A university library is an odd setting for a meeting with a footballer, but Bethany Mead is a busy woman. The Sunderland Ladies goal machine met FIFA.com in between seminars and lectures for her Sport Development course, with coaching commitments at a local school and a Jack Russell puppy also taking up her time.
On top of her studies and her community work, the prolific forward grabbed 13 goals in 15 appearances for the Wearside outfit as they saw off Doncaster Rovers Belles to secure promotion to the FA Women’s Super League 1 (FAWSL1), the top flight of women’s football in England. “Promotion was massive,” Mead said. “It was our main aim to get that this year so it was a big step. We’ve worked hard and got there in the end. We can’t wait to get started in the top flight.”
The move to FAWSL1 will not just see the 19-year-old pit her wits against some of the best defenders in the women’s game, it also means Sunderland will become a professional outfit, a move which means a number of changes are already underway. Manager Mick Mulhern has stepped down, unable to commit to a full-time role, and Carlton Fairweather has replaced him.
“Mick’s really upset,” Mead explained. “We’ve thanked him for what he’s done. I’ve only ever played under him at Sunderland. He’ll be missed.”
With promotion in the bag, and a season in the top flight to look forward to, does the youngster from the north-east have a goal target? “I think I go with the flow, but I’d like to beat what I got the season before,” Mead said. “My first season I got 29, the following season I got 30. I’m a bit annoyed if I don’t get one per game, even though it’s not all about me scoring goals.”
Mead was certainly the centre of attention last summer, when her stunning goal against Mexico at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup caused quite a stir online. “It was surreal really,” the forward recalled. “As soon as it left my foot I knew it was going in, with how well I’d hit it. It went crazy on social media. I never really thought it would, because you don’t think women get that much coverage.”
It would be the highlight of my career, playing for my country at a World Cup. Just to be involved would be amazing.
Despite Mead’s personal highlight, Mo Marley’s side departed after the group stage, picking up two points in a difficult pool which included eventual runners-up Nigeria. “It was a disappointment because we knew we could have played better in every game we played,” Mead said. “Silly things really, which was more annoying because we’d put so much into it and worked so hard over the months before.”
The buzz around Mead’s wonder goal is part of a growing trend in her home country, with women’s football seeing a surge in popularity. England Ladies faced their German counterparts in a friendly at Wembley Stadium in November in front of a bumper crowd, with attendances up in the restructured FAWSL and a record television deal providing more coverage of the women’s game than ever before.
“It’s a nice time for it to be happening, with me involved in the game,” Mead said. “It’s an exciting time for women’s football. I hope it keeps progressing. 55,000 fans at Wembley is amazing.”
*Mead looking for Canada return
*The Black Cats forward is clearly ambitious, hoping to make the progression from Canada 2014 to the main event, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. A place in the final 23 could be tough to secure, even for a goalscorer of Mead’s pedigree. England’s manager Mark Sampson oversaw a 100 per cent record in qualifying, seeing his side to the finals with a remarkable 52 goals in ten matches, conceding just once.
“I went to a camp in October, he pulled me to one side and spoke to me then,” Mead said of Sampson. “He said I’m technically gifted but I need to keep working on my physical aspects. I can only keep doing what I’m doing. It was nice to get a bit of verbal feedback and for him to acknowledge me as well, because he didn’t have to really. The way he plays, it just makes sense, it’s totally different to the way it’s been set up in the past. It’s a lot more enjoyable now. Previously, you were left in your own age group whereas Mark makes a bit more effort with us and our development.
“It would be the highlight of my career, playing for my country at a World Cup. Just to be involved would be amazing. I’ll work as hard as I can to get in Mark’s side, but we’ll have to wait and see who he picks in the end.”
Whatever her ambitions in her new status as a professional, Mead has her feet firmly on the ground. She has agreed with her university to continue her studies, and will commence her final year after the dust has settled on Canada 2015. During the winter downtime, with a professional season on the horizon in the FAWSL1, and a potential trip to the global finals in the offing, Mead has a debt to repay. She received funding from her previous employers at a local pub during her formative years in the women’s game.
“Now it’s winter, and I’m not training as much, I’ll probably go back down there to help,” Mead said. “They’ve been good to me over the years. The people who own it got really interested in my football so they’ve been happy to sponsor me. I got an upgrade too, working on the bar rather than washing pots!”
And with that fond recollection, it is time for Mead to get back to her books. Defenders in the FAWSL1, and possibly in Canada next summer, will certainly have to do their homework to stop the prolific Sunderland No9.