Scorer Beth Mead leads England to the final of the European Championship

England stormed into the final at their home tournament thanks to a 4-0 gala against Sweden. Beth Mead decides the game almost alone. And with her sixth goal, she equals the record of today’s FCZ trainer Inka Grings. It’s a splendid summer for a player who just a year ago was judged not good enough for the Olympic squad.

In ecstasy: Beth Mead shoots England into the European Championship final.

Jon Super/AP

When Phil Neville, former Manchester United defender and England women’s coach until 2021, put together the squad for the 2019 World Cup, Beth Mead’s place was in jeopardy. The trainer and attacker exchanged views, Neville telling her, “Do you want to make it to the moon, or would you rather vacation in Blackpool?”. Neville used the rhetoric of a half-baked pyramid scheme influencer on YouTube, but the metaphor was apt: he was trying to convey to his player that she was too quick to settle for too little when she can achieve anything in the sport. The seaside town of Blackpool may have a charm of its own with its piers and outdated arcades, but it’s one of the most seedy parts of England. Neville recently doubled down, saying: “She was content to go to Whitley Bay and eat fish and chips.” Neville’s predecessor Mark Sampson had already found harsh words for her, saying, among other things, that she was “not athletic enough” and “don’t work hard enough”.

The frustration of not being considered for the Olympics

Neville gave Mead, 27, one last game to prove himself. England beat Denmark 2-0 in that game in May 2019. Mead made it 2-0 and set up the first goal. “I knew then that she understood,” said Neville, now coach at Inter Miami in the MLS, later the “Guardian”. But not everyone saw it that way: interim coach Hege Riise, who succeeded Neville, still partially refrained from considering Mead in 2021 – for the squad for the Tokyo Olympics, for example. The attacker was already thinking about whether she had a future in the national team at all, especially since she had to regularly play as a full-back in training sessions at the behest of Riise. “The report about this player was not very good,” said the Norwegian in explanation. Mead clenched his fist in the sack – and now showed that fire, which she had long missed. At Arsenal, as Lia Wälti’s team-mate, she became one of the most feared attackers in the Women’s Super League. In 2021/22 she was the league’s third-top scorer with 11 goals and the top provider of assists.

Although she wears the number 9, in football for decades the unmistakable identifier for the type of penalty area striker, she is mostly used on the right wing, where she shows her greatest strength: speed. Mead is only 163 centimeters tall, but the opponent who can win a running duel against her has yet to be born. There’s something intoxicating about her style of play, her fast-paced football and creativity alone make her worth the ticket price on a good night. And she’s had quite a few of those lately.

Because meanwhile Mead has established herself as one of the best attacking players in the world, she has come a long way for someone who once had to draw pints in the pub to be able to afford the football boots. On Tuesday evening, she catapulted the previously outstanding English women at the home tournament with one goal and two assists into Sunday’s European Championship final at Wembley. In Sheffield, Sweden was no longer a part of the big Beth Mead show in the game directed by the Swiss referee Esther Staubli. She started the gala evening with her sixth tournament goal – and also equaled the record set by German striker Inka Grings, who is now the coach of FCZ Frauen, at the 2009 European Championships in Finland.

The ZDF expert Kathrin Lehmann was right with her thesis

The splendid performance of the English women underlined the thesis recently formulated by the ZDF expert Kathrin Lehmann, according to which this euro is a three-class society and England, Germany and France would be on the top level. England just sprinted into the final Germany and France battle it out for the second finalist in Milton Keynes on Wednesday night. On Sunday, in front of almost 90,000 spectators, England offers the great opportunity to win the title in their own country. A year ago, the men in the same place, also in the legendary Wembley Stadium, were not granted this touching piece; they had to admit defeat to Italy in the penalty shoot-out. Maybe Mead and her teammates will manage to alleviate the disappointment of 2021 – and become European champions at home like the Netherlands five years ago.

One thing is already certain: Mead’s contribution to English women’s football this year has already been invaluable. She managed to create genuine euphoria in the population. And she hasn’t forgotten where she comes from: together with Teesside University in Middlesbrough, she created a scholarship that supports young footballers. Four places are available for 2022/23. They should be in demand, because who doesn’t want to be like the star of the football summer of 2022.

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