There is no reason at all why the future superstars of women’s football cannot come from the Middle East, said one of the sport’s most famous names.
England and Arsenal star Beth Mead was in Dubai, meeting pupils from schools in the emirate to discuss ways to unlock their potential.
Mead, who became a household name in the UK last year when she was top scorer at Euro 2022, said she was amazed by the knowledge of women’s football among Dubai pupils.
“I was blown away by the reception I got from the kids when I walked in. It felt louder than Wembley when I played there,” Mead told The National.
“The kids were so excited and it was great to see them so engrossed when I spoke to them.
“It speaks volumes about how far the woman’s game in England has come when so many children here in Dubai are so knowledgeable about it.”
Mead’s exploits at Euro 2022 were a key component in England winning the tournament.
She was named as player of the tournament and was selected as BBC Sports Personality of the Year, becoming the first woman footballer to win the award.
Mead also received an MBE in the UK's New Year’s honours list and received her new title earlier this month in a ceremony at Windsor Castle.
Pupils said they were over the moon about getting the chance to meet Mead.
“It was amazing meeting Beth. She’s an inspiration and I want to play football just like her one day,” said Olivia, a Year 5 pupil at Royal Grammar School Guildford, Dubai.
Her classmate Arthur was equally delighted to meet a sporting superstar and enjoy a kickabout.
“Beth was so cool! The football was amazing,” he said.
“She’s injured at the moment but I hope she will play in the World Cup.”
The Women's World Cup is due to kick off this summer in Australia and New Zealand.
Mead emphasised that changing the image of women's football is important when encouraging young girls in the region to take up the sport.
“There’s no reason why the next generation of superstars in the women’s game can’t come from the Middle East,” she said.
“We just have to change perceptions. We had a similar issue in the UK not so long ago, but look where we are now.”
A record crowd of more than 77,000 people watched the Women’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United last week.
Fewer than 5,000 people showed up to watch the final of the same competition in 2013. Instead of Wembley, the fixture was played at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium that day.
“Football is for everyone and, like all sports, it’s important that children everywhere can have access to it,” said Mead.
“If I can help that, even in a small way, then I know I will have done something right.”
She was in Dubai to meet children from the four Cognita schools as part of her role as founding ambassador for the international schools group's Enrich ME programme.
She spoke to pupils from Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai, Ranches Primary School, Horizon English School and Horizon International School.
“Beth Mead is an incredible figure in sport and a role model to so many people around the world and we are delighted to welcome her,” said David Baldwin, chief executive of Cognita Middle East.
“Having her support within our school community and access to her knowledge, skills and passion for the game is invaluable for our coaches and students.
“We know that her involvement with the programme will inspire and encourage students to discover their full potential.”