Fran Kirby enjoyed an outstanding 2017/18 season as she played a huge role in our Double-winning success as well as picking up a host of individual prizes, including the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards.
A technically-gifted striker, she came through the ranks at Reading, her hometown club, and made her first-team debut at the age of 16.
She enjoyed a hugely impressive 2014 campaign for the Royals, finishing as the division’s top scorer with 29 as they recorded a third-place finish in FA WSL 2.
Shortly before making the switch to Chelsea, Kirby was part of the England squad which finished third at the World Cup in Canada, a tournament in which she scored the Lionesses opening goal in a 2-1 win over Mexico.
Kirby came off the bench to make her debut for the Blues against Birmingham, and her impact was immediate as she scored with a delightful chip to get off to the perfect start.
Though she missed our Women’s FA Cup final win over Notts County due to the fact she’d already played in the competition for Reading, her attacking quality and ability to score vital goals played a huge part in the team eventually securing the FA WSL title.
In the game which clinched the trophy, a 4-0 win at home to Sunderland, she netted a magnificent strike, curling a left-footed effort into the top corner from outside the penalty area.
Kirby also scored the first Champions League goal in the club’s history, a sweet strike against Glasgow City, and she was also on target in the second leg against the same opposition.
She carried on where she left off when the 2016 campaign began, netting a memorable winner in the last minute of extra-time against Manchester City Women to book a second-straight trip to Wembley for the Women’s FA Cup final. That was followed by a clinical brace at Arsenal and another two in front of 2,406 fans at Wheatsheaf Park against Liverpool, the first of which won the club’s Goal of the Season award.
However, her winner against Sunderland before the mid-season break turned out to be her last notable contribution of the year, as a serious knee injury picked up while on England duty sidelined her until the closing weeks.
Injury was a factor again at the start of 2017, ruling her out of our Women’s FA Cup campaign and the opening three matches of the Spring Series. What followed from there, however, was the stuff of dreams for any centre-forward.
Kirby came off the bench against Sunderland to put the seal on a 7-0 victory with two trademark finishes when through on goal, showing everyone exactly what type of threat the side had been lacking in her absence. Further strikes followed against Liverpool, Bristol City (twice) and Birmingham on the final day; remarkably, having started just twice and come on in three matches, she had netted six times to finish as the top scorer of the Spring Series. The time between her goals was only 40 minutes.
As a result, she went into the European Championship in the best possible form. Featuring in four of England’s five matches on the way to the semi-finals, she netted her only goal of the tournament with less than two minutes on the clock in a group stage win over Spain.
Kirby's performances throughout 2017/18 went a long way to helping the team enjoy such huge success and she was a constant threat in front of goal, scoring 25 times in total, including one in the FA Women's Cup final. Her goals were spread out in all competitions and of all different styles - whether finishing like a true poacher or smashing one in from 25 yards, Kirby’s all-round forward play was simply too hot for most sides to handle.
There were so many magical moments across the course of the campaign, beginning with an unforgettable away goal in Munich to help us progress in the Champions League and ending with a spectacular opener in a vital WSL1 win over Birmingham City. In between there was a hat-trick versus Liverpool in the Continental Tyres Cup, an FA Cup semi-final winning brace against Manchester City, followed by the third goal in the final against Arsenal with a trademark curler, and goals in all but one round of the Champions League.
She made 36 appearances, the fourth-highest figure in the squad, and was deservedly named in the PFA Team of the Year and UEFA Champions League squad of the season. As well as picking up the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards - becoming the first player to win the female version of the latter - she was also named Chelsea Ladies' Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year. It capped a quite sensational campaign in which she had become perhaps the most recognisable female footballer in the country.
Shortly after the end of the campaign, it was announced that Kirby had signed a new three-year contract with the Blues, keeping her at the club until 2021.