How Chloe Kelly went from street football and ACL heartbreak to England’s World Cup hero

The 25-year-old scored the decisive penalty to send England through to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals - but the Man City winger hasn’t had an easy ride to the top

Chloe Kelly of England celebrates scoring her team's fifth and winning penalty in the shoot out against Nigeria in the last-16 of the Women's World Cup

Chloe Kelly scored the decisive penalty for England against Nigeria

There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and Chloe Kelly delivering when England need her most.

For 120 minutes at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Monday, the Lionesses looked like a pale imitation of the side that had so ruthlessly dispatched China not even seven days before. From the first whistle, Nigeria looked like the side in the ascendancy, with only the crossbar and the endeavours of goalkeeper Mary Earps preventing the Super Falcons from taking a deserved lead.

The niggling sense that this just might not be England’s day was further exacerbated in the 87th minute, when the prodigious Lauren James was dismissed for a stamp on Michelle Alozie, leaving the Lionesses at a numerical disadvantage for the entirety of extra time. And yet, when Chloe Kelly stepped up to take the decisive penalty in the shootout, it was clear there would only be one victor in this contest.

The Manchester City forward rifled the ball into the top corner, sending Sarina Wiegman’s side through to the quarter-finals and once again writing her name into the annals of England history. For Kelly, this was the latest in a long line of memorable moments in an England shirt.

Last year, it was her goal in the 110th minute that won the Lionesses the European Championships. In April, she converted the winning spot-kick to fire Wiegman’s side to victory in the inaugural Women’s Finalissima, and again on Monday she made herself the hero in Queensland.

So how did Chloe Kelly become England’s woman for the big occasion?

Perhaps her extraordinary steadfastness in the face of immense pressure stems from her uncompromising footballing education. Kelly was the youngest of seven siblings and grew up in Ealing, west London, spending her days playing in the ‘cages’ on her estate.

It was there, Kelly learnt to play “street football without any rules” - the fact that she was the lone girl amongst a gaggle of boys of little consequence to her older brothers.

“I knew she’d always do something because she always had a ball at her feet, always played football,” her mother, Jane Kelly, told Sky News.

“Once she started in the cages, there was no letting go. She used to come in, she had cuts on her knees… I used to say to her ‘well don’t go then’. And she’d still go back the next day. She was tough as old boots.”

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Chloe Kelly of Arsenal (L) battles for the ball with Aileen Whelan of Notts County during the WSL match between Arsenal Ladies and Notts County Ladies at Meadow Park on July 26, 2015 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images) Chloe Kelly made her senior debut for Arsenal

That inate mental resilence proved useful again years later, when she joined Arsenal from QPR’s academy. It was a two-hour round trip to train with the Gunners and, despite making her senior debut at the age of 17, playing time was limited, prompting Kelly to go in search of a new challenge.

That challenge came in the guise of a move to Everton - something the winger later described as “the best decision [she’d] made in [her] career”.

“I was sitting on the bench at Arsenal and I learned a lot,” she told GOAL in 2019, “but I wanted to show what I was capable of.”

Kelly’s eye-catching displays for the Toffees earned her a switch to Manchester City in 2020, but it wasn’t long before adversity struck again. In the penultimate game of the 2020/21 Women’s Super League season, she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament - an injury that would rule her out of the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo and leave her feeling “worthless”.

“In those first few days, I just cried and cried, I’m not going to lie,” Kelly said in 2022. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was such a difficult moment and I couldn’t change anything.

“The toughest part was accepting it but I had to. I had no choice. It happened but I couldn’t dwell on it. I thought: ‘If I sit here and cry, I’m not going to get anywhere. I need to be able to push on and that’s down to me – no-one else is going to be putting in that work – and if I don’t put in that work, my knee suffers.’ I just had to get on with it.”

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And get on with it she did. After a gruelling 11 months of rehab, Kelly made her return to action in April 2022, notching two goals and three assists in seven appearances to earn herself a spot in Wiegman’s Euros squad.

She came off the bench in all six games and, the day after England’s historic triumph over Germany, it was her face that adorned the back pages of every newspaper in the country - the sight of her swirling her shirt above her head in an ode to legendary USA World Cup winner Brandi Chastain now forever etched into English football folklore.

Twelve months on, Kelly’s composure again proved to be the Lionesses’ ticket to the last eight, with Wiegman’s side set to continue their bid for World Cup glory against Colombia in the quarter-finals on Saturday. But the 25-year-old - who started England’s first two group games before coming off the bench against both China and Nigeria - was loath to take credit for Monday’s win, insisting “it’s about the team”.

File photo dated 31-07-2022 of England's Chloe Kelly celebrates scoring their side's second goal of the game during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final at Wembley Stadium, London. Lionesses win Euros, England’s Euro 2022 dream became reality after Chloe Kelly’s extra-time finish saw the Lionesses beat Germany 2-1 and secure the first major trophy in their history in front of a record-breaking crowd at Wembley. Kelly scored the winning goal in the Euros Final (



“This team is special, we did it in the Euros, we did it in the Finalissima,” she told BBC Sport after the game. “We are here again tonight and doing it; we keep pushing forward and there is more to come from this special team.”

Of course, England’s success can’t be pinned on just one player. The Lionesses’ cohesion and collective brilliance has been fundamental to their achievements under Sarina Wiegman.

However, if England do go all the way this summer and clinch their first ever Women’s World Cup trophy, history dictates that Chloe Kelly will probably have something to do with it.