When arguably the greatest women’s football player in the world says she’s come off social media after abuse relating to her goalscoring record, then you really know that things are not right in the world of women’s football. Impetus editor Ben Gilby, an unashamed mega fan of Sam Kerr tells the whole sorry saga.
In the back end of 2019, the English media was raving over Chelsea Women’s signing of Matildas superstar Sam Kerr with column inches and online articles galore about her incredible goalscoring prowess and how she could be about to take the FA Women’s Super League by storm.
Kerr’s debut in January was met with similar media fanfare and pushed expectations wildly high among those who watch women’s football in England. The East Fremantle born 27-year-old linked up well with Beth England in the early games and scored a goal against Arsenal at Meadow Park. Yet the murmurings were starting among a minority of supporters about her goalscoring record.
What was not mentioned was the fact that a) Kerr had just moved 10,000 miles to a new country in the middle of winter and b) she was going backwards and forwards to Australia several times to play for the Matildas in the Olympic Qualifying tournament. She had also been playing virtually non-stop over the past couple of years with commitments with clubs in America and her home stateside Perth Glory in the W-League.
The lockdown and pre-season period saw Kerr admit that it was the first time she had a proper pre-season preparation for years. The difference was marked – the positioning, support, pace and link-up play for which the Australian was famed for returned in spades but all the media and a minority of supporters could see was missed chances in front of goal. Continued negative comments from BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce and the channel’s pundit, former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis remarks that Kerr’s performance was “painfully bad” were leapt on by Kerr’s knockers as evidence that they had been sold a dud.
Despite Kerr scoring against Manchester United in Chelsea’s FA Super League opener and adding another goal in a great personal performance against Bristol City the following week, the abuse continued to rain down – to the extent that a stream on a supporters group Facebook page had to be taken down after descending into a slanging match between “fans” making less than supportive comments of Kerr and those defending her and pointing out the positives she brings to the Chelsea side. The same period also saw the striker receive abuse on her own social media sites.
The remainder of this article should come with the following caveat – yes, I am a big fan of Sam’s (#TeamSam20) – she comes from a town just twenty minutes away by car from the Australian branch of my own family. I’ve followed her career since she was a teenager – Baby Sam as a 16-year-old in the Asia Cup! Even back then she added so much creativity to the side.
Kerr has always been far more than just a goal scorer. It’s only really in the last couple of years that she’s smashed them in for the Matildas. Her partnership with Lisa de Vanna for Australia pre-2019 was one which saw Sam link up well and create chances aplenty. With de Vanna moving out of the Matildas side, Sam’s role changed and the goals came. I remember watching ‘Baby Sam’ aged 16 in the 2010 Asia Cup for Australia playing unbelievably well as a creative attacker.
The persistent negativity bordering on abuse she has received comes from people who don’t really know her as a player. They just read the newspaper stories when she signed and maybe saw the 2019 World Cup and what she did there. The Sam Kerr we have in the FA Women’s Super League is possibly the most creative, explosive and team minded player there is. On top of that, she can score goals. It’s important to remember, she had a good partnership with Beth England last season before lockdown. The pair are yet to start together this season after the Lioness star’s summer operation.
If you watch Sam in action for The Matildas, she benefits from a slightly different style of play from what Chelsea have had this season so far – we don’t get to see a the explosive pace that Kerr has in running onto through passes that has seen her score so many goals for the Australian national side. There is not quite the same presence as the likes of an Ellie Carpenter, a Chloe Logarzo or an Emily van Egmond that Sam combines so well within the green and gold. We also haven’t seen her presence in the air as much as you do in the average Matildas game – albeit apart from her first goal for the club at Arsenal.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that Chelsea need to change their game to accommodate Kerr. Rather, I’m highlighting the fact that the relationship and understanding she has with Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder – neither of whom she played alongside before September – needs to grow, and with Beth England now fit and well, the old partnership can resume.
There’s no doubt that Emma Hayes, Chelsea’s head coach values and understands what her number 20 brings to the table. More of England’s media and women’s football supporters need to learn to appreciate it – Kerr’s the ultimate team player, not just a goal-scorer.