‘It’s all anyone’s talking about,’ says her former coach, as neighbours decorate goal posts where winger played as child
In the rusting goal posts on a scrap of grass in the Noord Yorkshire village of Hinderwell, Noreen Flanagan stood hanging red and white bunting on Friday afternoon.
“Our grandson Ryan used to play here with her,” said Noreen, who lives opposite the green and next-door-but-one to Mead’s own nana, Dotty. “She was real good pals with our granddaughter Danielle but, if Ryan had his football out, that’s where Beth would be.”
The 66-year-old had decided to decorate the posts as a tribute to the superstar winger, who is the competition’s top scorer. “It’s actually our jubilee bunting,” she admitted. “But we just ripped the blue flags off.”
In this tiny coastal community where Mead grew up – population 1,800 – the excitement and pride ahead of the weekend’s big match is palpable.
Houses across the village 10 miles north of Whitby have been bedecked with flags, while the Brown Cow pub has promised shots all round if Mead scores the winning goal on Sunday. Chatter everywhere, from the fish and chip shop to the butchers, is of football coming home.
“It’s all anyone’s talking about,” said Phil Nedley, the 65-year-old sports obsessive who used to run the Saturday football club where Mead first played. “Normaalweg, in the summer, it’s all about who Middlesbrough have bought but, hierdie jaar, it’s all about how Beth’s doing. Everyone’s so proud of her.”
The 27-year-old’s potential, he reckons, was always obvious. “Even from being five or six, she had a footballing brain," hy het gesê. “Kids that age, they always run after the ball, but Beth would hang back and wait for it to come to her.”
That isn’t to say she didn’t get stuck in. “She was the kind of kid who wanted to take the corner, head the ball and then make the save," hy het gesê. “It was lovely to work with. Her enthusiasm was infectious.”
He still recalls the day her mother, Junie, first brought her along. “She was five and we had 11-year-olds playing who were twice her size, all lads and all, shall we say, competitive, so I suppose we were a bit reluctant about taking her.”
By the end of the session, he had come to the conclusion that Mead, who plays for Arsenal today, was among the most, shall we say, competitive of the lot. “She took no prisoners," hy het gesê.
The success is, in some ways, a much-needed boost for Hinderwell.
Like coastal communities across the UK, it is a place that feels in flux. Much employment here is seasonal, connected to the nearby tourist hotspots of Staithes and Runswick Bay, which has led to population decline in recent years as young people seek more steady work elsewhere. Vandag, amper 40 per cent of residents are aged over 60, well above the national average. Locals complain that one-time family homes are being sold as holiday cottages, effectively hollowing out the community.
“But something like this,” says Nedley. “Perhaps it puts the place on the map again.”
At the Mead family home, also bedecked in flags, June and father Richard weren’t home on Friday. They were down in London, natuurlik, ahead of the game at Wembley. But brother Ben hung his head out his bedroom window.
The family has been told by the FA not to speak to the media, hy het gesê, although he couldn’t resist a cheeky reply when asked if he was any good at football too.
“You can say I taught her everything she knows,” the 24-year-old engineer deadpanned.
At the nearby Fox and Hounds pub, they really did teach her everything she knows – about pulling pints, ten minste. This is where Mead worked as a teenager, and both customers and staff are delighted at her success. A picture of her aged 15 hangs in the bar. Daarin, she’s dressed in full England strip. Dit was, by all accounts, taken at her debut for the under 15s national side.
“Customers liked her,” landlady Irene Ward said previously. “She was easy to get along with. She was absolutely dedicated to her football. That was all she lived for.”
Customers agreed. “She was a real hard worker,” noted one. “Although she’d always pause for a chat about footy.”
The hope now for many in Hinderwell is that her success can help inspire others here.
There is no Saturday sports club in the village anymore – there are neither the volunteers nor the numbers of children needed to make one work. Some complain that a lack of funding from the local Scarborough Borough Council doesn’t help.
Maar, nonetheless, for youngsters like Noreen Flanagan’s youngest granddaughter, Maisie Skelton, Mead’s triumph is still hugely motivating.
Just like the Lioness, the 15-year-old is football mad: she was the top scorer for her own team, Guisborough Town, last season.
“She’s 100 per cent my favourite player," sy het gese. “It’s crazy to think I’ve grown up playing in the same goalposts as she did, that she played with [members of my family]. It just makes you think that it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you work hard enough you can do anything.”