Northern Ireland's Billie Simpson to take on Messi for FIFA award
Cliftonville Ladies defender Billie Simpson will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic after her nomination for one of FIFA's most prestigious awards.
The 27-year-old's screaming strike in the Danske Bank Women's Premiership against Sion Swifts last summer has been chosen as one of the contenders for the Puskas Award.
Her 60-yard volley, directly on the end of an opposition goal kick, was deemed good enough for FIFA's 10-goal shortlist, along with strikes from Barcelona's Messi, LA Galaxy's Ibrahimovic, Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend and Fabio Quagliarella of Sampdoria.
After Simpson's goal last summer, the Belfast Telegraph called for FIFA to note the Northern Ireland international's strike, as she revealed it only came about thanks to disobeying manager Martin Douglas' instructions.
"Martin shouts at me all the time before kick-off saying 'no 40-yarders' but I just get ahead of myself when I'm on the pitch sometimes," laughed Simpson.
"He was absolutely speechless when that one went in.
"Whenever we're training, if anybody hits the ball up in the air, I'll always try to volley it.
"I just know that I can do it and if I connect with it, it could hit the net. If I don't, it could hit the corner flag.
"When you're going for a volley, it can come off your shin or your leg but if you connect properly, you know it's going to fly."
Coach Douglas outlined the reasons why Billie's goal should be included in the list of the world's best.
"The video doesn't even do it justice. It's the cleanest strike you're going to see," he said.
"It reminded me of baseball when the ball is pitched and then it comes back at double the pace. That's the way she hit it.
"What the video didn't show is that she took a quick free-kick from the half-way line shortly after and it came off the underside of the crossbar."
Former Glentoran forward Matty Burrows was shortlisted for the 2010 Puskas Award for his backheel volley against Portadown, eventually finishing runner-up to Turkish international Hamit Altıntop.
Looking back at Burrows' nomination, football commentator Jackie Fullerton recalled the player's excitement over his inclusion in the illustrious event.
Mr Fullerton also compared Simpson's goal to David Beckham's halfway-line strike against Wimbledon in 1996 and Jonny Addis' worldie as Ballymena United beat Larne 4-2 at Inver Park on Saturday. "Her nomination will be well received by all women footballers not only in Great Britain but all over the world," he said.
"She's 27 years old and isn't it great that it has come at a latter stage of her career and she can enjoy the excitement and take it for what it is - a massive boost personally and a massive boost for the game she loves."
The winner will be announced at FIFA's awards night on September 23, when the winner of the Ballon d'Or will also be revealed.
You can help put Simpson on the stage in front of the best footballers in the world by voting in the FIFA Puskas Award here: www.fifa.com/the-best-fifa-football-awards/puskas-award/#registration. The vote closes on September 1, with the top three going forward for final selection by a panel of FIFA legends.