Like most young girls who dream of playing football, 25-year-old Mary Earps spent the majority of her youth playing with the boys.
After the Nottingham-born goalkeeper found a girls’ team as a teenager, Earps hasn’t looked back in a career that has quickly taken her to Leicester, Doncaster Belles, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, and most recently, Reading.
Now Earps is set to embark on her biggest challenge yet after Champions League finalists Wolfsburg came calling for her services earlier in the year.
Earps describes herself as more “mature” now and it was that maturity that actually led her to putting such interest on hold to focus on her own season and that of her club too.
“It’s been a real whirlwind,” she admitted. “My agent had conversations and I don’t always know about them but when he felt there was serious interest from them he let me know.
“I was still in season with Reading and I told him, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’, but I was very focused on what we were trying to do and it wasn’t something I wanted to deal with right away. They put a contract offer in and my position still didn’t change. I wanted to deal with it at the end of the season.”
Once that season ended with a hard-fought draw against rivals Birmingham City, Earps eventually had no second thoughts about accepting an offer from a club that is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, certainly one of the best in Europe.
“Once the league was over, I opened my mind to it a little bit more and explored the opportunity. From there it took off and happened quite quickly, within a few weeks.
“I’m just delighted,” she added. “They’re one of the best and also to play in Germany has been a personal ambition of mine since I played against Frankfurt a few years ago in the Champions League.”
And despite going down, 4-1, to Lyon in May’s showpiece final in Kiev, it was that moment Earps admits she realized it was an opportunity she couldn’t resist.
“I think it definitely hit home the most watching that final,” she said. “Even seeing Lyon lift the trophy it made me think I could be playing in this game, that really brought it home.
“I want to win that trophy, I want my hands on that trophy and I think that was the moment in my eyes because at that time everything wasn’t finalized. A team that could win the Champions League was interested in me, that was it for me.”
Earps’ maturity comes across in the way she speaks about her past, her future, and what she intends to achieve in her time at Wolfsburg and beyond.
She’s enthusiastic yet reserved, candid yet confident when speaking about her wishes to start a family and the reality of being a goalkeeper and how you’re viewed within the game.
Despite being around for a decade, Earps is still only 25 and nowhere near her peak years for a goalkeeper, something the now former Reading stopper thinks about a lot.
“The age thing is something I find quite difficult,” she admitted. “I know the goalies statistics-wise are preferred later on in life when they’re more experienced and there is some evidence behind that in terms of maybe being a more psychological thing.
“People are afraid of gambling on young goalkeepers because if something goes wrong can they mentally cope with that? I’m a big believer in if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. You have to grow up quickly as a goalkeeper, you have to be able to organize and communicate with people that are older than you and take things on the chin.”
When Earps does get a chance while in competition with Germany number one Almuth Schult, she’ll be organizing a defense that includes Sweden’s Nilla Fischer and Germany’s Babett Peter, both of whom have more than 100 caps for their countries.
“I’m going to put myself under a little bit of pressure saying this but it’s about coming into my own now,” stated Earps. “I’m 25 and you ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I feel like I’m getting old. I know that sounds crazy but I’ve played in the FA WSL ever since it started and I’ve really enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong.
“Our game has grown hugely but I need to come into my own. It’s about stamping my authority and everyone getting to see who I am as a goalkeeper. I don’t like to be considered a young goalkeeper, I just want to be a goalkeeper.”
It’s clear Earps has ambitions, she describes herself as “impatient” and compares her situation to that of Edwin van der Sar and Gianlugi Buffon, both players who continued their careers into their 40s, 15 years away from where Earps is now.
But the goalkeeper’s burning ambition to start a family is ensuring she accelerates her career ambitions and she admits she can’t see herself getting close to 40 and still playing football.
“I want to have a family later in my career,” she said. “I know you can have babies later and later but I want to have a family, I don’t want to miss out on that opportunity. I want to achieve all my hopes and dreams and not be a young mum exactly and not feel like my clock’s ticking but I want to do that.”
Earps added, “It’s something I think about a lot. I’m a family person and I really do want that when I’m a bit older and more settled. But I have goals and ambitions in my career, people think women can go on to forty but realistically with a biological clock I won’t be able to do that. Maybe that’s extra pressure I put on myself, I want to achieve everything tomorrow. I can’t see myself starting a family for another ten years but that inspires me even more to do things earlier, younger, quicker. That makes me who I am, I think in the back of my mind that’s what is driving me on.”
Earps treated herself to a well-earned holiday after her move to Germany was all signed, sealed, and delivered.
While most players go away with the intention of switching off from football, Earps says it was impossible not to daydream about what may lie ahead over the next 12 months.
“I went with that intention to not think about it but the reality is football consumes you every day. I needed a holiday mentally and physically but I’ve been thinking about the upcoming year constantly.
“You know if you’re not up to scratch in a game or training, you’re conceding a goal, that’s the brutal reality of the position I play.”
Earps is the latest in a long line of English players to tread new waters overseas. Rachel Daly has been with the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) since being drafted in 2016 and has been joined once again by Jodie Taylor who now plays for the Seattle Reign FC.
Lucy Bronze joined Lyon last summer with Earps’s roommate and close friend Toni Duggan signing for FC Barcelona soon after.
Katie Zelem and Ellie Brazil have just returned from a year in Italy and since Earps’ move was confirmed, Izzy Christiansen has joined former Manchester City teammate Bronze in Lyon.
Earps will be a rival to Bronze, Christiansen, and Duggan in this season’s Champions League but admits she did take on the advice of her teammates when considering the move.
“I’m someone who keeps my cards pretty close to my chest, but the girls know I wanted to play abroad. I have asked them questions about how they were finding it. Toni’s my roommate so we always talk and I did think about what they’d said when I made my decision. It was helpful to know what they’d been through so I could be prepared because it’s the surprises that might get you.
“I didn’t talk to them specifically about Wolfsburg, I didn’t talk to anyone really. I spoke to my family but it was a decision I made purely on what I think will take my career to the next level.”
Next level it might be for Earps but many fans reacted to what impact it may have on her immediate international future on social media when the move was announced.
Earps has always been on the fringes of the England squad but was taken to Euro 2017 as an additional 24th member of the squad under former head coach Mark Sampson.
The 25-year-old has been more of a regular under Phil Neville but is still waiting for her first start and has just one cap to her name so far.
Many believed Earps would go to the World Cup, should England qualify, with another year of regular football at Reading under her belt, but that now could be jeopardized with Schult still expected to be the No. 1 at Wolfsburg this year.
But Earps says she had to put what felt right over circumstances she has no control over.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “I missed the first camp with Phil and I’ve been back in ever since but he picks the squad and he can pick whoever he wants. I never take a selection for granted, it doesn’t mean I’m going to the World Cup. I want to go and I want to start but you have to make these decisions and there are always going to be consequences.
“I want to be in the team, it’s massively high on my priority list but you can’t make decisions on a potential selection you may or may not get. You have to go on what will make you a better goalkeeper, a better person — that’s what it came down to.”