‘I think I drove in through the tradesmen entrance,’ jokes the unassuming Arsenal and England forward Beth Mead as she appears from the revolving doors, immediately impressed by her plush surroundings. ‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ she adds.
The Grove would be more familiar to Mead’s male counterparts, many of whom would recall frequent stints at the luxury Hertfordshire hotel while serving international duty with England, pre St George’s Park.
‘So when we were training at Loughborough University and staying in dorms, the men were here?’ asks the 24-year-old, with a wry smile as she notices the stark contrast to her own experiences of England camps.
Beth Mead believes the disparity in pay between male and female players in astounding
For Mead, who emerged as a break-out star in Phil Neville’s England side, featuring in five games at the World Cup this summer, the continuing disparity between men and women in football is astounding. The average annual salary for players in the Women’s Super League is believed to be around £35,000.
‘It’s frustrating, we obviously think we deserve a lot more,’ she begins, making her way outside to the hotel’s carefully manicured grounds. ‘What we earn in a year, one of the men’s Under 21s is taking home in a week. At some big clubs even their Under 18s could be on as much as that.
‘I know they bring in more revenue but it’s bonkers, isn’t it? We just get the best we can out of the situation right now.’
In an Arsenal training top and shorts, Mead takes a seat at a table in a quiet area of the garden, admitting she is feeling somewhat underdressed after a triple pre-season training session.
Mead explained some male U21 players could be taking home what she earns a year in a week
The 24-year-old played five games at the World Cup for England earlier this summer
‘I used to work in a village pub the night before I played a game just to earn a bit more money to get me there. Those experiences mould you as a footballer,’ says Mead. ‘I love my journey in football and I could have no complaints about it whatsoever.’
Mead scored 77 goals in 78 games under a part-time contract at former club Sunderland, leading the North East outfit to a championship title before being offered a move to north London in January 2017. It didn’t take long for the ‘little girl from Whitby, North Yorkshire’ – who made her senior England debut a year later – to find her feet. Although those feet may not receive Premier League pampering, they did help to bring home the 2018-19 WSL title and Goal of the Year for her thunderous 30-yard strike against Brighton.
‘No one washes our boots for us at Arsenal, we don’t have that luxury,’ she explains, noting the title-winning side’s boots are housed in a simple wooden garden shed at the club’s London Colney base.
‘The men’s boot room is probably bigger than our changing room at the training ground, but you don’t need a fancy room to make you a better footballer.’
Mead sat down with Sportsmail’s Claire Bloomfield at the luxury Grove hotel in Hertfordshire
She revealed she used to work in the village pub the night for games to supplement her wages
But the young Lioness – who already has more than 20 caps – is quick to acknowledge the set up at Arsenal is far superior to many of the clubs in the women’s top flight.
‘We have a great facility, we train in a multi-million-pound gym, there’s a new stand at Meadow Park and we’ve got a good relationship with the men’s team. I was joking with Alexandre Lacazette yesterday, so it’s not like we’re ghosts to each other.
‘Of course I would love to come home at night and have a chef to cook my dinner, but I make it myself. I’m not the best chef in the world, but I’m not the worst. I make food and it’s edible,’ she laughs.
A few days out from Arsenal’s season opener at home to London rivals West Ham, Mead admits the Gunners are hungry to regain their status as serial winners in women’s football after ending the club’s seven-year wait for a league title.
Since delivering that long-awaited silverware, manager Joe Montemurro is now also tasked with masterminding Arsenal’s first Champions League campaign in more than five years. They travel to Fiorentina just four days into the new season.
But successfully defending top spot on home soil is first on the agenda, and Mead believes this squad is well on the way to emulating French giants Lyon – who have won the last 13 French titles.
The Arsenal forward won Goal of the Year for her thunderous 30-yard strike against Brighton
Mead said she interacts with Arsenal’s men and was joking with Alexandre Lacazette recently
‘That’s the Arsenal we want to bring back, we want to be that team people are scared of, just like people are scared of Lyon. I remember playing for Sunderland against Arsenal and I didn’t want to play them. That’s how you want other teams to feel.’
With Dutch defender Dominique Bloodworth the only significant departure this summer, Arsenal have completed some good business in the transfer window, recruiting Jill Roord, Manuela Zinsberger and Leonie Maier from Bayern Munich, plus Manchester City duo Jennifer Beattie and Fran Stenson. The club have also welcomed the return of midfielder Jordan Nobbs after a nine-month injury lay-off.
‘The capability that I know this group has is exciting,’ she says. ‘We’re going in the right direction to do that, whether it’s this season or not, I do believe we’re headed in the direction with Joe and we can be that team.
‘When you look at top sides like Lyon, they’ve got two or three teams that are half decent in that league (Division 1 Feminine) and that’s it,’ Mead adds, suggesting dominance in England – in a league she brands ‘the best in women’s football’ – would be a far greater feat.