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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: England’s Sue Smith on Team GB and the ‘Lionel Messi of women’s football’

Sue Smith is one of the biggest names in women’s football.

She has represented England 93 times, won the International Player of the Year award twice and represented England in a FIFA World XI.

But it is her extravagant hairstyles that really make her stand out from the crowd. She is ruled out of the Olympics through injury, but – as far as talking points are concerned – when the name Sue Smith crops up in conversation, speculation over what her next change of hair style and colour will be often seems to take centre stage.

In an exclusive interview, she talked to Total Football editor Mark Roach about her frustration at missing out on London 2012, her career highlights, her role as a Sky Sports Living for Sport mentor and, of course, her hairstyle choices...

Hair-raising experiences

The list of Sue Smith’s achievements is long. She is seven appearances short of 100 England caps, has scored 16 times for her country, has a Cyprus Cup winners’ medal, was a European Cup finalist, and won the International Player of the Year award in 1999 and 2001.

Add to that a Players’ Player of the Year award, representing England in a FIFA World 11 and several League Cup, FA Cup and Premier League Cup honours, and the 32-year-old Doncaster Rovers Belles midfielder is one of the most experienced players in the women’s game.

But the big talking point ahead of her role with the BBC at London 2012 might not be her injury, her impressive football CV or even Team GB’s chances of a Gold medal.

“When I played for Tranmere, Chat magazine did a makeover for me and I quite liked it,” she said. “I found a hairdresser who wanted to try different styles and it went from there.

But what happens if she decides she wants to have a ‘normal’ hairstyle?

Hairstyles

“I do feel under pressure now to keep the different hairstyles going!

“It’s something people know me for now – and they want to know what my next hairstyle will be.”

And she often gets reminded about her starring role alongside Julian Clary in a Daz washing powder television advert.

The England star also appeared alongside Manchester United's Wayne Rooney in his three-part Sky1 show 'Street Striker'.

Talking to Smith, it’s clear she enjoys her life – albeit that she is bitterly disappointed that her cruciate ligament injury has ruled her out of consideration for London 2012.

Enthusiasm

During our conversation, the Mersyside-born midfielder talked with boundless enthusiasm in response to every question I put to her.

TV appearances and hairstyles aside, Smith is also a serious, committed and passionate person when it comes to women’s football.

She’s an intelligent lass too. In 2009, she was awarded an honorary degree by Edge Hill University.

But football is what makes Smith tick – and that is why she is delighted to have been given an opportunity to join the Sky Sports Living for Sport athlete mentors programme.

Living for Sport, which runs in collaboration with the Youth Sport Trust, has a team of sports stars as mentors who visit schools with the aim of improve the lives of thousands of young people in some way.

'It's good to be able to give back'

“It’s a fantastic initiative to be involved in,” she said. “It’s something I had looked at doing a few times. It’s good to be able to give back and be a role model.

“It’s great to be able to motivate them and teach them that they can achieve whatever they want to. The Living for Sport athlete mentor initiative is a good opportunity for us to go into schools and help the children in some way.

"We are different voices and it’s a great way to engage with them and inspire them – and it’s also a good way to promote women’s football.”

Smith’s selection as a mentor is fitting. Her dedication to women’s football has resulted in some significant achievements and she intends to pass on a message that if you focus on something and work hard, you can achieve almost anything.

She was England’s only representative in the 1999 FIFA World XI, but the double International Player of the Year still has a few goals she wants to achieve in the game.

'Best players in the world'

“The main highlight of my career was playing for the FIFA all stars team. I played alongside the best players in the world.

“And every time I pull on an England shirt it’s amazing. I’m injured at the moment, but I’d love to reach 100 caps.”

In terms of the best players in the world that she refers to, there’s one player who is head and shoulders above everyone else at the moment, Brazil striker Marta – the 'Lionel Messi of women’s football'.

“She’s exactly the same as Lionel Messi for women’s football. She won the world player of the year five times in a row and it will be great to see her at the Olympics.”

A global audience, many of who won’t have even heard of Marta, will have an opportunity to judge how good she is for themselves – and Team GB will have their work cut out to contain her when the two nations meet in the group stage at London 2012.

80 goals in 72 appearances for Brazil

The 26-year-old – who currently wears the number 100 shirt for Swedish club Tyreso FF – rose to prominence with 111 goals in 103 appearances for Umea IK, another Swedish side, between 2004 and 2008.

And she has scored 80 goals in 72 appearances for Brazil.

“The Olympics is absolutely massive for women’s football,” said Smith. “It’s a showcase for the sport and if Team GB are successful it will be amazing for the women’s game in this country.

“I was on the Team GB shortlist but injured a cruciate ligament so I’m ruled out. I’m devastated, but I will be doing coverage for the BBC so it’s the next best thing.”

Smith says the Olympics will give women’s football a massive boost, but added that it will be what happens afterwards that will determine how the sport develops.

Media profile

“We play in major tournaments and there’s a lot of interest which is brilliant, but we need the media profile to continue.

"The Women’s Super League has allowed women’s football to take a massive stride forward, but we need to get more people watching the game. More coverage on television would be ideal.”

Smith’s short term aim is to regain fitness.

“My first aim is to get fit again and get back to playing for Doncaster. I’d love to get back into the England team and hopefully make the Euro squad.

“I’m also keen to play a role in promoting women’s football through the media.”

With that in mind, Smith has agreed to begin a new Total Football column – watch this space!

Exclusive interview: Casey Stoney on England, Team GB, David Beckham and mentoring

Team GB draw for London 2012


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