England's EURO 2022 star Beth Mead shares her grassroots football story
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I come from Hinderwell, which is a little village, literally in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire.
I had a lot of energy as a kid and because of that, my mum wanted to get rid of some of that energy and decided to take me to a Saturday morning football session on a village field in Hinderwell, which was run by a guy who volunteered.
I went down there one day and he turned around and said to me and my mum: “It’s fine that you’re coming down to get involved but you will be the only girl here. They are quite rough so will she be ok?”
My mum replied: “She’ll be fine,” because she just wanted to get rid of me I reckon. But when she came back an hour later, he basically said I was rougher than most of the boys!
The guy ended up saying: “She’s quite a talented footballer so you’ll probably need to go a bit further afield to have a chance to play somewhere with other girls.”
I was a country girl with girls from Middlesbrough town so I was out of my comfort zone and I would cry probably on a weekly basis about going there but you get used to these things and eventually, I got my head around it and enjoyed playing football.
I actually joined a boys’ team after that, California Boys, and I loved every minute of it. There was no judgment and they were great with me from day one. I probably played with them for a couple of years until the age when the ban came in. I then played for the California Girls team and went to Middlesbrough’s Centre of Excellence after that.
I am grateful for that time playing with the boys because my development was further ahead than some of the girls who were in the centre of excellence. I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason and I think that helped me in the development of my football career.
It’s amazing that we have these pathways for the young girls now but some of them maybe don’t get that taste of being able to play alongside the boys. There are pros and cons to it I guess.
I used to play for the club and the Centre of Excellence but then they wanted to develop the best girls in that area so they started to do trials to get in every season. I think I was about ten when I started that, so I left the club to concentrate on it and was at the Centre of Excellence from ten until just under 16, when I joined Sunderland Women from 16 until 21.
There were also some of those industrial garages where we used to paint a crossbar on it and play headers and volleys with four or five local boys from the village.
My gran always used to say: “The only boys who come to our door are the ones to see if you want to go out and play football.” It was my favourite thing to do at the time.
At school, there was no girls’ teams. I played at my local village school Oakridge Primary for the boys’ team and I was the only girl playing at the time. The more I played though, there were other girls who wanted to join in and we used to play other schools in the area.
There were about four girls who played in the team alongside the boys and I was captain of the primary school team at the time, so maybe that made the other girls feel more comfortable, seeing I had been accepted and made captain.
We went and won the local primary school cup that year with four girls in the team so that is pretty good when you think about it, especially nearly 20 years ago.
Off the Pitch: Beth Mead
Beth Mead joins Josh Denzel to take a walk around St George's Park and answers some questions, but with one rule - no football chat
When you talk about the guy in Hinderwell who told me to go further afield and said I have something, would we have done it if he hadn’t mentioned it? He may have been someone who only played a small part but it ended up being a big part in the grand scheme of things.
My centre of excellence coaches - I was maybe not great at coming out of my comfort zone and then got to 16 and was meant to go into senior football but they brought in U17s which would have given me an extra year. Some people at the centre wanted me to stay an extra year because I was a good player for them but my coach at the time said: “You need to move on to develop further.”
It shows how those people care about you and care about your football development. My centre of excellence coach Andy Cook was a big influence on me and Mick Mulhern was the manager at Sunderland who picked me up at 16 and played me from day one, had belief in me and gave me the confidence to do what I did for Sunderland at the time.
But I just loved playing football growing up. When you look at the way things are now, the possibilities are endless for the next generation.
I don’t feel like I’m going to work. I feel like I did when I used to go up the park to kick a ball around with my mates every day.
So I would say to any young players, just enjoy your football and be willing to work hard. The game is getting a lot bigger and harder to break into but if you are willing to put the work in, then it will be worth it in the end.
INSPIRED? FIND A GIRLS' CLUB NEAR YOU