by John Lyons
Sunderland hot-shot Beth Mead has already set her goals high for next season – after bagging a remarkable hat-trick of prizes at the FA Women’s Football Awards.
The presentation night at Wembley Stadium last Friday celebrated the best women’s football at international and domestic level, and 20-year-old Mead proved the biggest winner.
The prolific striker scooped the Vauxhall England Young Player of the Year, FA WSL 1 Players’ Player of the Year and FA WSL 1 Top Goalscorer honours.
Mead, pictured below, knew in advance she would receive the Top Goalscorer accolade after hitting 12 goals in 14 games in her debut season in the top tier.
But she said: “The England Young Player award was quite a surprise because I was up against players like Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood who were involved in the World Cup. I thought they would have a good chance to win it.
“It was a nice surprise, but getting the Players’ Player honour was the most rewarding. For your peers that you’ve played against all season to think that you were the best in the league is great, especially considering the amount of quality players in the league.
“It was an incredible season for myself and the club. Some people thought we would get relegated but we’ve shown our professionalism. We proved we could handle the level by finishing fourth and one of the stand-out moments was beating Chelsea 4-0.
“They were unbeaten at the time, top of the league and we beat them convincingly.”
Mead hit a treble in that game against the double winners, another sign that she was perfectly at home amongst the elite.
“I’d been top scorer in a couple of lower leagues and people were waiting to see how I would do,” she said. “I’d like to think I have done okay.”
The modest Mead, who balances her full-time football with her sport development studies at Teesside University, certainly has and now she wants to shine again next term and help Sunderland to keep progressing.
“It would be nice to be top scorer again, though it’s going to be tough,” she said. “All the best players in the UK are in the division and there are players from all over the world, too.
“As a club, we’ve got to try to do better in the league. That means top three which is quite a big ask, but we’ll give it a go. We want to do better in the cups, too.”
Aside from her club ambitions, there’s the little matter of England for Mead to focus on. She was called up to the senior squad for the first time for the Lionesses’ trip to China in October, but didn’t get on in the matches against the hosts and Australia.
“It was quite an experience and I was dying to get on, but it wasn’t to be,” she said. “It would be amazing and it will be my goal to try to get involved in the future. People say I’m young, but it’s not about how young you are, it’s how you are performing.”
As the prizes were dished out at Wembley, all the guests could reflect on a ground-breaking year for the women’s game. Mead believes there’s a bright future ahead for young girls following in her footsteps.
“The game’s already gone a long way from where it used to be when I was a kid,” she said. “It’s nice for young girls to see they can be a professional.
“It was always my dream and I’ve been lucky to come through at the right time. It’s an exciting time and the game’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
Aside from Mead’s hat-trick, Sunderland were chosen as the WSL 1 Club of the Year.
BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominee Lucy Bronze scooped the Vauxhall England Player of the Year prize after her superb displays from right-back in the World Cup.
Chelsea had to settle for a couple of gongs on the night. Emma Hayes claimed the WSL Manager of the Year prize, while Ji So Yun was awarded the WSL Goal of the Year accolade for her strike against Liverpool.
There was plenty for Doncaster Rovers Belles to celebrate. They were chosen as the WSL 2 Club of the Year, while there were individual honours for striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk.
She won the WSL 2 Players’ Player of the Year trophy and also netted the Top Goalscorer honour for the second tier after scoring 20 goals in 18 games.
Brighton won the #WeCanPlay Participation Award for their ‘Albion in the Community’ programme while Portsmouth’s Dave Coyle was awarded Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Football.
FA director of football participation and development Kelly Simmons said: “2015 has been a landmark year for women’s football with huge progress being made at international and domestic level.
“From the Lionesses’ outstanding World Cup campaign and bringing the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final to Wembley, to huge increases in attendances in the FA WSL and coverage of the women’s game, we have made huge strides and it gives us a great platform for more in 2016.”