Mary Earps: A Legend In The Making

For hundreds of years, football has been the most beloved sport in England, but up until 1971, it was banned for women and female teams across the UK. 

Women’s football in England has seen gigantic growth since the Lionesses’ success at the Euros in 2022. They beat Germany 2-1 in the finals and brought home the first major football victory to England since the infamous men’s win in 1966. Continuing from that, the Lionesses have proven to be an inspiration for young people across the UK, with none more so than our star goalkeeper: Mary Earps.

Mary Earps’ senior England team debut came in the July of 2017, six years ago, and capped again during the Women’s World Cup in 2019. However, Mary Earps became England’s fourth-choice goalkeeper and after their defeat against Sweden for third place during the 2019 World Cup, she considered giving up football, and goalkeeping, altogether. And yet, she had shown nothing other than complete determination and resilience to keep going, and when Sarina Weigman took over as the England manager, her football career took a sharp turn towards the skies. 

Fast forward three years, and Mary Earps is playing in the famous final against Germany in the Women’s European Championship 2022. Her sheer skill and talent shone through, and success soon followed – England won, and made history for women’s football in the UK. Football for young girls across England changed that day and has been growing and developing rapidly ever since. 

Pushing through another year, and despite missing key players such as Beth Mead and Leah Williamson due to injury, our Lionesses had made the final of the biggest Women’s World Cup to date.

Mary Earps had played in all the matches leading up to the eventual final, even winning Player of the Match against Nigeria, earning herself the nickname ‘Mary: Queen of Stops.’ 

20th August 2023 – the highly anticipated day of the final arrived. The match was an incredibly tense one, with a clear highlight for England being Mary’s outstanding save of the penalty awarded to Spain for a handball. Her talent, fierceness and genuine brilliance completed the entire match and despite the heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Spain, she was deservedly awarded the Golden Glove – having been the best goalkeeper of the entire tournament. 

After her success of being crowned the best female goalkeeper in the world, copies of her jersey were, understandably, in incredibly high demand. And yet, despite her incredible success, the sporting brand Nike refused to sell her, and some others, goalkeeper’s jersey for ‘commercial reasons’.

Nike immediately fell under immensely heavy criticism (notably from MP Tracey Crouch, and many fellow and former Lioness teammates), coming after the final being one of the most watched British broadcasts of the year, peaking at 14.8 million viewers. 

England’s No.1 called out Nike and their actions as ‘extremely hurtful’, especially after ‘fighting (with them) behind closed doors’, saying that it was an ‘incredibly scary message being sent to goalkeepers worldwide.’ She received an outpouring of global support from the public, with over 170,000 signing a fan-made petition to get her jersey available on the England website. 

Later that August, Nike U-Turned, and without making any specific apology, her Number 1 jerseys eventually became available alongside the other England shirts. Yet, it remains shocking that she had to undergo this unfairness in the first place. Despite the rise in popularity, the inequality deep rooted within football is displayed so clearly here, as the shirt was only sold once a profit would be made for Nike. Despite having the status of an England goalkeeper, her jersey was not deemed worthy enough to be sold simply because of her status as a female footballer. 

The most recent batch of Mary Earps replica shirts went on sale on Monday the 11th of December, and sold out in just five minutes, with the demand being so high Nike was unable to keep up with the production. The rest of the goalkeeper shirts, belonging to players such as Khiara Keating, sold out within eighty minutes, truly displaying the popularity of the England goalkeepers. 

Pushing through the Nike scandal, Earps played another month, playing as a goalkeeper for Manchester United in the Women’s Super League (the WSL – the highest league of women’s football in England featuring teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City). She was awarded the Player of the Year Award for England 22-23, with the defenders Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood coming second and third. Not only this, but she is now a recipient of the BBC’s Sportsperson of the Year Award, with Beth Mead, another Lioness, winning the year before. 

However, despite her immense success, she faced a torrent of hatred from a range of sources, one notably being the male footballer Joey Barton. He openly criticised her, claiming she was “So popular Nike didn’t even sell a replica jersey before the tournament”, using his power as a male footballer (with a platform) to mock her struggles against the systemic misogyny within the football world. He described Mary as a “big sack of spuds that plays in goal for a girl’s team”, also claiming women don’t have the “capabilities” to talk about male football. Barton belittled the struggles women, such as Mary Earps, have faced within the football world in order to retain his platform and stay relevant (and incredibly harmful) within the game. Mary never commented on his opinions, but it is clear to most that his ignorant opinions, and people with those like his, are the reason why so many struggles are still deep rooted within women’s football. 

Leading on from this, it shows how desperately in need support women’s football across the globe is. Following the Lionesses’ success, over £30 million has been pledged to fund girl’s teams, new, modernised pitches, and to encourage over 1 million young girls to “get active” by 2025. 

And yet so much more is needed. Mary Earps, Joey Barton and Nike are just the tip of the iceberg. Further support is still needed for so many more issues, for example further support for pregnant players, more encouragement for young girls, issues surrounding ACL injuries…

It is players such as Mary Earps, and her trailblazing attitude, that make these changes possible. 

What an incredible and inspirational woman. She has completely changed the history, and future course, of women’s football, acting as a goal-keeping role-model and inspiration for young girls across the world, with both her insane football skills and her strong beliefs centred around self-love and confidence. (Also, she is an absolute TikTok queen- her page has amassed over one million followers! ). 

To finish, a beautiful quote from Mary Earps. 'There’s only one of you in the world, and that is more than good enough.'

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