For many years Lucy Bronze’s football “career”, if such a description could be applied to what was essentially a hobby, took the same path as so many female players. Drawn into the game because her big brother played, she struggled to find a local team then had to head off to America to develop her game. So far, so typical.
But then, back home, the game changed. The Football Association launched the Women’s Super League (WSL). Bronze came home and, surfing on her talent, has ridden the wave from playing for fun to playing for a living, and, on Sunday, to playing at Wembley in front of 55,000 people.
The England centre-back will be treading new ground when she walks out to face Germany, for not only has she never walked on the Wembley turf, she has never seen a match there.
Bronze said. “I grew up in Holy Island [Northumberland, where her grandmother was caretaker of Lindisfarne Castle], which was a long way from Wembley. I’ve been for meetings and awards, but not for a game. It’ll be a completely new experience.
“I remember when I was at Sunderland we made the FA Cup final and played in front of 20,000 at Derby. We were [saying] ‘Oh my God, this is unbelievable, amazing’. It is still one of my career highlights, but compared to England v Germany at Wembley in front of 55,000…”
It is a long way from trying to emulate elder brother Jorge on Holy Island. “I adored my brother when I was younger so I wanted to do everything he did,” she said.
That included football but at 12, back then, girls had to stop playing with boys so Bronze joined Sunderland’s academy. The travelling was, however, too draining so she went to Blyth Town before returning to Sunderland at 16.
English women’s football was, however, still amateur and part-time. So when the opportunity came to go to the University of North Carolina Bronze seized it.
“At the time it was something I really needed to do,” said Bronze. “There was no super league then, the teams in England were really spread out. I had this opportunity to do my degree – education is massive for me – and train full-time.”
A year later the WSL started. Sunderland did not make the cut but Everton, coached by Mo Marley, who Bronze knew from England age-group teams, did. “Mo said come and play for Everton, so I came back as the sport seemed to be growing,” she said.
Unfortunately a knee injury requiring two operations bedevilled her time at Everton, which was busy enough having moved her sports science degree to Leeds Metropolitan University, and taken a bar job to make ends meet.
Then, at the end of the 2012 season, city rivals Liverpool went full-time. England duo Fara Williams and Natasha Dowie swapped from blue to red and Bronze followed. Again, it was a logical decision. “After the injuries I felt I needed the support, medical and training, I would get at Liverpool to catch up,” she said.
The switch paid off spectacularly. Liverpool won back-to-back titles, including winning this year’s on a dramatic final day in which they leapfrogged Chelsea and Birmingham. With performances that earned her the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year award, Bronze also played her way into the England team. Initially capped in the dog days of Hope Powell’s reign, she was retained by caretaker Brent Hills and successor Mark Sampson, playing in nine of the 10 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup. But none were in her preferred position.
“Running is a big part of my game and I like right-back, but Alex [Scott] is the right-back for now. For England I play centre-half. I enjoy it. You face all the best strikers in the world. I enjoy the challenge.”
It also suits her middle name: Tough. “My father is Portuguese and in Portugal it is traditional to take your mother’s maiden name as a middle name. My mum is called Tough. Once people find out they say ‘is that because you smash people’, but it is the perfect name for a defender.”
This has been a big week for Bronze, who on Monday moved to Manchester City. “The plans City have are unbelievable,” said Bronze, now 23. “There has never been anything like it in women’s football in England. The women are treated identically to the men. They get all the same facilities. I’d not seen that before and I just thought, ‘how can I turn my back on this?’ I want to get the best out of myself ahead of next year’s World Cup and they have everything.”
While female wages still languish a very long way behind the men, at City as elsewhere, Bronze at least does not have to worry about finding a bar job now. The women’s set-up at City underlines how far the women’s game has progressed even in Bronze’s short career, but there is one landmark still to be reached.
“I chill out watching movies and playing ‘Fifa’ on the Playstation,” she said. “Not many of the girls do, but I love it. I love football and don’t want to get away from it.” She cannot, however, do as many of the men do, and play as herself as women’s football teams are not on the Fifa computer game. Not yet. She laughs, “When they are I’ll know the women’s game is big”.Reuse content