Manchester United Women

Mary Earps on playing at Old Trafford with fans & the 'wildest' season of her career

Jamie Spencer
Mary Earps is eagerly awaiting an historic matchday at Old Trafford
Mary Earps is eagerly awaiting an historic matchday at Old Trafford / Charlotte Tattersall/GettyImages

Exclusive - Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps has admitted that it felt like something was missing playing at Old Trafford last season behind closed doors as she and her teammates now prepare to play in front of fans at the iconic stadium for the first time.

Covid-19 restrictions throughout the 2020/21 campaign ensured that supporters were denied the chance to witness United’s women hosting West Ham at Old Trafford in March in what was an historic and incredible occasion, but yet slightly hollow in other ways.

Exactly one year on, the team is heading back to Old Trafford to face Everton – this time with tens of thousands of fans set to be in the stands.

“I honestly don’t think you can even put them in the same sentence – it’s so different,” Earps tells 90min as she compares the two occasions.

“To play here the first time was great because the pitch is obviously immaculate, the stadium is incredible and when you’re walking in or out you can feel how iconic it is. I can remember walking through the tunnel onto the pitch, looking up and taking a big breath to try and take it in.

“Without fans, it [still] felt great but I knew it could be greater.”

United have typically played home games at Leigh Sports Village on the outskirts of Greater Manchester since the club was reformed in 2018 – Earps herself joined in 2019 following promotion to the WSL. But she insists there are no concerns about any differences in the size of the pitch affecting the style of play because the players are already used to a big playing area at Leigh.

“The pitch is the same, the grass is there [and] it’s going to be one of the best pitches we’ve ever played on – you could eat your dinner off it as my dad would say,” she says. “It’s not the pitch that changes anything, it’s the occasion.”

What will be different, however, is the number of voices inside the stadium. United will often bring in more than 2,000 fans for games at Leigh, a healthy number by WSL standards. Yet the noise inside Old Trafford on Sunday as many more attend for what will be potentially be their first time at a women’s game, stands to make it so much louder and will test the player’s ability to communicate.

Earps, who is a very vocal communicator in goal, acknowledges that it will add an extra layer to the game and force the players to think more carefully. But she wouldn’t have it any other way because of the backing that the team will have.

The self-titled Barmy Army, the loyal core group of United fans, have become a force in women’s football in recent years, widely known for their loud support – both home and away. While somewhat divisive among fans of rival clubs, the players themselves appreciate it immensely.

“They’re a really passionate group of people and to have that on your side on a matchday, it really can push you on and I think it’s intimidating for other players to come and play against,” Earps says.

“When it’s loud and you can’t hear anything, it’s relentless. I’ve not played against it, thank God. Touch wood, I don’t have to.”

Man Utd players will experience a different kind of atmosphere at Old Trafford than Leigh
Man Utd players will experience a different kind of atmosphere at Old Trafford than Leigh / Manchester United/Remington UK/Hatch

Growing support is one of the many rapid changes that women’s football in England has gone through in the last three years alone. Earps, having established herself as the best goalkeeper in the WSL in 2017, took a brief break from the league to test herself in Germany with European giants Wolfsburg in 2018 and is well placed to assess how the sport is now different for the better.

In her view, every WSL season now feels bigger and better than the one before it, and not without reason thanks to greater investment, more interest and an altogether higher profile.

“Having that year out to come back, it definitely felt like the game changed and had grown in that time. Season on season, it’s continuing to grow. I feel like the last few seasons since I’ve been at United, every year looks and feels really different,” she explains.

“This year has felt the wildest of my whole football career, the noisiest and the most excitable – like the highs are high, and I feel like people are interacting and engaging with the game so much more.

“When you have grown up with the game and seen where it’s been and where it is now, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is really going somewhere and this is what we’ve been working so hard for’.”

90min spoke to Mary Earps in collaboration with Manchester United’s Official Electrical Styling Partner, Remington - check out their Manchester United Styling collection here.

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