Mary Earps’s Sports Personality of the Year Win Is Another Milestone for Women’s Football

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Mary Earps, goalkeeper for England’s Lionesses and Manchester United, was named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2023, becoming the third woman in succession to bag the coveted award. Earps, who was part of the World Cup squad this summer and won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper of the tournament, said when she collected the award: “It feels pretty great off the back of a couple of really big years and 2023 has been wild in ways I couldn’t expect . . . I’m really, really grateful.”

And a wild couple of years it has been. The Lionesses have undoubtedly put the spotlight on women’s football after years of it being pushed aside for the men’s game, and as Earps follows 2022’s Lioness winner, Beth Mead, in the public vote, it surely proves that women’s football is growing in popularity. “The Lionesses winning #SPOTY two years on the bounce. Making up for the past and paving the way for the future. Well done #MaryEarps,” tweeted one fan on X, formerly Twitter. “MY HERO!!!!!! SPOTY 2023 WINNER MARY EARPS,” wrote another.

However, as has become par for the course on social media, there was also an influx of negativity following the SPOTY announcement. And in a move that will shock you as much as Mariah Carey being played at your Christmas party, the negativity stemmed predominantly from men. “Mary Earps is, at best, a Conference level goalkeeper. To win SPOTY illustrates the nonsense this has become and the woke state of our country. Make this the last one ffs, it’s utterly pointless now,” wrote one X user. If a woman winning a deserved award is “woke”, then let’s shout it louder so more can hear, the award is voted for by the public. So sorry pal, but you’re in the minority.

Piers Morgan, of course, waded into the argument, too. “Trying to get my head around two of England’s women footballers winning BBC SPOTY in successive years… while male sporting superstars with great personalities like Rory McIlroy, Frankie Dettori & Ronnie O’Sullivan have never won it,” he posted. Because maybe, just maybe, there are women sporting superstars with great personalities, too?! Crazy, huh?

Let’s remind ourselves of just some of the reasons Earps won. The Lionesses epic win of the Euros in 2022 saw them inspire a generation with children all over the country now seeing what playing football could achieve. And Earps was thrust into widespread notoriety when she jumped on the table during manager Sarina Wiegman’s press conference chanting the lyrics to “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)” with the rest of the squad.

Soon after, the Lionesses proved they were not only players who inspired on the pitch, but off it too. The squad penned a powerful letter to the government calling on those in power to give equal access to football in PE for both boys and girls.

At this summer’s World Cup, where the Lionesses narrowly missed out on lifting the trophy after losing to Spain in the final, saw Earps reach viral fame. After saving a penalty by Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso, she was caught on camera shouting “f*** off” in a moment of relief. Fans immediately praised her emphatic reaction and commitment, showing that women are just as passionate and competitive as their male counterparts who are often celebrated for such emotional reactions.

Earps showed more of her metal when she took on sportswear giants, Nike, earlier in 2023 – and won. A feat not many can say they have achieved. Before the World Cup, Earps criticised the brand for not making replica Lioness goalkeeper shirts, declaring it “hugely hurtful”. Nike released a statement, explaining it understood the desire for the replica shirts and would look into them for future tournaments. To which, Earps responded: “@Nike is this your version of an apology/taking accountability/a powerful statement of intent?”

This sparked a wave of support, and forced Nike to u-turn on its decision. And the shirt sold out in minutes. “I was really ‘umm-ing and ah-ing’ whether to use my voice and to speak on it or not – I thought I was just speaking for a niche of goalkeepers, but it turned out to be support from a group of much wider group of people. I think from that, collectively, we’ve really changed the world, so thank you to everyone,” Earps told Sky News.

As Earps’ triumph makes a mark in history as the third woman to win the SPOTY in a row, following Mead and Emma Raducanu in 2021, it’s a landmark moment for women’s sports. Not since the 1960s has this happened, and it shows how they are inspiring the nation with pride, determination, and a moral backbone. Earps, who was dropped from the Lionesses in 2019 and considered hanging up her international boots, added per The Guardian: “I think what I’ve learned over the last couple of years is you’ve got to show a lot of resilience in life, a lot of character. It’s never easy. We all go through hard times. And in whatever walk of life we’re in, I think football is a vehicle, and we can all change the world in some small way. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to do.” What a woman.

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