Published 30 December 2021 6 min read
Mary Earps on riding the rollercoaster of 2021
The England Women's goalkeeper looks back on what she describes as a 'wild year' in 2021
2021 has been a landmark year for English football, both on the men’s and women’s side. But few players could claim to have had the rollercoaster year experienced by Mary Earps.
If we roll back time to the start of 2021, Earps was entering the final months of her Manchester United contract and was seriously considering walking away from the game, having accepted that her international career was over.
With no caps since November 2019 and her 28th birthday fast approaching, Earps sat down with her nearest and dearest to explain why she was considering leaving the game she loves so much.
But fast-forward to December and new England Women’s senior team head coach Sarina Wiegman has started Earps in all six of her games in charge and the Nottingham-born stopper is now on course to be part of the squad for a home European Championship next summer.
“It has been a wild year,” said Earps.
“Going back to the beginning of the year, I could never have written the end of this year. Not a chance. I could never have predicted half of what has happened. It has been a real crazy year.
“I was in the final year of my contract at United last year and was weighing up options of whether to play, whether not to play, whether I was going to go into the business world and use my degree there.
"But then the opportunity arose for me to extend my contract at United in a way where I felt positive about it and now it's led me to here. I couldn’t write it.
“I haven't even taken the time to digest any of it. I'm just trying to be present in the moment because things change so quickly and you spend so much time praying and working hard and wishing for things and then when you are in them, you just want more.
“It's so easy to get lost in that. Nothing is ever enough and I really like that phrase that many moons ago you were wishing and hoping and working for days like these so I just try to focus on the moment and enjoy every second.
“So I haven't got many reflections on the year. Just a wild, rollercoaster year.”
Earps had to be patient when it came to international football, with the likes of Karen Bardsley, Ellie Roebuck and Carly Telford between the sticks and by November 2019 she'd earned eight caps.
Little did she know that her appearance against Germany in November 2019, in front of a record-breaking 77,768 fans at Wembley Stadium connected by EE, would be her last for almost two years.
20 Sep 2021 6:06
Mary Earps in goalkeeper training
Watch the England goalkeepers in training at St. George's Park in 2021
Earps is a big personality, one of the jokers in the Lionesses squad, but she's also a dedicated professional and an extremely talented goalkeeper.
After all, this is someone who was signed by one of the best teams in Europe, Wolfsburg, back in 2018 and although she only went on to make four starts during her year in Germany, it was a time which benefited Earps as a player and a person.
But what many do not know is that she also has several interests away from the game, having previously acquired an information management and business studies degree from Loughborough University.
She explained: “[Moving away from football] was definitely part of the conversation. I spoke to my dad and my mum about it. I said ‘this is my thought process, these things have happened over the last few years, and what do I want from my life and what do I want for my future? I really need to consider it as an option’.
“I think part of them was disappointed because they know how much I love the game but they also respect that you have to, at some point, think about the future and think about where your life is.
“Women’s football is very different to men’s football. It's not a normal job and it's not a case of you are set for life in that way, you have to plan. I never shy away from that harsh reality.
“At that time I wanted to play for many more years and felt I could but it was definitely a conversation and discussion I was having with my family and closest friends.”
This year has been a huge one for women’s football, with the new Barclays FA Women’s Super League TV deals with Sky Sports and the BBC helping to bring increased exposure to the game.
But like many of the professional footballers in the men’s game, Earps is well aware that when it comes to hanging up her boots in the future, she will need a plan.
Earps explained how she has used the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to develop as a person and a footballer, both physically and mentally.
She explained: “I think it's really important that you are smart. As wonderful as football is and as amazing as the opportunities are, you also have to plan for the future.
“It doesn’t matter what you are doing, you need to keep in mind saving for a raining day, investing in things or investing into your future. It's really important, especially in the industry we are in. It is something you can do alongside your playing.
“I have a love of property, I'm really big on that and I'm also really interested in business. My brother is an engineer and we've been looking at designing some training products together, which is in prototype at the moment and is really exciting.
“So I like to have that balance. While football is my life and my career, it's also really healthy to have some other focuses to not make your football so intense.
“It's healthy to have other things you are working on to distract you from the game and allow you to switch off because otherwise you end up being on 365 days a year.”
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So does having an international career, only to then believe it was over, mean she is now enjoying each England camp that much more?
“For sure,” Earps replied. “It definitely feels different this time. I'm a little bit older and a bit more experienced. The experience that I went through taught me a lot of things, gave me a different perspective on a lot of things.
“I was actually talking to Keets (Nikita Parris) about it last night and she was talking about her time at Lyon and some of the experiences over her career and I was talking about my experiences at Wolfsburg and my experiences over the last couple of years and it just feels different.
“You have a different perspective on things and I just want to be happy, playing football and giving my absolute best. That's all I can ever ask of myself and whatever opportunities come my way, I just want to grab them with both hands.”
Earps has certainly done that following the appointment of Sarina Wiegman.
The 28 year old described the experienced Dutch coach as having been "brilliant" and believes it has been a fresh start for all English players.
Earps is hopeful Wiegman will help take her game to the next level and enable England to "get that final little bit and become a trophy-winning team".
But Earps was also keen to stress: “I don’t really have any [hopes for next year]. I know that sounds really silly but my only hope is for me to be happy and playing to the best of my ability.
“Of course, I want to play well and I want to be doing everything I can to be playing my best for United and England but not all of those things are in my control and I just want to play the game I love and enjoy it. It's as simple as that when it comes to my hopes and goals.”
So has she really not allowed herself to think about what it would be like to stand in goal, at Wembley Stadium, Old Trafford or one of the other stadiums being used, during a home EURO 2020?
“No chance,” she swiftly replied.
“It's surreal for me to even be in this position again, I never thought I would get another cap. A major tournament I could not even put it into words. It was never on my radar really.
“I thought I would be going to Old Trafford [for the England v Austria game] as a fan and I still might be. I never take things for granted. Things can change really quickly, I have learned that, and I will just keep playing with a smile on my face and then I won’t fall short of where I want to be and then we will see what happens.”