For Beth Mead to be voted The Yorkshire Post’s Sports Hero of 2019 shows how much the women’s game grew last year.
Her deliveries from set-pieces and in general play are excellent now, and I think people appreciate her work-rate too.Sue Smith
And the Whitby-born forward’s story also shows how the sport generally has evolved.
In the past, female footballers might well have been nominated, but to receive 47 per cent of the votes shows how the women’s game has grown in the public consciousness since England’s Lionesses reached the 2019 World Cup semi-final.
Before the tournament, hers would not have been a name familiar to a lot of people, but Beth was a real breakthrough star of it, and her assist for Jodie Taylor’s goal against Argentina caught a lot of people’s attention.
What has been so good about Beth’s story has been the way her game has developed, and I think it is reflective of how the women’s and men’s games have changed at all levels. It is something Leeds United will have to be conscious of when they recruit a new centre-forward this month.
I played against Beth when she was starting at Sunderland and, even then, you could see her potential. Hers was always a name that cropped up in our team-talks because she was a really dangerous No 9.
Since she moved to Arsenal, though, it has become harder to categorise her.
At Sunderland she was just a very good goalscorer, but now her deliveries from set-pieces and in open play are excellent.
When Arsenal signed Vivianne Miedema in the summer of 2017, Beth moved out wide to accommodate her, and it has done wonders for her game. She is now comfortable anywhere in a front three, and has been rewarded with a new long-term contract at Arsenal.
Despite her goalscoring exploits, Beth did not make her England debut until 2018.
There would always be uproar when she was not included in squads, but clearly the management wanted something more, and it made her determined not just to break into the team, but make herself undroppable.
The current England manager, Phil Neville, challenged Beth to take her game to the next level and now she is one of the first names on his England team-sheet.
Her deliveries from set-pieces and in general play are excellent now, and I think people appreciate her work-rate too.
She was competing with Barcelona’s Toni Duggan for a place at the last World Cup and, although Toni had injury problems, the way she kept Toni out of the side showed Beth’s mental toughness.
I used to play as a left winger and, had I moved to a new team and been told I was going to be playing centre-forward, I would have found it very difficult, but Beth has coped with it brilliantly, and emerged as a far better player.
It is just something centre-forwards have to do nowadays.
I played with plenty who would do nothing except put the ball in the net but in 2020 it is getting harder and harder to make a living out of that.
You only need look at Liverpool and Manchester City to see how hard their centre-forwards work off the ball. It was something Pep Guardiola demanded Sergio Aguero improve when he became his manager at City.
Modern forward lines are so fluid that centre-forwards need to have the ability to play wide as well, and even in the hole.