Chelsea FC Women have been so dominant this season that it can be easy to forget that one of our best players has hardly featured.
Super Fran Kirby has played only 194 minutes, spread out over two starts and two substitute appearances. Her last bit of action was November 17 against Manchester United — spotlighting how good she is, it was her only appearance without an assist.
But the larger concern for Chelsea and England supporters has been the quietness around her absence, from both herself and the club with which she’s become synonymous. At long last, Chelsea posted an update over the weekend, with Kirby graciously opening up on her illness, struggles, and hopes for a return.
As it turns out, the 26-year-old has been suffering from pericarditis, which is a sudden-onset inflammation of the pericardium, the double-walled, fluid-filled sac that surrounds and protects the heart. It sounds scary, and can sometimes be a side-effect of a heart attack, but it’s usually just an infection that can be subsequently treated with anti-inflammatories. It is however painful and recovery can be lengthy (and there’s a chronic version, too, that can last over six months and later recur due a thickening of the inner wall).
Yikes. That is a horrifying condition that I didn’t even know existed, and had to be a terrifying diagnosis to hear. This also seems an immensely unnecessary cruelty for someone who has already gone through so much over the years.
But Kirby reports that she’s feeling better, both physically and mentally.
“I am feeling 100 times better compared to when this started. I was struggling with understanding how it happened and why it happened as I was feeling good with no injuries and enjoying training with the team so it was frustrating at the time.
“When I became ill the frustration went away as I didn’t even have the energy to be frustrated, I had no emotion as I was too tired. It took over my life in a negative way, I couldn’t even get up to make food.
“Now that I am feeling more like a human being I can smile again and be in a room with people again. Before when people were having conversations with me I couldn’t acknowledge them I was just sitting there thinking ‘I am so ill, I am so ill’, it was just constantly on my mind.”
The natural recovery process from this ailment requires the body to determine when it’s capable and to what extent. Even though Fran is one of the best women footballers in the world and desperately wants to get on the pitch, she has accepted the slow pace of her recovery.
“I want to be back on the pitch more than anyone! I also know it will take time and I am not going to heal overnight and it is a day-by-day process.
“I know how ill I was and I don’t want to go back to that, I want to make sure when I come back I am 100 per cent with no symptoms and I am ready to go.
“I am getting there, I have more energy and less symptoms but I need to go slowly as if I come back to soon it could be another three weeks out.
“There is lots to look forward to at Chelsea and for England and I am on the road to recovery. There are important games coming up and I am really hopeful I can be back to take part in them.”
The matches Kirby could be alluding to are Chelsea’s League Cup Final against Arsenal on February 29 and, after Chelsea beat Liverpool on Monday, the quarterfinal (and hopefully semifinal and final) rounds of the FA Cup. If Kirby is available for any of those matches her return would be a ‘Thor’s arrival in Wakanda’ level addition. Siri, insert ‘Mo’nique_i_would_like_to_see_it’ dot GIF.
Most crucial above all is Fran Kirby’s health of course. Heart issues are certainly nothing to trifle with, and no matter what path her recovery takes, we must be supportive of it. Sports are typically a business, and that should never be forgotten, but in rare moments they can operate as the family they’re often masquerading as.
As such, it’s nice to hear that the player’s actual health is taking precedence at Chelsea, and Kirby’s has genuine support.
“I also want to thank everyone who has supported me during this time. From the doctor at Chelsea who made sure I had everything I needed to recover, to Emma, the staff, the players and those in my support network. It meant so much to me to be surrounded by so many people who cared about me.”
–Fran Kirby; source: Chelsea FC
Get well soon, Fran! Good vibes only.