Mary Earps, the current holder of the The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper award, has become the first in her position to be voted as the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year.
The Manchester United player has in 2023 cemented her status as the number one goalkeeper in the world by winning the FIFA Golden Glove as the best in her position at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Despite losing the final to Spain, Earps still managed to distinguish herself by becoming only the second goalkeeper in history to save a penalty kick in the final match from Jenni Hermoso.
On receiving the award at her club’s training ground at Carrington, Earps said “I am truly honored to be BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year. Thank you so much for voting for me. To be the first goalkeeper to get their hands on the award is incredibly special and I am incredibly grateful. Hopefully, one of many more to come and thank you so much again.”
Earps received more votes than the Ballon D’Or winner, Aitana Bonmatí of FC Barcelona and Spain, who finished second in the voting, and Chelsea and Australia’s Sam Kerr, who finished in the top three for the fifth time in six years. Aitana’s FC Barcelona team-mate, Fridolina Rolfö of Sweden and VfL Wolfsburg and Germany striker, Alexandra Popp, were the other two players shortlisted for the award last month.
First awarded in 2015, Earps has become the ninth winner of the prize which has not often followed the path of other major individual honors. Each year, five players are shortlisted by a panel of current and former professional players, coaches and journalists. The winner is selected entirely by an online vote of visitors to the BBC Sport website.
Not surprisingly – considering the majority of voters are based in the United Kingdom – six of the previous eight winners of the BBC award have either been British or playing in the English Women’s Super League. Two-time winner Ada Hegerberg is the only recipient never to have played in England.
Many will be surprised that Aitana, who has already claimed the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or award, was not voted as the winner in a year in which she has won the league and UEFA Women’s Champions League with her club and FIFA Women’s World Cup with Spain. In comparison, Earps won the Arnold Clark Cup and the Finalissima but is yet to win a trophy with Manchester United.
In the past two years, Aitana’s compatriot Alexia Putellas also swept up all the individual honors going, but she could not claim the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year prize in 2021 or 2022, twice finishing third behind Arsenal strikers Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead in successive years.
The global accolades for Earps are all the more remarkable considering that just two years ago, she was not included among the three goalkeepers selected for the Great Britain Olympic squad and was contemplating her future in the game.
However, the following year Sarina Wiegman was appointed England coach and coming in with no preconceptions, she selected Earps for her first game in charge after being impressed with her in training. The goalkeeper has not looked back since, starting every game for the Lionesses as they won the UEFA Women’s Euro on home soil.
“I try to use my story as a beacon of hope for people,” said Earps. “To show that there are better days coming. You just have to keep going and keep fighting; that looks very different to different people. I think there was a time, when no one was watching what I was doing. To work hard in silence, on your own, nobody notices what you do.”
“It doesn’t matter what you do, apart from to yourself and your own standards. I think that is a big part of where I am today, and sort of the resilience that I’ve shown and I know there are going to be many more moments where I’m going to need that resilience.”
Manchester United captain Katie Zelem surprised Earps with the trophy at Carrington and paid tribute to her club and international team-mate. “It’s amazing. We know Mary’s qualities, we’ve seen them at England, at Manchester United. She’s kept us in many games.”
“Mary brings a lot of character to the group, whether that’s in the team or outside. I think what she has done for goalkeeping has been outstanding. There is obviously a gap in the market and Mary really wants to push goalkeeping and we’re all so behind her for that.”
On presentation of her award, Earps was also shown a series of video messages from Wiegman, Fara Williams, England’s most capped international, and former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel who said, “what a great achievement for you to be named Women’s Footballer of the Year! It doesn’t happen very often to goalkeepers – I have to say – being ‘player of the year’ anywhere, really.”
“It’s always the girls or the guys who score the goals, not the ones who prevent them. But you’ve had a fantastic season and it’s so well deserved. And of course, you are making our club Manchester United so very, very proud. So keep up the good work and once again, many many congratulations.”