The Year Of Mary Earps
Mary Earps in 2023
2023 was the year of Mary Earps. The England and Manchester United goalkeeper had an incredibly successive 12 months both on and off the pitch and has inspired and campaigned for change within the women’s game to continue to grow and progress as we enter 2024. Here’s a look back at her achievements.
Arnold Clark Cup
In February, Earps began her year of success when the Lionesses won the Arnold Clark Cup. Having been the first winners of the competition when it began in 2022, England looked to defend their title in 2023, and that they did.
England welcomed Belgium, Korea Republic and Italy to the second edition of the tournament with the games hosted at Stadium MK, the CBS Arena and Ashton Gate.
The Lionesses’ first challenge was against Korea Republic on February 16th at Stadium MK, a game which they dominated with 80% possession and 32 shots seeing them achieve a 4-0 victory on matchday one.
Next up was Italy on February 19th with Rachel Daly’s brace giving England their second win in front of an attendance of 32,128 fans that broke the record for any sporting event at the CBS arena.
Matchday three was a seven-goal thriller between England and Belgium that saw the Lionesses retain their title and extend their unbeaten run of games to 29 with Earps playing a huge part in this - her saves were crucial in keeping her team fighting in games, and securing sensational clean sheets.
Another trophy was added to the Lionesses’ trophy cabinet in June 2023 when they won the first ever Women’s Finalissima. The reigning European champions were pitied against the Copa America Femenina champions, Brazil, at Wembley, with England victorious for the first time in their history in a penalty shootout.
With the game tied at 1-1, a penalty shootout was forced. Georgia Stanway, Rachel Daly and Alex Greenwood all converted from the spot, with Mary Earps making an incredible shootout save, goading the Brazilian captain, Rafaelle, to hit the crossbar, leaving the deciding penalty to Chloe Kelly. The Manchester City forward became the heroine at Wembley once again, firing home England’s fifth penalty.
The Lionesses lifted their fourth trophy in 14 months with Mary Earps at the forefront of the celebrations, lifting the trophy alongside captain, Leah Williamson.
Women’s World Cup runner-up
Mary Earps was part of the England team that brought football fans across the whole of the country a very special summer. For the first time ever, the Lionesses were in a World Cup final and despite not taking home gold, they helped to change the course of women’s football in England forever. Mary Earps cemented her name alongside the title ‘best Women’s Goalkeeper’ as she was presented with the Golden Glove award and created a memorable moment England fans will never forget by saving Jenni Hermoso’s penalty in the final, keeping England’s dreams alive until the very last minute of the game.
Off the pitch, she was just as influential. Unhappy with Nike’s decision not to sell replica Lionesses goalkeeper shirts for commercial reasons, Earps used her platform to express how hurt she was by the decision because “it’s a very scary message that’s being sent to goalkeepers worldwide that “you’re not important”. Her achievements throughout 2023 alone have shown that this is certainly not the case.
In support of the England goalkeepers, more than 170,000 signatures were collected on a petition calling for Nike to make replica Lionesses goalkeeping shirts available for sale, with Nike eventually putting them up for sale. Earps said she believed Nike has learnt lessons over the ‘injustice’ of not making them for sale along with the shirts of outfield players. On the Football Association website on December 11th, Earps’ shirt sold out in five minutes, with the supply on the official Nike website also drained that day. Mary Earps is bringing change to the game.
Similarly, Manchester United reported in August that Earps’ goalkeeper shirt was the second-highest seller among their women’s squad, only behind England team-mate Ella Toone.
As well as winning the Golden Glove at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup having kept three clean sheets across the tournament, she also claimed the WSL Golden Glove after keeping 14 shutouts across the 2022/23 campaign and helping her team, Manchester United, to the FA Cup final.
It was a record number of clean sheets across that season taking her WSL career total to 56 - yet another record. United had their best WSL season to date finishing as runners-up with the best defensive record - Earps only conceded 12 goals!
England Player of the Year
The awards didn’t stop there for Earps internationally as she was voted England Women’s Player of the Year. The 30-year-old goalkeeper took to Instagram saying: “Wow, feel so humbled and grateful to be named England’s Women’s Player of the year! Bit emotional actually! Thank you to everyone that voted for me and thank you to my incredible team-mates.”
She made 18 international appearances during the year with six clean sheets: three at the World Cup and one in a friendly against Portugal, and two in the Women’s Nations League against Belgium and Scotland.
PFA WSL Team of the Year and Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year
The 50th Professional Footballers’ Association Awards saw Mary Earps honoured in the Women’s Super League Team of the Year alongside two of her Manchester United teammates - Ona Batlle and Maya Le Tissier - after their second-place finish in the 22/23 season. And then Earps claimed the title of the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year adding another trophy to her ever-growing collection.
BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year
The biggest names in women’s football were shortlisted for this award including Women’s World Cup winner, Aitana Bonmati and the Matildas and Chelsea striker, Sam Kerr, but Mary Earps came out on top once again. Becoming the first goalkeeper to win the award, Earps was crowned BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, telling the BBC: “I try to use my story as a beacon of hope for people. To show that there are better days coming. You just have to keep going and keep fighting; that looks very different to different people. I think there was a time, when no one was watching what I was doing. To work hard in silence, on your own, nobody notices what you do. It doesn’t matter what you do, apart from to yourself and your own standards. I think that is a big part of where I am today, and sort of the resilience that I’ve shown and I know there are going to be many more moments where I’m going to need that resilience.”
Goalkeeping legend, Peter Schmeichel, shared a message to Mary saying: “Hi Mary, what a great achievement for you to be named Women’s Footballer of the Year! It doesn’t happen very often to goalkeepers I have to say, being ‘player of the year’ anywhere, really. It’s always the girls or the guys who score the goals, not the ones who prevent them. But you’ve had a fantastic season and it’s so well deserved. And of course, you are making our club Manchester United so very, very proud. So keep up the good work and once again, many many congratulations.”
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
Ending the year on the highest of highs, the England goalkeeper won BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2023.
Up against heptathlon champion, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, golfer, Rory Mcllroy, jockey, Frankie Dettori, England cricketer, Stuart Broad, and wheelchair tennis player, Alfie Hewett, Earps triumphed claiming the trophy as the second women’s footballer in succession to do so.
England teammate, Beth Mead, took the award in 2022 following Emma Raducanu’s success in 2021, making Mary Earps the third woman to win in a row, something that has happened since the 1960s.
The Lionesses superstar admitted she was on the brink of retirement after sitting on the bench as England’s third-choice goalkeeper at the 2019 World Cup and failing to make the following Lionesses squad, but Sarina Wiegman’s appointment as manager changed the course of her life bringing her a new spotlight and unbridled success. And Wiegman’s faith in her has definitely paid off with the England keeper having an immensely successful 2023 that is sure to continue in 2024.
In fact, it has already begun. At the FIFA Best Awards, Mary Earps won best women’s goalkeeper for the second successive year and was named in the FIFA FIFPRO Women’s World XI. Whilst she won the award for best goalkeeper last year, she missed out on the team of the year, but after a stellar 2023, it was impossible for her to not be included this year alongside taking the goalkeeper award. Her acceptance speech was as follows: “I talk a lot about how it wasn’t the easiest journey here, I took the scenic route, but looking back now, it all makes sense.
It made me so much more prepared for the challenges I face today, and not to take a day for granted.
If you are struggling, keep going. It is never too late to be who you are – 2023 showed we can change the world if we speak out against injustice, so let’s keep doing that.”
Here’s to 2024…