Beth Mead: England return, working to combat ACL injuries, and critics who knock women's football

The Lioness said while she knows women can't keep up with men "genetically", they are ultimately "doing the exact same things on the pitch," ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports

Words by Joe Wardropper, ITV News Sports Producer

Sheets of rain had soaked the pop-up football court close to the Emirates stadium where a pack of aspiring Lionesses were waiting for a celebrity coach.

But with England star Beth Mead's arrival, the dozens of excited youngsters from local schools quickly forgot about the weather.

"It’s so nice to see how much fun and laughter there is on a football pitch", Mead says, drying off after a busy training session.

"I grew up being like that… Walking in and seeing their eyes light up, [them] seeing you as a professional footballer that they grow up and [want to be]... I guess it is quite rewarding."

Mead was speaking to ITV News on the day coach Sarina Wiegman named her squad for England’s Euro qualifying campaign.

The 28-year-old, who led her teammates to glory at Euro 2022, has recently returned to international duty after close to 12 months out with a devastating knee injury.

"I had to miss a World Cup [in Australia], so it made it feel even longer... I’m always very proud to be picked for England… Much as I love Arsenal, I was stuck there for such a long time, and it was so nice to be somewhere else and to be lucky enough to represent my country again."

Alongside her partner and Arsenal teammate, Vivianne Miedema, who has only recently returned to football after suffering her own ACL injury, Mead is spearheading a FIFA task force to tackle what she calls a "pandemic" afflicting the women’s game.

"We both understood what each other were going through and feeling, and she would ask me if this felt normal and that felt normal", Mead says. "But when bad days were bad, that was tough because we would both be having a bad day and were both feeling low.

"And we had no football as our escape which we used… So it’s not been the nicest journey but as cliché as it sounds it was a time to reset, to work on things you ultimately wouldn't work on while you were playing."

Beth Mead joined Arsenal in 2017 as a winger. Credit: PA

Women are up to eight times more likely to tear their ACL than men, and the injury is still under-researched, Mead says, something she hopes the FIFA programme will help address.

"Myself and Viv are taking part in this programme and we ask questions of people who’ve done ACL injuries and make them feel more comfortable in talking about it, hopefully now we are pushing a little bit more, and we can be the driving force…"

Months after her injury, Mead lost her mother to ovarian cancer. The Arsenal striker's long-awaited return to the stage with England against the Netherlands in November was the first match without her support.

"If I had a good day or a bad day, she was the person I would tell," Mead says, "I was very proud [to play for England again] and I know she is very proud of me for getting back into that..."

Mead is passionate about improving access to football for girls, and points to record crowd sizes at Arsenal in the Women’s Super League. Credit: PA

Mead adds that her father has "played a big part" since her mother passed away last year.

"He loves talking football, he follows me home and away still. I think it fills his weekend quite nicely and he’ll be at Wembley cheering me on [when Arsenal take on Chelsea in the League Cup final this weekend]."

"I think he quite likes a chat sometimes," Mead says. "He used to be in the background when me and my mum spoke so he quite likes that he gets a bit more chat out of me than he used to…"

Mead was speaking to ITV News at a training session in North London organised by McDonalds’ Fun for Football initiative.

She is passionate about improving access to football for girls, and points to record crowd sizes at Arsenal in the Women’s Super League. But Mead is still frustrated by those who talk down her sport.

"Ultimately we are doing the exact same things on the pitch [as the men], genetically we know we can’t keep up, we’re not as fast or powerful or explosive, that is genetic, but we can do the same thing on the ball that the men are doing on the pitch… we have not said for one second that we are faster than Messi… but we are not stupid we know what we bring to the game we know we are capable footballers."

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