used to keep it all inside.
"Many players in the women's team had a hard time. It is how you deal with it. I think the perceptions are changing now, and it's OK to get help if you feel low. (Then for me) I was embarrassed because I & # 39; Kelly Smith was the soccer player, one of the best & # 39; but I had a problem. & # 39;
Kelly recovered by a gentle reintegration into the Arsenal fold. In 2009, she was tempted back to the US to play and live in Boston. Again, the low status of women's football in the UK had forced her abroad.
She returned home and retired in 2015, just before the Women's World Cup, at the age of 38.
Kelly (photo) married DeAnna in 2016 and started trying for a baby, she found coaching incompatible with early motherhood
The change coincided with the breaking of an important relationship and the start of a new life with another woman.
On vacation in Egypt, at the hotel pool, she met DeAnna, an American who lived in London for 20 years, worked in IT and – refreshingly – had no idea about & # 39; Kelly Smith the England captain & # 39; or the women's football in general.
They never looked back. "She is different from me," says Kelly. "She is outgoing, loud and comfortable with her sexuality. I think meeting her helped me to get out, to make me comfortable in my own skin.
"Only when I retired did I feel happy telling people (about my sexuality)."
The couple got married in 2016 and started trying for a baby: "I always wanted to have a child, but I didn't know how to do it while I was playing. However, I didn't want to be too old and miss the boat, & Kelly says. "Until I retired, I think my body was in play mode – pretty tense from training every day."
But with a change in lifestyle, she felt ready to carry a baby – and in May 2017, Rocco was born. It wasn't long before Kelly and DeAnna started thinking about giving him a brother or sister.
Kelly had started a coaching program, but soon realized that the requirements were incompatible with early motherhood.
So what would her future have in store for her career: coaching the English women's team? Or even the men?
"If the children go to school, I would like to go into it again," she says with a smile. & # 39; But with coaching you have to throw in your whole life, like I did as a player. You must be committed. & # 39;
Kelly (photo) who now works in the broadcaster, revealed that her career was not about money, but about football
At a less ambitious level you can imagine her coaching girls in primary school.
"I say to people:" Don't compare the women's game with the men's game for speed – but see the technology, the view, the passing accuracy.
& # 39; When I was growing up, hardly any girls were playing. Now we have hubs set up in schools with FA-qualified coaches to help develop talent. & # 39;
Rocco, she says, already has a "good left foot" when they have a kickabout in the garden, just like she did with her father.
If the new baby Lucia seems to be more interested in ballet and gymnastics – the interests of Kelly's mother tried to send her because & # 39; that's what girls did & # 39; – Kelly says & # 39; that's perfect too. I won't try to push her into football if she doesn't want to do it & # 39 ;.
She adds: "You don't have to be a tomboy to play. We have to normalize football for girls. & # 39;
Today Kelly has a broadcasting career – she spent five weeks this summer in Paris, where she commented on the Women's World Cup for Fox TV.
Her knee knocks when it's cold, and her ankle often hurts, but she's good at that, drawing on what her playing years taught her.
"It was never about the money," she says. "It was about football. All that sexism could have made me go a different way, but I didn't. I was so hungry. Football builds character, resilience and teamwork. & # 39;
And who wouldn't want that for both her daughter and her son?
KELLY is a Barclays football ambassador for the Barclays FA Ladies Super League.
SEE page 9 of The Verdict for the Ladies Super League Manchester Derby match report from Claire Bloomfield
. (TagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) femail