Bobby Moore, Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. They are the only five footballers to have been crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the award’s 68-year history.
On Wednesday night, if the bookies are to be believed, Beth Mead is set to become No 6 and the first woman on that list of legends.
‘They are not bad people to be alongside, are they?’ grins the Lioness over Zoom on Tuesday. ‘I would take that. I think I would die happy if I went alongside them.’
Beth Mead is the runaway favourite to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Wednesday
Only Moore on that list has done what Mead has managed, however – winning a major tournament with England. The Arsenal striker scored six goals and contributed five assists as the Lionesses triumphed in the Women’s Euros in the summer, being named player of the tournament and claiming the Golden Boot.
That is why Mead is the odds-on favourite for SPOTY out of a six-person shortlist, which includes England’s T20 World Cup final hero and Test captain Ben Stokes, snooker world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, world 1500m champion Jake Wightman, Olympic curling gold medallist Eve Muirhead and world champion gymnast Jessica Gadirova. Golf’s US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick is the notable omission.
‘It’s something I never thought I’d be in contention for,’ admits Mead. ‘It’s a little bit surreal to be alongside some of those people. I watched Eve Muirhead in a lot of the Olympics when I was younger. She captivated me and made me watch curling. She would have got my vote.
Bobby Moore (L) and David Beckham are among only five footballers to win the SPOTY award
‘Sports Personality is something we always sat down as a family and watched. I know how proud this will make my mum, dad and brother.’
Mead’s father will attend the show at Salford with her, as will her partner, Vivianne Miedema. Unfortunately for the Arsenal team-mates, though, they will be accessorising their dresses with crutches having both ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in the last month. ‘It won’t be my most attractive look,’ laughs Mead. ‘We’ll look like a right pair.’
It was announced last week that Mead – who suffered her injury in a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United on November 19 – had signed a new contract with Arsenal. ‘The timing (of the contract) couldn’t have been any better for myself because I’d signed it just before my injury,’ she says.
Mead was player of the tournament and top scorer during the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 triumph
But time is not on Mead’s side when it comes to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next July, with ACLs usually taking at least nine months to recover from.
Does she worry about missing the tournament? ‘Yeah, I do because I think it’s going to be difficult for me to play a football match before then, which is not ideal heading into a World Cup.
‘It’s a difficult thought to take, but my motivation is to try and get as close as possible. And if I can’t, I know that I’ve done everything in my powers to try and get there.’
Mead does at least now have Miedema – who has already ruled herself out playing in the World Cup for the Netherlands – to keep her company during the long road to recovery.
Mead bounced back in style after being left out of the Team GB squad for the Tokyo Olympics
‘We’ve got our protein bottles with “Beth ACL 1” and “Viv ACL 2”,’ she smiles. ‘Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s nice that she’s going be there so we can motivate each other in the gym.’
Mead and Miedema’s injuries have, though, further shone a spotlight on player welfare in the women’s game. Mead points out that at least five of the women who finished in the top 20 of this year’s Ballon d’Or vote – her, Miedema, winner Alexia Putellas, Catarina Macario and Marie-Antoinette Katoto – have suffered ACL injuries.
It was hardly welcomed, then, when FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced last week that there would be a Women’s Club World Cup in 2025. ‘It sounds exciting, but it’s something else that you’re going to be involved in,’ says Mead.
‘I do think the scheduling needs to be looked at. We went into the Euros and two and a bit weeks later we were straight back into a camp again. It’s no time to switch off as a footballer, both mentally and physically.
The Arsenal star ruptured her ACL in November and is now a major doubt for the World Cup
‘Women are six times more likely to do an ACL. You wonder why it happens when there are players playing at the top of the game. Is there anything we can do to prevent it? I think that a lot more research needs to go into it.’
On Wednesday night, at least, Mead can forget about the rigours of rehab and enjoy a night of celebration with her fellow Lionesses, including Queen of the Jungle, Jill Scott. ‘I used my five free votes every night for her!’ says Mead.
Would she like to emulate Scott on I’m A Celebrity one day? ‘I would love to. I’m not a fan of all the creepy crawlies, but I would love to see if I could conquer my fears and give it a go. But I don’t think I’m coordinated enough for Strictly!’
As well as Mead being up for the main SPOTY award, the Lionesses will almost certainly be named Team of the Year and their manager, Sarina Wiegman, should be crowned Coach of the Year. ‘Sarina would definitely get my vote,’ says Mead. ‘It’s massively down to her that it came home.
Mead and her partner, Arsenal and Netherlands star Vivianne Miedema, will both attend the ceremony on crutches
‘It is so hard to explain how and what she did in such a small timeframe. She had this incredible power at making us all so clam before the biggest games of our lives.
‘After the final, we all gave shirts to a member of staff and I got Serena and got called the teacher’s pet. I said that to her in my little speech before giving her it, but she didn’t actually understand what a teacher’s pet was, so I had to explain it!’
Not a day goes by when Mead does not reflect on that glorious Wembley day in July, when England beat Germany 2-1 after extra time to win the country’s first major trophy since 1966.
‘There’s always a memory that goes through your brain,’ she says. ‘We were driving to the Emirates the other day and I was in a car with my team-mates Kim Little and Teyah Goldie. We saw Wembley and I said, “Oh look, there’s Wembley, I won the Euros there”, just to wind them up. It is not something I will ever get bored of saying.
‘Those memories will stick with us girls and hopefully the nation for the rest of our lives. It will be nice to see that on a big screen and relive it a little bit, but God knows how emotional we’re all going to be on the night.’
Just imagine how emotional Mead will be, then, if she succeeds 2021 winner Emma Raducanu to be voted Sports Personality of the Year. ‘It would be incredible if I won such a prestigious award, not even for me, but for the women’s game,’ she adds.
‘After the Euros, people said, “You are a national hero”, and I was like, “I’m not, I’m just Beth Mead, I play football, I kick a bag of wind around”. It doesn’t really feel real that what I’m doing has got me to this point.’
BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2022 is on BBC One from 6.45pm on Wednesday night