2023 has been quite the milestone year for Lioness and Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps. From being crowned the BBC Sports Personality of the Year earlier this week to taking home a silver World Cup medal this summer, the 30-year-old footballer has certainly been busy.
As she partners with Hotels.com for a Perfect 10 interview, the Lioness sits down with HELLO! to exclusively tell us how far women’s football has come in a year that has seen so many highs for the starting goalkeeper herself and the game she loves so dearly, but also how far it has to go.
The World Cup made quite the impact
Taking home a gold medal after a Euros victory last summer and a silver medal at the women’s World Cup in Australia this summer is some feat. The footballer has admitted that just over two and a half years ago she considered quitting the profession altogether. It’s safe to say that fans are pleased the supremely talented athlete stuck with it.
But the ever-humble Mary is acutely aware of the impact the coverage those games received has had in terms of working towards levelling the playing field for women’s sport and doesn’t just see those incredible moments as personal triumphs for herself or her Lioness teammates. “I think the World Cup was incredible. Obviously to come home with a silver medal is a really impressive achievement,” Mary tells us. “I think it’s just continuing to build on that. Enjoy that success but know that I’m not satisfied with where I am. I want to continue to push and to continue to enjoy the big high-pressure moments because they are the most fun.”
The sense of not yet being satisfied ignites a fire in footballers like Mary to keep pushing the game forward. “I think you can see from the World Cup and the success of the World Cup that it’s given women’s football an even bigger platform to continue to push for parity in areas,” she says, and that parity isn’t just about whether the women’s game is covered as thoroughly as the men’s on TV or who gets paid more.
“It becomes a discussion a lot of the time about equal pay which is just really misguided,” she continues. “It’s actually equality of opportunity and equality of facilities and just equality in areas where we’re allowed to go and perform. So put us in a position where we only have to think about performance.”
She adds: “The men’s game is totally different and it becomes an unhealthy discussion about comparing men’s and women’s football. I think it’s just about women’s football wanting to continue to push to not have to fight battles and not overcome obstacles which we’ve had to challenge for so many years.”
A supportive fan base keeps her going
The reaction of Lioness fans spurs Mary and her team on. It was only in the time spent unwinding from the incredible summer tournament that it dawned on the 30-year-old the impact the team has had on young fans in particular. She recalls: “When you’re out there [in Australia] you’re very much in a bubble and the time difference is crazy so you’re not really experiencing anything going on back home.
But definitely since we’ve come back you can feel the difference. I think playing at the Stadium of Light for England in our homecoming game was really really special. The warmth and the reception we got was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of, so am just trying to make the most of every moment.”
Blocking out the noise
Playing in a game that attracts the eyes of the world and has done for so many years comes with a cost and trolling isn’t something taken lightly even by male footballers. Cast your mind back to the phenomenon that was the Beckham documentary where fans, young and mature, were reminded of the backlash thrust upon players like David Beckham back in the nineties and early noughties when the game didn’t go their way. Unfortunately, the women’s game is also not immune.
“I don’t think it’s changed,” Mary tells us. “Footballers are heavily scrutinised, it just comes with the job. I think what’s hard for women’s football is that we don’t live in the same luxurious world that men’s football does, but we get tarred with the same brush.
“We live up to that same level of scrutiny, where I don’t know if villainised is the right word for us, but it’s more we’re watched, we’re looked at, people always have an opinion on football and there’s always somebody who can do it better than you and that comes with having a job in the public light,” she continues. “But we’re exposed to a lot of the same things, without having the same level of protection in terms of being able to live in gated communities or get away from it all, or fly off to a luxurious land for a couple of days.”
The football star reminds us: “That’s not our reality, which we don’t begrudge at all, we actually have a lot in common even though we don’t have the same experiences.”
Despite the criticism, Mary has gotten good at staying grounded and remembering what is important to her. “I think it’s just about being surrounded by good people, you know what’s important to you, you know social media is not real life, but it unfortunately creates a world or a situation where anyone can say anything without any consequences and until that changes, you are still going to see that level of abuse,” she says.
“I just try to base my life on gratitude, the things that give me the fire to get up and go,” she adds. “Those are the things that matter because the reality is a lot of the stuff that’s said online would never be said to your face and I think staying in touch with that is really important.”
Those things, she says, include “waking up, being healthy, being able to have a good cup of coffee, FaceTiming my gran. I feel very lucky to be able to do those things. To be able to go for a walk on a nice day, it’s a bit rare in Manchester but being able to go out for dinner or have moments of peace watching your favourite TV series. Simple pleasures.”
The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year has also honed the skill of drowning out the noise, especially on game day. “I try and stay really in my own zone and not let too much of the outside stuff get in,” she admits. “I think you can use it really positively in moments of success to look back and realise how far you’ve come.”
The TikTok queen
Staying grounded ensures that Mary has remained a reliable role model for her adoring fans, not to mention a highlight of their TikTok feed. The Manchester United star is often found on the app taking part in fun challenges with her Lioness teammates or dancing up a storm to ABBA. It is something, she says, that keeps her in touch with her young fan base.
“I think it’s super important. When you’re talking about the downsides of social media, there are a lot of upsides,” she says. “You get to reach people all over the globe and interact with people who you would never get the opportunity to meet unless they come to games and not everyone can always do that. And football can bring people together in a lot of ways but I think it’s just important that fans or viewers can see the human side of footballers.”
View this post on Instagram
Though she takes to social media for fun and to connect with fans, it is undeniable that these interactions play a part in pushing the women’s game forward as they continue to strengthen the public’s relationship with the sport and its star players. “I think that we can show our personalities online if we feel brave enough to do so, I think that’s the hard part, a lot of people don’t feel brave,” she explains.
“[Footballers] just say the usual cliché answers in interviews because it’s what we’re taught to do and it protects you from potential negative stuff. But if we allow ourselves to be open and be vulnerable and be ourselves, be a bit weird or whatever it is, I think it just sets us apart even more and it creates an even bigger bond with the fans because they feel like they get to see the real you and not just a media-trained robot.”
View this post on Instagram
Being relatable is important to Mary. She tells us: “I think especially women’s football is now on the rise and a lot of us are just normal people with an extraordinary job but we’re very much in that normal category of just going about our lives and doing the best that we can, not with a mad amount of luxury. Yeah, we get to do some fantastic things and opportunities, but it’s not a case of how the other half lives.
“We’re not Kardashians,” she continues, “and I think that makes us really relatable and in touch with reality. We feel and experience a lot of the same problems that everybody else does. You know the mortgage rates rising and things like that and that allows people to feel more connected to us.”
Time off the pitch
Part of showing her fans her life away from the pitch is sharing her passion for travel. The football star has partnered with Hotels.com for a Perfect 10 interview. She revealed that her first travel memory was travelling with the England Under 17s and the excitement of finding out who she would be sharing a room with, not to mention the fun of taking photos with her big camera with the bright flash – she was clearly destined to be a social media star from the beginning
She tells HELLO! that a highlight of time she has spent in London is the chance to unwind at the ME London by Melia. “I just had so much fun there,” she recalls.
As a player who worked tirelessly to represent female goalkeepers by having her shirt accessible for fans and whose same shirt sold out in hours, you can’t help but imagine what is next. What would a young Mary kicking a ball around at her local field back in Nottingham think of all she has achieved, and what is yet to come?
“I don’t think she’d believe it! Young me never thought that I would be a professional footballer, let alone go on and become the TikTok queen and be the best goalkeeper in the world and play in a World Cup,” she confesses. “It’s something that I always dreamt of but it wasn’t really a reality. Women’s football was never on TV, it was just a pipe dream so I think she would look and be pretty chuffed with what she sees.”
View this post on Instagram
What is next?
Her answer to what is next is simple. “More football at the highest level, winning more trophies, continuing to push the level for female goalkeepers in this country and the world and just continue to try and be the best footballer and best person that I can be.”
With her natural determination and infectious warmth, Mary will no doubt continue to inspire young people to develop a love of football. Her advice for the next generation of players, and fans for that matter, is simple: “Do what you love, follow your own path. Be unapologetically yourself.” It is certainly advice that has worked for Mary thus far.