A few years ago Mary Earps was contemplating retirement after being dropped from the England squad – now she is a European champion and one of six goalkeepers nominated for the Fifa Best Award.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Earps, 29, who could not have imagined the successes that came her way in 2022 when she sat on the bench as a third-choice goalkeeper at the 2019 World Cup.
In the past 18 months, Earps has consolidated her position as England and Manchester United’s undisputed number one, started every game as the Lionesses won Euro 2022 and recently became the first goalkeeper to keep 50 clean sheets in the Women’s Super League.
Recognition has since come thick and fast for Earps and there may be more at the Fifa Best awards.
“I was blown away [to be nominated]. There aren’t loads of awards around for goalkeepers,” Earps told BBC Sport.
“I texted my mum and dad straight away. They humbly replied with just ‘well done’. It was a standard Earps family reply, super chilled. It’s really nice and the real icing on the cake.
“It doesn’t happen often and it never really happens to me so I forget [these awards] exist in a way. To be named on the shortlist, it came out of the blue, and it was really cool.”
‘Without rain you don’t get rainbows’
When Earps started at Wembley against Germany in 2019, she thought that was her chance to prove herself to then-England manager Phil Neville.
But she was left out of the next squad and would not represent her country for another two years. She came to accept her international career was over and considered retirement.
“Without rain you don’t get rainbows,” Earps said as she reflected on her achievements in 2022 and how much things have changed.
“People keep asking how I’m ever going to top 2022 and I’m like, ‘I have no idea.’ It’s more about having a different perspective on things.
“Life’s been pretty great the last 12-18 months with everything that’s happened. The stuff we’ve achieved has been so much fun. But there is a very real dark side to this game and to life.
“Sport is an intense window into what life looks like. Life isn’t always fantastic and you don’t always feel great. Work isn’t always amazing. I’ve experienced that in a very real way in football.
“I like to see it as the beauty of where I’ve been to where I am now and appreciate it that little bit more.”
Earps, who has a degree in information management and business studies, has had to adjust to her new-found success.
She is stopped for photographs, spotted at airports and in the street – she even has a bus named after her in her hometown West Bridgford, near Nottingham.
Before the Euros she took a step back from social media, deactivating her Twitter account to avoid any “distractions”.
“I didn’t think people would want to take pictures with me or want to talk to me. I never expected that,” said Earps.
“In general, if there’s a billboard, a striker is going to be on it. I’d been out with [England striker] Alessia Russo for example and she’d get asked for a photo. That was normal.
“It started happening to me too! I wouldn’t say I’m famous in any way but it’s nice to be recognised within my industry and the women’s football industry.
“To have people talk about my performances as a goalkeeper has been so fun. People would only talk about me when something had gone wrong. Now it’s nice.”
‘Life before and after Sarina is totally different’
When Sarina Wiegman joined England in September 2021, she recalled Earps after a two-year absence and made the goalkeeper her number one for the Euros.
“The reality is my life before Sarina Wiegman and my life after Sarina Wiegman is totally different,” said Earps.
“I will always have the utmost respect and admiration for her. It’s about the way she has dealt with me, communicated with me and tried to get the best out of me.
“I had lost a lot of confidence and belief in myself before she came around. Having the floor completely taken from under you out of nowhere is something that’s really hard to process and deal with.
“When Sarina came in and picked me for the squad I just thought I’d go, do my best and have no expectations. The way it all went… I could never have written it in a million years.
“I was just so thankful I was given an opportunity. That’s all I’ve ever wanted and Sarina gave me that.”
Earps said Wiegman’s trust in her is an “incredible feeling” and the goalkeeper is able to express herself on the pitch.
“I feel really good. I’m really enjoying my football and playing. I want that to continue,” she added.
“I still want to win more things but I have to keep grafting. I want to play at the highest level I possibly can.”