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Just when you thought the winter blues had pushed you to your absolute limit, the universe gives us Lucy Bronze suffering emotional devastation for the second time in four months. Merry fucking Christmas!

And we've only got Mary Earps to thank. That's how she sees it, anyhow. This week, England's no. 1 broke her no. 1 rule by apologising for herself and I've written about it for you below.

📭 I hope you are as fascinated by Earps' way of seeing things as I am. Please send all your observations, hot takes and favourite Mearps pics to [email protected].

🎁 Give the (FREE!) gift of women's football joy this Christmas. A festive reminder that I would dearly love you to forward this newsletter to anyone who is likely to be amused by the crazy internal world of professional football players.

💞 Finally, even if Mary won't, make sure you give yourself a damn break this week.

WHEN YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT (a clean sheet against Scotland) BUT NOT WHAT YOU NEED (the opportunity to compete at the next Olympics).
It's been a trying week for Mary Earps. With defeat to Belgium in October, England had put themselves in a giant hole ahead of their final two Nations League games, which would decide whether or not they stayed in the running for a place at the Olympics next summer.

The Lionesses needed to win both games and either rely on the Netherlands screwing up or score loads and loads and loads of goals. In the end, England won both games, scored loads and loads and loads of goals — but it still wasn't enough, and now they'll watch other teams scrapping for a gold medal at Paris 2024 from the sofa.

Earps has never been to an Olympics. It was Phil Neville's snub that put her on the kitchen floor, but interim England and Team GB manager Hege Riise's exclusion of Mearps from Tokyo 2020 kept her there. Earps hadn't competed at Rio 2016 — no one did, as the home nations couldn't agree on a united representation . With the the Team GB or not Team GB debate raging, Earps was asked to comment and her response tells you what kind of character she is.

“I just want to improve as much as I can as a player,” she said. “I will work and train hard relentlessly to be the best player and person that I can be on and off the field. That is the most important thing for me first and foremost.

"In terms of things I’d like to achieve, of course I want to represent England at senior international level as soon as possible."
I'd love to tell sweet little 22-year-old Mary, with all her anguish and ambition, that in seven years' time she would save a penalty in a World Cup final in an England shirt or that one day she would be the best goalkeeper on the planet.

Relentlessness is what it takes to rise above everyone else, but it takes relentlessness to stay there, and once you've developed a drive to thrive and climb and succeed and conquer, you can't easily give it up.

What's more, success is addictive and having a taste of it only makes you hungrier. It wasn't enough for her to be better at stopping goals than anyone else on earth — she had to bring out an inspiring and commercially-viable clothing line as well.

With this mentality, then, you imagine Earps was thrilled to wear the armband for these crucial Nations League fixtures last week, with captain Leah Williamson and vice Millie Bright both injured. Before Sarina Wiegman arrived, Earps thought her international career was dead and buried. Now she was leading them out for a pair of games which would make or break their Olympics qualification.

Her pride was quickly in tatters though, as Earps conceded two first-half goals that, on another night, she might have saved. When the second wriggled clear of her grasp, she pounded the ground and booted the ball away. There was no disguising her emotion. She was being unapologetically herself whether she liked it or not.

As her clothing range dictates, Earps is a huge advocate for people letting loose and expressing everything without filter. When asked recently by the BBC about her TikTok empire, Earps said: "I think footballers are seen as sort of robots, just the whole media trained, cliched answers all the time. We do have big personalities, we’re just normal people, we like to have a laugh."
Mearps' idea of having a laugh is locking Alessia Russo and Maya Le Tissier into her room at St George's Park and refusing to let them leave until they have completed 'the Hot Shot challenge', by downing an intense juice, pepper and spice mix devised by FA partner M&S.

When Russo complains that she feels a bit sick, Earps shouts "COME ON LESS" with all of the frustration of a Year 8 whose best friend's weakness is standing between her and Logitech Webcam YouTube superstardom.

My favourite thing about my favourite Mary Earps TikTok is the way it simultaneously lays bare Earps' seriousness and ridiculousness. Seated between two younger colleagues, Earps is the silliest of them all and moves seamlessly from childish innocence, back-of-the-bus giggling and calling Maya Le Tessier's bum her 'behind', to lecturing her junior teammates on the correct pronunciation of 'turmeric'.

The dynamic is best summarised as, moments after the 30-year-old stand-in captain swings around her spice-rack know-how, she gets her words in a tangle referring to the 'rumour on the street'. Russo laughs a bit, but lets it slide and for her kindness she is rewarded by being peer-pressured on camera to swallow her nausea and see off the cayenne pepper mouthwash.
When Earps next pulls out a mixed metaphor in front of the ITV cameras, the mood is different. "I take that fully with my whole chest," Earps says of the not-ideal-but-by-no-means-fatal mistake which gave the Netherlands a second goal on Friday. Here, she takes a rare break from being unapologetic, and the release is so extreme that neither taking the responsibility onto her shoulders nor saying she's sorry with her whole chest is enough — she has to do both.

England won the game, but they didn't win the game as thoroughly as they wanted to (to protect hopes of qualification), and she is the captain, and she made a mistake which cost the team. Watching her try to juggle all of these things at once in her post-match interview is fascinating.

The skipper begins by praising her "phenomenal" teammates' character but her eyes betray what's really on her mind, fixed on an off-camera screen showing match highlights. Her appraisal quickly descends into an indulgent explanation of how she has let the team down on what could have been "a really special night at Wembley".

I think the 70,000 fans who saw the Lionesses turn around a two-goal deficit to snatch a win from the team ranked seventh in the world might disagree with her assessment, but just after the final whistle, Mary was finding it difficult to leave Planet Mary.

These comments under her Hot Shot challenge TikTok tell us why her post-match interview was so emotionally charged:
Here, Earps is curiously unapologetic about her insecurity and the desire to spend time around people who make her feel like she is funny. Little wonder she's loving life as England no.1, because in countless games she makes game-changing saves and the feeling of being needed is like crack for your self-esteem.

Her failure to prevent the Netherlands' second goal was catastrophic for Mearps. Slipping up once is enough to send her sense of self-worth down the thin air or disappearing into the plughole. She must have a short memory because, as I recall, Earps gave the nation an extra half hour of hope when she stopped Jenni Hermoso from killing the World Cup final dead with a second goal back in August.

Mutual arse-covering is a fundamental part of team sport. You might have an off game one week, but your teammate will graft to make up for your mistakes. Next week, you'll be back at your best and you can repay they favour when they screw up. To err is human, and I am confused that someone who vocally promotes self-expression shows herself so little compassion in the wake of an error.

I find Mary Earps by turns admirable and abrasive, hilarious and obnoxious but I adore her, warts and all. Her imperfection is the reason why she has captured the imagination of fans. It's inspiring, knowing that this talented person who worked her way up from the kitchen floor to the top of the world is just a weird little freak like the rest of us.

Things I dig this week

Coming Up

  • Sunday - Women's Super League
    • It's gonna be massive at the Emirates as Arsenal play Chelsea in front of a potentially record-breaking crowd of 50,000+ 🤯 Both teams have won all of their last six WSL games and the hosts could close the 3-point gap to the league leaders with a win.
    • It's the Martha Thomas derby at Brisbane Road as the in-form Spurs striker tries to score against her former club, Manchester United, who left her to rot on the bench. I hope she celebrates in Marc Skinner's silly moustachioed face.
  • Sunday - FAWNL Division One North
    • Having lost 3 in their last 4, Leeds United are out of both the FA Cup and the FAWNL Cup. I hope they can finish 2023 on a high when they host Norton and Stockton Ancients this weekend.

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