Thursday, May 23, 2024

If you take a stroll along Sir Matt Busby Way, heading towards Old Trafford, and take a left down Railway Road, Mary Earps is waiting to greet you.

Not in physical form, obviously, but in her iconic celebratory pose, arms wide and fists clenched, mouth wide open as she roars in joy. Earps is the Nottingham-born Manchester United powerhouse, the Lionesses’ moral compass, and officially the best goalkeeper in the world.

“Welcome to Manchester”, the mural reads, which is a nod to a time, in 2009, when Manchester City unveiled a billboard of Carlos Tevez’s controversial switch from Old Trafford to the Etihad.

The artwork was created in August, initially for a commercial shoot to promote the 2023-24 Women’s Super League (WSL) season getting under way. It was then supposed to come down but, such is Earps’ popularity, it remains on the side of the house.

“We were told it was going to be a small sticker, so we were expecting it to be maybe half the house, but we came back after being away and it was the entire wall,” Sam, the homeowner, says. “We were told we would be paid £150.

“As I was packing my stuff to leave to make arrangements for my dad, who had recently passed away, they called and offered us £500 if we would keep it up for six months. I just remember saying, ‘Yeah, sure’, as I had other things on my mind.

“We got back a few weeks later to see that it was much bigger than we thought. There were rumours everywhere that we were being paid £5,000 for it, but that simply isn’t true!”

Earps’ rise over the past two years has been outstanding: 2022 European Championship winner, 2022 Best FIFA Goalkeeper, 2023 Finalissima winner, 2022 and 2023 Arnold Clark Cup winner, and World Cup runner-up in 2023 (she also won the tournament’s Golden Glove award for keeping the most clean sheets).
Just last week she was named as a finalist alongside Spain’s Cata Coll and Australia’s Mackenzie Arnold to be named the Best FIFA Goalkeeper for a second year running. And now, she has been named the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.

But this article is not about her on-field success.

Earps has become a commercial force in her own right, a social media star, someone who has brands queuing up to work with her — and she has done all of this by remaining her authentic self.

What started on TikTok as a light-hearted way to shine a light on women’s football has seen her become a cult figure.

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