Mary Earps Sports Personality of the YearGetty Images

How Sports Personality of the Year winner Mary Earps became a British icon

It was in Sunderland, during England’s first game back on home soil after their historic run to the Women’s World Cup final in Australia, that Mary Earps first heard it. She’d just made a fairly comfortable save and, with 85 minutes on the clock, was taking her time to restart the game as the Lionesses hung on for a 2-1 win over Scotland. Her prolonged possession didn’t just give her team some respite, though. It also gave the crowd the chance to serenade their star goalkeeper, who has spent the last two years capturing the hearts of a nation.

‘Mary, Mary, Mary’ rang out around the Stadium of Light as Earps launched the ball up the pitch, continuing even as her kick was contested in Scotland’s defensive third. It was the sort of adoration often reserved for the local heroes that return home with their national team – but Nottingham-born Earps has heard this in grounds up and down the country over the last few months.

"I was a bit confused because I didn’t know what the crowd was shouting,” she told The Times last month. “It’s something I’d never experienced. You’re trying not to get distracted from the task at hand because, as much as I want to sit here and be like, ‘Yeah, a game’s a game, you don’t really care,’ you do. It feels so special. It’s like a tingly feeling. I’d love it if I could bottle that feeling. It’s like you’re connected to people.”

Earps’ status as a cult hero has only grown in the months since. Whether it’s her highly-anticipated goalkeeper shirts selling out in minutes, the Nottingham tram that has been named after her or an honorary doctorate from Loughborough University, the 30-year-old has been showered with admiration by the public.

The only thing that can compare is the prolific manner in which she has been recognised with individual awards. Earps has been crowned BBC Women's Footballer of the Year, Sportswoman of the Year at the British Sports Journalism Awards and England Women's Player of the Year, to list just a few, since the World Cup. Earps’ fifth-placed finish in the Ballon d’Or voting was the best ever for a goalkeeper on the women’s side and she’s a nominee for The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper award again, too.

On Tuesday night, her latest achievement combined these two facets when she was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year. SPOTY is an prestigious accolade that has been a highlight of the award season in the United Kingdom for almost 70 years - and Earps is just the seventh footballer to win it, joining Bobby Moore, Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and, only last year, Lionesses team-mate Beth Mead.

In 2021, after falling out of the picture completely, Earps admitted that playing for England again wasn’t at the forefront of her thinking. In 2023, she helped guide her country to a first football World Cup final since 1966 and has just closed out the year by winning perhaps the most coveted individual prize in British sport. Her rise from outcast to icon has been incredible.

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