Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps, affectionately known as “Mearps”, may now be firmly ensconced as England’s number one after her heroic displays at the Euros – and impassioned leadership of the table-dancing celebrations that followed – but her chances of even being part of the squad once looked remote.
Prior to the arrival of Sarina Wiegman as England manager in September 2021, Earps believed her form was so poor she might never return to the national team, having made her debut against Switzerland in 2017 but received only a handful of caps thereafter before falling out of favour.
While Earps went on to win the Fifa ‘Best’ award following the Euros, it was not long after she had considered quitting the game altogether.
“I can vividly remember the days of feeling really down and I’d sort of reached my limits and given it a good go but I just wasn’t quite good enough. I had responsibilities, I had a mortgage and it wasn’t adding up,” she told the BBC earlier this year.
“Eventually I decided ‘OK, I’ll give it a couple more years…’ And then Sarina came in and life changed, literally like that. I felt like she really understood where I came from and had empathy for me as a human being. Not something I’ve experienced a lot in football over the years. I like her directness, her honesty.”
Originally from Nottingham, Earps, now 30, was spotted playing for West Bridgford Colts by Leicester City and was taken into its youth academy but never made a senior appearance, moving on to Nottingham Forest and then Doncaster Rovers Belles, where she briefly established herself before being sent out on loan to Coventry City without playing.
Spells with Birmingham City, Bristol Academy and Reading followed – during which period she completed a business studies degree at Loughborough University – and then a move to Frauen-Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg before she finally found a permanent home at United in 2019.
Now one of the most confident performers in the squad thanks to Wiegman’s encouragement, the shift in Earps’ self-esteem was evident in her reaction to narrowly failing to save Brazil’s first penalty in April’s Finalissima shootout, the keeper remembering in an interview this month: “In that moment, I’m thinking: ‘Is this going to be how my day is going to go? I’m going to be close, but not close enough?’
“I said to myself: ‘No chance. This is mine – and I’m having it.’”