“I think it’s important to hand advice on. Some fans followed me from the age of 17-18 and took a shine to me before I’d even done anything.” – Beth Mead (Arsenal & England)
At just 24-years-old, Beth Mead is one of the most recognised names in British football. Capped 25 times for her country already, she formed part of the starting 11 that made it to a World Cup semi-final.
Bubbly and vigorously passionate, Mead has been described as a player who “could go to the moon” by Lionesses manager Phil Neville. It’s clear the forward is someone who was bitten by the sports bug from birth.
“I just loved all kinds of sports. Cross country, cricket – anything.” the Arsenal winger said. “I was six when I first started playing football.
Roughing it with the boys
“I used to go to a local Sunday morning session and I’d play with the boys. I loved it from the first minute. My mum was warned that the boys were quite rough, and was asked if I’d be okay. But she said I was rougher than most of the boys!
“I remember my local cricket team were one short one night, so I said I’d play and I caught two balls that night. Everyone referred to it as the ‘Mead Show’,” the 24-year-old laughed.Embed from Getty Images
“I just enjoyed playing any sport though – I was never the girl that forgot her PE kit. Although, I did have to work harder academically.
“I was lucky that I had the sport gene though, and even luckier that I loved it so much.”
When it came to her pathway into professional sport, however, there was only ever one real option for Mead.
“When I play football, it’s an indescribable feeling. I love what I’m doing, I love everything about the game. It was always going to be football.”
While the grassroots world Mead grew up had more limitations than the current climate, she still feels indebted to the coaches that first recognized her talent.
“There weren’t a lot of girls training as a kid, so I’m pleased I had the opportunity to play with the boys more often. I think it helped me develop quicker than I probably would have.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s different now. But the pathways maybe weren’t there when I was younger, as they are now.
“There was someone who used to watch the games from the balcony that ran a team called California Girls. A few professionals came from there. He recognized my talent and said I should join them because he thought I was a canny little player.
“Originally, I wanted to play in the boys’ team, as that was what I was used to, having played from age 10-12 in a boys’ team.”
Middlesbrough and beyond
“I was picked up by the Middlesbrough Centre of Excellence – it’s called Middlesbrough RTC now – and there was a rule where you couldn’t play for two clubs, it was one or the other. I knew I was going to develop from the Centre of Excellence, but I owe it to Dave Scott who brought me to California Girls. From there, everything spiralled.
“I was coached by Andy Cook – who’s now manager of Nottingham Forest Women. He told me to strive for what I could and from there I moved to Sunderland. I still speak Andy regularly, he was great for me.”
When asked who she looked up to as a teen, unsurprisingly Mead’s answer was another household name for the region. However, even the most imaginative mind couldn’t have predicted how much their paths would align.Embed from Getty Images
“I used to look up to Jordan [Nobbs], who was at the Centre of Excellence too. She was in the age group above me but was known for playing for the England youth teams and a huge talent.
“I followed a similar pathway to her. She was at Middlesbrough, then went to Sunderland and now I’m at Arsenal with her. I told her that I was a stalker – I’m just following her!” Mead joked.
The growth of the game
The growth of the women’s game hasn’t gone unnoticed by the 24-year-old, but she knows there’s still strides to be made.
“I’ve seen such a jump since I started. I’m playing full time in the top league and all the girls in that league are full-time. There are still barriers, but I’m so lucky to be at Arsenal where they drive us forward and support us,” Mead reflected.
“Attendances are going up, but we could still get even more. We’ve played in a few of the men’s stadiums with bigger crowds, so I suppose pushing for bigger stadiums to get bigger crowds is important for the women’s game.”
There can be no denying the women’s game is growing rapidly, but Mead believes the importance of being a role model to those girls following a pathway into the game is paramount.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s in the water. The love of football in the North East is very different. We might not have had all the opportunities we’d have liked at the time, but I think we were given the right guidance at the right time.
“I think it’s important. Daisy [Stokoe] followed me from a young age and took a shine to me. Daisy’s from Whitby, so is a homegirl like me, and I always wanted to support her when she needs it. She’s on a similar path.
“It’s nice for her to see it’s possible to build from where she’s at now to go wherever she wants to go to.”
Stokoe is currently part of Middlesbrough’s U16s set up, and with role models like Beth Mead leading the way, you’d be a fool to write off the women’s game expanding more than ever before – and soon.