Long read: Kim Little on her inspirations

Kim Little celebrates scoring against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium with her Arsenal teammates

What is there to say about our club captain and leader Kim Little that hasn’t already been said?

Every single teammate has cited the professionalism and dedication that match her ability with the ball at her feet, and her calm authority radiates through the team. But what drives her on? Rest assured it is not money, celebrity or personal glory. It isn’t even silverware in itself – Kim’s inspirations are, quite simply, as otherworldy as her ability on the pitch...

Who was your childhood inspiration? How did they inspire you?

After growing up and taking time to look back on my life, I think the most obvious but completely accurate answer is my immediate family.

They just provided an incredibly stable upbringing and the opportunities to do what I loved, which was obviously playing sport and being involved in team environments. They would take me to so many different places and give me their time, which is something that, as you get older, you realise just how much of a sacrifice that was for so many years while I was living at home.

It’s something that at the time you do appreciate, but you don’t quite understand until you get a bit older. Without them, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have in the game.

How important is family to you, what values have they taught you?

Absolutely they are important, and the biggest one for me in terms of football and the way I’ve tried to carry myself is humility. When I was much younger, for example, I would hear that I was the best player in the team, but I never cared about that and my family didn’t either. Only in the sense of wanting me to learn, improve and understand that it’s about working together as a team. There was never an element of me that cared about being 'the best'.

Aside from that, I also think I picked up the value of hard work and consistency in the way that you apply yourself every day. When I look back now, those values and traits that I have were definitely picked up from both my mum and dad.

Kim Little celebrates scoring against Aston Villa with Mana Iwabuchi and Beth Mead

Kim Little celebrates scoring against Aston Villa in the WSL

What inspired you to play football as a kid?

I think it was the element of just having fun and being part of a team. So many of my friends when I was growing up played football too, so there was definitely that social element that played a big part, then I think when it comes to the more competitive nature I just remember having this constant desire to win and to improve.

I can remember having that feeling of real enjoyment when you work hard for something and see the improvement or get recognition for it as a team – I always loved that and still do. It’s infectious because when you get that feeling you just want to do it again and again and again.

Was there ever a time when you didn’t feel like playing football?

I can’t say I’ve ever had a moment when I’ve wanted to stop playing football. I’ve always had the perspective that what I get to do for a living is pretty special, and it never really feels like “work” in the sense that it’s tedious or something I don’t enjoy.

Of course, there have been challenging times and low periods, and those times naturally alter your general perspective on a lot of things in your life, but I’ve always had the want and motivation to play because I love this game and I try to remind myself just how much of a privilege it is to do what I do with my friends and teammates.

Sport has that incredible power of being able to take your mind away from anything else because you’re completely absorbed by it in the moment and it’s impossible to even think of anything beyond what you’re doing.

What moment from your childhood made you think, “I can become a professional footballer”?

I can’t say that were was a specific moment for me because growing up and developing in my generation, there wasn’t really that ambition that there is today for young girls. There wasn’t a visible top level, and I wasn’t able to see players making money or doing this as a job. Instead, it was a much more incremental journey to the top.

I had to take things step-by-step and I didn’t have the chance to see who I really wanted to be – I just had to do it and keep believing I suppose. Honestly, the only moments early on when I thought, “Maybe this could be my career for the next ten years or so” is when I joined Arsenal and also had the chance to go and play in America in my early twenties. That was purely because of where our game was at the time, but right now it’s a world apart for young players and I’m so happy to see that change.

When we say the word “inspiration” to you, who’s the first coach that comes to mind? 

Wow, that’s a hard question! There are so many for so many different reasons, but when I think back to being a kid I can’t help but appreciate all the parents and teachers who stepped up voluntarily to help. I lived in a really good area in that regard and one of my best friends from home, Leanne, her dad and brothers used to take the football teams, and they gave us a lot of their time. That’s one of my earliest memories of enjoying football and the family element of the game. It’s a lovely thing to look back on.

Is there a game early in your career that you still think back to now?

The games that really stand out to me are in the FA Cup. There was my first FA Cup final in 2009 because I wasn’t able to play the season before due to being cup-tied. We played against Sunderland, and I remember Chappers chipping the ball over the top for me, I received it in front of the keeper, turned with my left foot and my back to goal and finished into an empty net. What a team that was! It was a televised game and one of the only ones back then that would actually have a big crowd.

Kim Little in the 2009 FA Cup Final against Sunderland

Kim Little in the 2009 FA Cup Final against Sunderland

What have you seen off the pitch at Arsenal that you thought was inspirational?

For me, because of how long I’ve been here now and because I’m a lot older and wiser, I just think it’s the history of the club and the number of players who have shown so much loyalty to Arsenal to put us where we are today. That’s something that inspires me to do everything I can while I’m still playing to be one of those players and to move this club forward to the next stage.

That has landed at a time for me when the game is becoming more professional and there’s so much more investment too, so I feel really inspired by what has been done before me to make sure I can do the same and ensure any new players joining are part of an Arsenal team that’s in the best possible shape it can be.

Which player inspired you the most when you were growing up?

When I first signed for Arsenal there were so many legends, so it’s difficult to pick just one, but if I had to? Probably Julie Fleeting. I saw what she had achieved for club and country and suddenly I had the chance to work with her. It gave me a clear path to work towards and I just wanted to have an impact on the game in the same way that she did.

When did you first meet her?

I met her for the first time on a Scotland camp when I was only 16 and I remember being in awe of her. She was your old-school No.9 and a real natural finisher. You could tell that her level of play was way above most other players at that time, so it really gave you something to strive towards as a young kid.

Julie Fleeting and Kim Little celebrate scoring against Rayo Vallecano in the Women's Champions League

Julie Fleeting and Kim Little celebrate scoring against Rayo Vallecano in the Women's Champions League

Which legend would you like to bring into the current Arsenal team?

Wow, that’s a tough one! So many! But the obvious answer for me is Kelly because of her natural ability. I wish I could have played with her for longer because she was a really special player and the type to remind you why it’s called the beautiful game. She had it all and I feel like she would slot into any team in history and be able to do her thing.

And now, is there a teammate who can really inspire you? How do they do it?

I’m not sure I can answer this one. To pick out any one teammate would feel wrong because there are so many, and for so many different reasons, on and off the pitch. They inspire and motivate me to be a better player and person and I can’t thank them enough for that. I love working with them every day. I’m constantly surrounded by incredible people and athletes.

Have you ever felt the need to try to win a game for a particular person?

If I’m being honest, I don’t think my mind has ever been wired like that. Again, it has always been about doing it for my teammates, staff and the fans. There has never really been a specific motivation for me – it has just always been a constant desire to improve and win.

I just want to know I’m giving everything to represent this club in the best way possible.

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