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Beth Mead: Inside Arsenal and England forward’s ‘gruelling’ 11-month ACL recovery

Beth Mead applauds the Arsenal fans
Beth Mead got a standing ovation from Arsenal fans when she returned against Aston Villa in October

In November last year Arsenal and England forward Beth Mead ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in the final minutes of a Women’s Super League defeat by Manchester United.

They were the initial two players in Arsenal’s “ACL club”, a group no-one wants to be part of.

England captain Leah Williamson soon joined them in April, as did defender Laura Wienroither in May.

ACL injuries usually take at least 10 months to recover from, meaning all four of Arsenal’s players would miss the summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Mead and her team-mates were out for the long run. Up next was the gruelling recovery process.

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When Mead first went down in injury time at Emirates Stadium almost 12 months ago, she thought she had picked up a routine knock.

“I knew I hadn’t felt that in my knee before, it was like someone had hit it with a hammer,” she told BBC’s Football Focus. “It hurt for a minute but then it settled down, I was able to walk off.

“I could have easily come back on thinking it was OK. Luckily I had already been subbed otherwise I would have done irreparable damage.

“But I soon knew something wasn’t right, that’s why I got upset walking to the tunnel. The scan confirmed the worst.”

Mead was England’s top scorer at their previous major tournament, helping the Lionesses make history to win the European Championship at Wembley in 2022. She was named player of the tournament and finished runner-up for the 2021-22 Ballon d’Or Feminin.

Having been in the form of her life, the 28-year-old was set to miss the World Cup. She had eight months to recover in time for England’s opener against Haiti on 22 July. Unlikely, but there was still an outside shot.

Mead looked tearful when she went off with a knee injury against Manchester United in November, 2022
Mead looked tearful when she went off with a knee injury against Manchester United in November 2022

Less than four weeks after the scan Mead was in the stands watching as her partner Miedema was taken off on a stretcher in a Champions League match with Lyon.

The Netherlands international and all-time WSL top scorer had become the latest star to rupture their ACL.

“I would never wish it on anyone, it is not a nice injury, mentally and physically it is gruelling,” Mead added.

“Viv doesn’t stay on the ground very long. I came down on my crutches, I’d seen her and said ‘surely not?’

“She said ‘everything you explained when you did yours, I felt’.

“We were laying in bed that night, Viv had her brace on and I was prepping for surgery. I looked at both our knees and said ‘I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve this’.”

Team-mates surround Vivianne Miedema as she lies injured on the pitch
Miedema left the field on a stretcher after falling awkwardly off the ball in a match against Lyon in December

As devastating as it was, the couple were able to “help each other through the process”.

“We were very fortunate we didn’t kill each other,” joked Mead.

“We were competitive in testing, who is doing better. It pushed us to get back quicker. But it has not been without its arguments and ups and downs.”

The rest of the Arsenal team also did what they could to lift spirits. Steph Catley visited the pair when they were both immobile while Kim Little came round to cook.

“The girls were devastated when I did mine, then Viv did hers, then Leah and Laura a few months later. We had an ACL pandemic,” said Mead.

In January Mead’s world was rocked. In a statement on X she announced her mum had died after “a long and brave battle with ovarian cancer”.

Again the forward’s support group of family, friends and Arsenal and England team-mates were there for her.

“I went home quite quickly after my surgery in November and spent the last months trying to do as much as I could with mum,” said Mead.

“I didn’t have football to switch off. When days were hard in the gym they became harder because I would think about my mum. I spoke to my mum most days, just talking nonsense like you do. It was hard for me to adapt.

“But the girls were around me, I didn’t have many times on my own where I could overthink things. They’d organise things for me to do. Recently, on my mum’s birthday, they took me away for the weekend.

“Mentally it’s been tough. People always see me as a bubbly personality but I also have bad days and moments. The people around me have kept me sane in such a rough patch.

“When bad things happen I always think there is somebody worse off. When I did my knee that’s an injury I can still come back from, I can play football again. My mum had something she couldn’t come back from.”

Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead train
Both Miedema and Mead returned to first-team action in October

England’s World Cup squad was announced in May, six months after Mead left Emirates Stadium in tears with her knee injury.

Having not played since November, she was left out of the squad. England reached the World Cup final, where they narrowly lost to Spain.

“My motivation was World Cup, World Cup, World Cup,” Mead added. “As it got closer it was a tough pill to swallow. It was hard to watch it. You want to be part of the group with how amazing they did.”

After 11 months out, Mead’s first game back was not at the World Cup but instead in the WSL in an October match with Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium.

Miedema returned the following week against Bristol City. Williamson and Wienroither, having been injured much later, are still recovering.

Against Villa, Mead came on as a late substitute and set up Alessia Russo for a 94th-minute winner. It was an impassioned dressing room after the match.

“The reception I got when I came on gave me goosebumps. The emotion came out after the game,” said Mead.

“I couldn’t even look at the ACL club. They saw the hard work I put in. If I turned around to them or the physios I would have probably got quite upset so I tried to avoid that. I said ‘you’ll know when you come back yourself’.

“My dad was also at the game, it was nice considering the rough times we have been through. My mum and dad were the reason why I started playing so it was nice for him to see me doing what I love.

“Me being me, I’ve always tried to stay positive,” added Mead. “It’s a trait my mum has given me.”

June Mead
June Mead watched her daughter Beth lift the European Championship with England in 2022

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