Beth Mead shares her inspirations

Beth Mead shares her inspirations

Who was your childhood inspiration? How did they inspire you?

A big inspiration for me in football was Kelly Smith, which is quite apt. Obviously, she's a big Arsenal legend and she was one of the very few England players we knew about at the time. Kelly was someone I looked up to and she was a big reason why I wanted to come to Arsenal. I would have had the chance to play with her but unfortunately, she retired the same season I signed. I didn’t take it personally! 

It’s great that Kelly joined the coaching staff this season. I had a conversation with the girls the other day about how amazing and surreal it is to have her here. I was thinking, as a kid, I completely idolised her and now I’m just talking to her as if it’s normal. It’s not often that you get the chance to casually chat with one of your heroes. It does feel normal now because she’s become another member of our team but sometimes I catch myself and realise how weird it is!

What is it like when others see you as an inspiration?

People like Kelly are legends of the game but I also know now they’re just normal human beings! It's been interesting to be on the other side when a young girl's looking up to me in a similar way that I did with Kelly when I was younger. 

When I see people walking around with my name and number on the back of their kit, it’s very surreal. It still very much baffles me when someone is so excited to see me. That shows how far the game has gone and it's amazing but at the same time, I want them to know that I'm still me. I've just worked hard and have played a game that I love playing.

You don’t even realise it sometimes but it’s always a privilege to have an effect on people. If I can help someone even a little bit, then that’s great.

What inspired you to play football?

The first person who inspired me to play football was my mum. She took me to my first-ever football session when I was six years old. I had a lot of energy as a kid but she knew I was sporty so I think she wanted to try and wear me out a little! So I went along to a boys' football training one day, just for an hour. Beforehand, my mum was told that the boys would be quite rough and then the coach came back and told her that I was rougher than most of the boys. That didn’t really surprise her!

Growing up, there was always football on the TV in my house but my family also loved a lot of different sports. Football was always my favourite but I liked playing them all! My mum was the same - she was very good at athletics - and my dad did Sunday league. My brother did attempt to play football for a bit but I must have got the one football gene.

"It still very much baffles me when someone is so excited to see me. I want them to know that I'm still me."

How important is family to you? What values have they taught you?

They’re super important to me. I've always been told to stay humble. Keep my feet grounded. Never expect anything to just be given to you - you have to work hard and earn it.

When my dad was my coach back in Middlesborough, he always made sure he wouldn't treat me any differently than any of the other girls. He always said, ‘You earn the right to play.’ If I ever started messing about in session, he’d make me do laps of the field so I stopped doing that pretty quickly!

Tell us about a coach that has particularly inspired you.

Mick Mulhern, my first coach at Sunderland, was just brilliant. He made the transition from the Centre of Excellence to women's football so easy for me.

I started playing at the senior level at 16 and was given the number 9 shirt but as a coach, he never put me under any pressure. He just believed in me. Mick had so much time for me and he didn’t even know what I was capable of yet. I really enjoyed working with him.

Was there ever a time when you didn’t feel like playing football? Why?

There’s never ever been a moment where I wanted to stop playing football. When I was younger, there were times when I struggled to step out of my comfort zone and I did once get so worked up about going to an England camp that I had to gather myself a bit emotionally.

I just told myself, “You’re being silly. You love football.” Obviously, it was more mind over matter at that point. I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t play football.

Is there a game early in your career that you still think back to now?

I think one of the biggest games that I've ever played was in 2015, so I was about 19 at the time. It was back when I was at Sunderland and we were up against Chelsea, who were unbeaten in the league at the time. I remember the team being so united and they really believed in me as a forward, as a goalscorer.

We all just put our hearts on the line in that game and it worked: we won 4-0 and I got a hat trick. It’s one of those standout games that I’ll always remember because we were underdogs, we stuck by each other as a team and we got our reward.

I still have that underdog mentality now. I wear my heart on my sleeve when I play. Nothing’s ever given to you in football, regardless of what team you play for and I think that hard work is an important trait to have, even within a successful team. 

Can you think of a game when a particular moment inspired the whole team?

I've had plenty for Arsenal but the Champions League game against Lyon this year springs to mind. We went in as the underdogs with no expectations and then we beat the reigning champions 5-1. A convincing win like that is always a nice one to be a part of.

It was a while ago now but do you remember the reasons that inspired you to join Arsenal?

I always loved Arsenal. The manager actually got in touch with me the year I was promoted with Sunderland and I chose to stay because I needed a little bit more experience at that level and wanted to play regularly. I was lucky that the club still wanted me in 2017 because it was the right time to move here. It’s so hard not to love Arsenal! I think even people who aren’t involved in the club still appreciate what we’re about. 

I fell in love with the club as soon as I signed. Arsenal sits deep in my heart and I love being here. We're pushing forward in the game and everyone in the club is so supportive of one another. As a women’s team, we’re never made to feel like outsiders. It's been incredible to see the transition from where it started and be a part of that. It’s very much a family away from family.

How important are the supporters to lift the team?

Looking at the Champions League and how many people came, it’s incredible to see the support we've been given. We sold out the stadium and they were actual Arsenal fans - they were so invested! We sell out Meadow Park every week, we’ve sold out Emirates Stadium once and I’m sure we’ll do it again.

Over the years I’ve seen those changes happen. A couple of hundred people, if that, used to come and watch us, so if you compare that to now, it's amazing how many people are getting invested in the game and in us as a team 

I know it takes time and effort for them to come and support us. I must say the support this season throughout all the challenges we've had within the team has been especially brilliant and the girls will forever be grateful for that. Now we just need to keep that connection going.

Are you someone who needs revving up before a game or the opposite?

It’s very much a case of having the music on and I’ll have a dance or start acting like a bit of an idiot to make people feel a bit more settled. I always try and keep it lighthearted in the dressing room. 

Out on the pitch, I’m not an overthinker. I do what I do and try to be the very best version of myself every time I play.

Is there a teammate who can really inspire you?

As a team, I've been inspired by every single one of them, especially with how they’ve dealt with everything this season and helped each other.

Kim Little is obviously the ultimate professional who inspires you every day to be a better person and a better footballer. For people like Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord, who’ve come all the way from Australia, I think that's inspiring in itself because it's not an easy thing to do. It’s the same for all the other girls who have moved over to try and develop. I found it hard enough to move to London and I'm English! So for them, I understand what it takes and what they’ve sacrificed to be here.

What has helped you stay inspired during your recovery from injury?

My mum always told me to take one step at a time, which I always do. In recovery, it becomes one day at a time because I think you've got to break things down sometimes, especially when it's tough. My motivation was to get as close to the World Cup as possible and that's what I've been striving to do with my rehab. I'm not gonna make that but it's given me a target to push towards. Striving for a goal has meant that after the summer, I’ll be ready and super fit for next season.

I've been working hard to be ahead of what I should be and that's a motivation in itself. It makes me feel good. With Viv going through the same injury at the same time, it’s been important that we’re there for each other. She asks questions about how I found certain parts of my recovery, so I can reassure her that it's all normal and that she's doing great. We inspire each other each day, and we motivate and egg each other on, as well as wanting to kill each other at the same time!

Laura has also moved in with us now and we're looking after her in the early days of her surgery. After the season finishes, everyone goes home to do their own thing or have time off before the World Cup so we’re supporting her and giving her a bit of love. 

It’s been really difficult but we’ve shown what a special group of people we have at this club. We all care about every single person in the team and we want them to succeed but we’ll also be there times are tough. I think we've been pretty amazing at getting each other through those moments.

Where have you felt the most inspired?

It might not be somewhere you’d expect but I remember playing against Luxembourg with the Lionesses last year. After the game, the girls came up to me and we swapped shirts, but one girl told me she was retiring because she couldn't afford to play for the national team alongside a job. 

I just think, in this day and age, it's so inspiring to know that girls are doing that. They're working so hard to get the best out of situations when the opportunities just aren’t there for them. It goes to show that no matter how far the game has come in some places, there’s still so much work to do elsewhere.

"It’s been really difficult but we’ve shown what a special group of people we have at this club. we've been pretty amazing at getting each other through those moments."

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