Last summer we heard the story of how Harry Maguire had travelled to France as an England fan in 2016. Two years later he was representing his country at a World Cup. Madness.
What we might not hear as much about this summer is the story of how an uncapped Beth Mead travelled to the Netherlands in 2017 to watch the Lionesses. Two years on and she will be representing her country in a World Cup. Madness?
Mead made her England debut in April 2018, coming on as a substitute in a 0-0 World Cup qualifier against Wales. Five months later she made her first start, scoring twice in a 6-0 victory over Kazakhstan. Originally from Whitby, the forward graduated from Middlesbrough’s Centre of Excellence in 2011 then joined Sunderland at the age of 16. Mead spent six years there, finishing with a record of 77 goals in 78 games which eventually earned her a move to WSL Champions Arsenal.
Despite being a renowned goalscorer, Mead’s credentials have gone somewhat under the radar, until now. She was overlooked for an England cap by previous manager Mark Sampson. Even as Sunderland’s star player and regular top scorer, she had to wait for a chance to play for one of the country’s ‘big’ clubs.
It’s no surprise then that Mead has taken her international chance with both hands since Phil Neville first involved her with the Lionesses. The She Believes Cup in February was her first international tournament and Mead made her mark with a sublime goal against World Champions the United States. The cross/shot goal, dubbed a ‘crot’ by Neville after Mead scored a similar strike in a WSL match against Liverpool, was shared numerous times on social media.
Since joining Arsenal, Mead has had to adapt her style of play with competition for the No.9 role forcing her to play on the wing. This has allowed her to add assists to her game, she made 12 in the las WSL season, and gives her a greater chance of making the Lionesses’ starting line-up. The attacking positions is arguably the area which will give Phil Neville the biggest headache ahead of the opening game against Scotland with the likes of Ellen White, Toni Duggan, Frank Kirby and Nikita Parris all able to operate either through the middle or out wide. That’s without considering top scorer in the 2017 European Championships Jodie Taylor and the experienced Karen Carney.
While Mead may be less well known to some of the opposition teams than some of the other names mentioned, this could work in her favour. Parris has just secured a high profile move to Champions League winners Lyon, Jodie Taylor has been playing in America for several years, Toni Duggan is at Barcelona and Fran Kirby was once described as the ‘female Messi’. Neville revealed recently he told Mead she was ‘too nice’ but that the player has since thrived from his tough love. Mead’s strong finish to the WSL season seems to back up that claim and it was enough to earn her a place in his 23-player World Cup squad.
A few months ago Mead may have been viewed as a squad player for the tournament, someone to bring off the bench if you need a goal. But now the 24-year-old is in contention to start the Lionesses’ opening game and it would be difficult for Neville to look overlook the forward.
Mead may have gone under the radar in the past but this could be the moment she makes her mark on the international stage.