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“We’re eager to do something that the world doesn’t believe is possible, to take this little club and become champions on the world stage and make sure we do it with all the right values,” says Lewes’s new head of performance and former head coach of the Afghanistan women’s team, Kelly Lindsey.

Few people could talk of such lofty ambitions for the south coast team, whose men play in the Isthmian League Premier Division and women in the Women’s Championship, and be taken seriously. Lindsey, though, comes with strong credentials on and off the pitch and feels like the missing piece in the developing project at Lewes, bringing elite performance know-how to the community-owned club that funds its women’s and men’s teams equally.

Lindsey’s journey from Omaha, Nebraska, to the small town of Lewes, a former home of Rights of Man writer Thomas Paine, has been a winding one.

In 2001 Lindsey was the No 1 first round draft pick for the San Jose CyberRays in the second incarnation of a professional women’s league in the US. The defender was named Soccer America’s rookie of the year in a first championship-winning season in California. She made the US women’s national team but was forced to retire at just 23 after 10 knee surgeries in 10 years.

Fortunately, Lindsey has been coaching since she was 13, taking what she had learned at regional and national youth camps back to Omaha.

“My first national team camp was under-16, I was 13 years old when I first went in. I came from a place where my dad was my coach. I didn’t really ever have a professional coach in the youth set-up and I went to the national team and I saw these players coming from all the big places, California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan and Florida, that’s where all the big-time players were being made, and I was just a little pawn in that world. So I came back to my hometown and just thought: ‘Wow, I’ve gained all this knowledge, I want to give it to the kids in my community’.”

Omaha, a place where “people take care of each other and community matters and your neighbours look out for you” says Lindsey, helped form her coaching philosophy and outlook. “As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that how I lead and how I coach and how I think about players’ livelihoods and life and their experience through football is really based on having grown up in a really positive place where people and coaches cared about me as a human.”

Lindsey coached at the University of Colorado, University of Texas and Saint Mary’s before taking the assistant coach job at Sky Blue FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC). She ended up as head coach and won the league.

She went back into college football before stepping away from the sport. “I asked myself am I doing this because I really love it, or am I doing this because it’s all I’ve ever known, it’s all I’ve ever done?”

Lindsey learned lessons about herself after a career change. “I realised through life coaching that so many people at high levels in their life didn’t get important life lessons because they didn’t play team sports, and it sort of took me full circle and reinvigorated me to get back into football coaching.”

At the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy she met some players from Afghanistan and after some attempts to coordinate with the team she was asked by Khalida Popal, one of the founders, to coach the national side.

“She basically said: ‘You know what we really need is a good coach and we need someone who understands what we’re trying to build and that it’s bigger than football.’”

Coaching the team, including helping the players expose brutal abuses suffered at the hands of the federation president and helping them flee the country after the recent surge to power of the Taliban, taught her that “you’re significantly insignificant”. “This is my mantra from working with these girls. It’s humbling when you can’t communicate in the same way, verbally, how do you connect with humans? When you can’t verbally teach, how do you help them teach each other?

“How do you build a culture when they come from a place where they don’t trust anyone? They don’t trust their neighbours, often they don’t even trust their own family. How do you build trust among these women and allow them to lead each other? It’s a very humbling experience but one I would not ever change, they’ve helped me in my life probably more than I’ve helped them.”

Having worked as women’s football director for the Moroccan football federation and head coach of its women’s national team, Lindsey has now landed in south east England and feels more at home than in a long time.

“Often when you have such deep values, you don’t know where you fit in,” she says. “So to come to a place and just be like: ‘I get to just be myself. I don’t have to question my integrity. I don’t have to make decisions I don’t believe in. I can 100% be myself.’”

The equality message of the club and community values were the big pull. “So much that is holding back sport in general, but especially women’s sport, is just because we don’t view life equally. It’s so important that we can help transition the mentality, within the club and among the people we work with but also with every team that we play against and as we stretch out into England and across the world.

“We can help people see that you can really perform at a high level, care, equally, and make professional decisions equally for men and women, because: why not? Why are men and women not considered equal on this planet? I will never understand. I think we can send a really powerful message to the world.”