Not many people get to meet their footballing heroes, let alone play with them, which is why Leah Williamson is so grateful to have lined up alongside Kelly Smith for Arsenal Ladies.

The 19-year-old grew up with a framed picture of Smith on her bedroom wall, and was even her mascot during an England Women’s game in Milton Keynes.

For Williamson though, nothing has compared to playing with her idol, and she paid tribute to England’s all-time record goalscorer after the news broke of her retirement.

"Kelly is truly the definition of my hero," the teenager said. "Growing up, I aspired to be like her and that’s never changed. She has offered me words of wisdom at times when I really needed them.

"I’m really grateful to have had the chance to play with her and watch on in awe. Her on-the-pitch ability made her so desirable to many. She’s unlike anything else to come out of this country.

"In the dressing room, she has the power to silence the room. When she starts speaking, everyone listens. She comes up with what we need at the right time. Being a young player coming through, she knew what to say to make it all better.

"Hopefully Kelly will keep on coaching and hopefully manage one day. She always knows the right comment to make and the value of her information is so great that you take it on board intensely.

"She genuinely was, in my opinion, at one point the best player in the world," Williamson added. "For girls looking up, there was nobody else leading the way like Kelly. She is a household name and she has definitely inspired more girls to play."

With thanks to Tom Garry and BBC Sport.


 

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Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
Max Jones 11 Jan 2017