In an historic year for English women’s football, one player stood out – Beth Mead. Her journey to success is a story of dedication and bouncing back from knock-backs.
Until the end of the year, the Sensemaker podcast is looking back at the biggest stories of the past 12 months.
Today: the Lionesses’ European triumph, and how Beth Mead became a household name.
“What a night at Bramall Lane and England getting through to the final of the Euro 2022 dominating not only the back pages of the newspapers but the front pages as well…”Sky Sports News
It was a summer like no other for English football.
The England women’s team won the European Championship for the first time. It was the first major football tournament victory for England’s men or women’s teams in 56 years.
Their 2-1 victory over Germany in the final was watched by a TV audience of 17.4 million people in the UK.
And while the goals in that game came from Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly, it was England forward Beth Mead whose name would become synonymous with the tournament.
She won the golden boot, which is awarded to the player who scores the most goals in a competition, and she was also named Player of the Tournament by organisers UEFA.
Her six goals at the Euros also saw her reach 20 goals in 19 games for England, breaking Jimmy Greaves’ longstanding record for the most goals in one season for England.
It was, quite simply, a stellar year for the 27-year-old.
But rewind 12 months, and it was a totally different story for Beth Mead.
“Now the first England squad in the post-Phil Neville era has been announced, with interim manager Hege Riise calling up four uncapped players, but leaving out Nikita Parris and Beth Mead…”Sky Sports News
In February 2021, Beth Mead was left out of the England squad.
The manager at the time, Hege Riise, said it was because her performances for Arsenal weren’t consistent enough.
And Beth Mead was also absent from the Team GB squad that went to the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of that year.
“How you going to be keeping out somebody who’s doing what Beth Mead is doing? So Beth Mead don’t need to do anything because look, I’m saying it for her, and that’s what her staying quiet, getting on with it, and being professional – and this is why I say to the kids: ‘Sometimes it’s not fair, but look at Beth Mead. You make them, you make yourself impossible to ignore.’”The Ringer podcast
That’s Ian Wright, the legendary former Arsenal and England striker, speaking after Beth Mead started the 2021-22 season with a return to form that became known by some as the Beth Mead Revenge Tour.
She was brought back in from the cold by new England manager Sarina Wiegman, scored hat tricks in World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Latvia, and helped Arsenal to second in the Women’s Super League.
Then came the European Championship in the summer, and the performances that saw her name written in the history books.
“Beth Mead scores the opening goal… what a year she is having for England.”England – YouTube
That victory by the Lionesses has already had an impact far beyond the football pitch.
In September, two months after they beat Italy in the final, a record Women’s Super League crowd watched Beth Mead score in Arsenal’s win over Tottenham Hotspur.
And in November a YouGov poll found that women’s football has 8.7 million more fans than it did in 2021.
But unfortunately for Beth Mead her year is ending with an injury. She’s expected to be out for months and faces a race to get fit in time for next summer’s World Cup.
It’s a huge blow for the England team – but her place in history is already secure after her performances this summer alongside the rest of the Lionesses.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that women’s football was banned for fifty years between 1922 and 1972 – and it’s only been in the past decade that the women’s game has benefited from greater investment.
What was once pushed to the sidelines has now become mainstream.
To paraphrase Ian Wright, women’s football has now become so good it’s impossible to ignore.
This episode was written and mixed by Andrew Butler.