Whitby's Beth Mead has new goals with World Cup on horizon

TRIPS to Russia are all the rage for English footballers at the moment.

Rising star: Whitby's Beth Mead of Arsenal during the SSE Women's FA Cup final match against Chelsea. Picture: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Gareth Southgate’s senior men’s team jet out there shortly for the World Cup and their latest quest at ending their trophy drought.

Whilst that assignment is unsurprisingly high on the sporting agenda, England’s women are also heading to Eastern Europe as they prepare to take another stride towards qualifying for their own World Cup next year.

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Among the travelling party in Phil Neville’s squad will be Beth Mead, from the North York Moors village of Hinderwell.

England women’s ‘young-player-of-the-year’ Mead will be hoping to win her third cap when Neville’s Lionesses take on their Russian hosts in Moscow on Friday, June 8 in a crucial qualifier.

To say it has been a whirlwind few months for Mead would be understating it. Not only has she made her England bow but her excellent form for Arsenal Ladies over the course of the season saw her selected by her peers in the PFA’s Women’s Super League Team of the Year.

The latest high-profile juncture in Mead’s career came during last month’s FA Cup final.

Mead’s Arsenal took on Chelsea and although the result did not go her way – the Blues winning 3-1 – playing in front of the competition’s record attendance made it an unforgettable experience for the striker.

England's Beth Mead during the training session at St George's Park, Burton. Picture: Nigel French/PA

Mead has thoroughly impressed since arriving at Arsenal in January, 2017, following a spell at Sunderland where she hit an astonishing 77 goals in 78 games.

Following a succession of highs, Mead admits she is yet to fully grasp how far she has come in a relatively short space of time.

“At the moment, I haven’t really sat back and thought about it too much,” Mead told The Yorkshire Post.

“It’s been a very good season for me personally and it’s shown how far I’ve come in a very short space of time.

“I try to do the best I can but there’s still lots of improvements to make as a player.

“There’s international players in every position here and that’s made me better knowing that I’ve had to give my all every session.”

Her form for Arsenal certainly made her fellow professionals sit up and take notice and her inclusion into the WSL team of the year is something she is particularly proud of.

“I was surprised to get into it,” said Mead.

“It was an honour for players that you play against to vote for you and I think that makes it extra special. It’s something that everyone wants and I’m lucky enough to be in it.”

Mead’s shrewd skills on the pitch are seemingly matched by her knowledge off it.

She was still studying whilst at Sunderland when she made a pledge to complete her sports development course at Teesside University.

Of course, she wasn’t to foresee her rapid progress but nevertheless she is glad she saw her studies through.

“You never know what’s around the corner, with injuries for example,” she said.

“I always wanted to have a degree and something behind me.

“Football isn’t going to last forever so, obviously, I’ve got to have a back-up plan.”

Not wishing to tempt fate, but that back-up plan does not look as though it will be required.

Mead’s impressive performances this term quickly saw her name touted for an England call-up which duly arrived earlier this year.

Neville’s appointment as a successor to the controversial Mark Sampson raised eyebrows in some quarters.

But for Mead it marked the start of her international career as Neville called her up for the recent qualifiers against Wales and Bosnia.

“Phil rang me a couple of days before the squad was announced to say he was putting me in,” said Mead.

“I was over the moon.

“Up until that point, I didn’t really know where I stood in the England set-up.

“He said I’d been playing well and that was nice for me to hear.

“I was lucky enough to come on against Wales and to make my debut in front of 25,000 people was amazing.

“Then we went to Bosnia and we won that. I was very proud to get my first cap, which I feel like I’ve waited a long time for.”

The upcoming trip to Russia will give Mead a small insight into what being at a World Cup will be like, with the country putting the finishing touches to hosting the 32-team spectacle.

For Mead, it is another chance to stake her claim for a place in the squad for the women’s version in France this time next year.

“To have the trust from my manager, is amazing for me,” she added.

“I’m working hard and I just want to be a part of the squad.”

Growing up in such a quaint village close to the coast above Whitby, Mead had to think outside the box if she wanted to forge a career in football. That she did, as she regularly took on the local lads and more than held her own.

She looks back on those days and is adamant that it stood her in good stead.

“Hinderwell is only a little village and I used to play football with all the local lads,” she said.

“I think starting out playing with the lads from a younger age group helped toughen me up.

“The standard today is a lot better.

“All my family still live there but they came down to watch me at the FA Cup final.

“There were over 45,000 people watching us there, so it was a great occasion.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result but it was still great to be a part of it.

“It was quite surreal and you can’t hear anything.

“There was a lot of emotions that went around in my head.

“It’s great for the women’s game and if you think back to last year, it’s gone up a lot (crowd numbers).

“From where it was even a few years ago to where it is now, it is amazing.”