Lucy Bronze’s football career is one long upwards curve.
At just 25, she’s played in two international tournament semi-finals, won the Women’s PFA Players’ Player of the Year award twice and in September signed for Olympique Lyonnais Feminine, the most decorated club in women’s football.
Sitting in Lyon’s Groupama Stadium (a member of the Prestige Venue family) on a balmy October lunchtime, Lucy has completed her club duties for the day.
For Lucy, it’s certainly a change from playing for Manchester City last season.
“The weather, for one, is noticeably different,” said Lucy. “We’d probably be sitting in a pouring down Manchester right now instead rather than the sunny French countryside.
“The football is a little different, the culture is very different, the food is very different but I’m enjoying it, settling in well and it’s a good experience. I’m hoping to learn a lot from being here, not just football wise, but to learn the language. And, the culture will help me grow as a player and a person.”
Lucy’s started French lessons in the stadium twice a week, looking to add to the ‘pass’, ‘shoot’, ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘up’ and ‘down’ she’s already picked up from her teammates on the pitch
“It’s mainly in French, but we’ve got five or six other foreigners – German, Japanese, Canadian – and their second language is English and that’s what they prefer to speak so I can have a good conversation with them. There can be conversational barriers though.”
The city of Lyon carries a reputation for food and Lucy’s new teammates have good contacts with restauranteurs in the city. Traditional Lyonnais food meets with Lucy’s approval, but there is one thing she misses from Manchester.
“A good burger! When I order a burger here it comes still alive! I need to get used to ordering it more ‘well done’ than I would do in England.”
It’s a far cry from where Lucia Roberta Tough Bronze was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed to an English mother and Portuguese father. Lucy explains her unusual middle name ‘Tough’.
“In Portugal, you take your mother’s maiden name and your dad’s surname. My mum’s maiden name happened to be ‘Tough’. So it ended up being my middle name.”
Growing up in north east England, Lucy started playing football with her older brother and his friends. She lived up to her middle name.
“I was more known for being the only girl who played football in the whole region. And I was rougher and tougher than the boys I played with.”
Going on to play for a girls’ team, Lucy was urged to go for a trial with the Sunderland AFC Ladies under-12 academy.
“They thought I’d be good enough to play at the academy so I went to a trial and got picked straight off the bat. However I quit for a couple of years as I was only 12 and it was taking me over an hour to get there after school and also back home, which took a toll on me.”
Lucy returned to the academy three years later when she saw other girls playing for England and wanted to do the same, but there was a radical change of plans at 17 when she was told she ‘wasn’t good enough’ to get into the women’s football programme at Loughborough University.
“My mum was determined though and so I ended up going to America and playing college football for a year. For a college set up it was unbelievable. We were training every single day. We had two games a week.
“The team I played for, eight of them have gone on to represent the USA, and have won World Cups, Olympic medals, so I was playing with a really high standard – a higher standard there than I was in England, where I was told I wasn’t good enough! Playing in the States really raised my game.”
As good as the football was in the US, Lucy returned to England for her education. It wasn’t long before she signed for Everton Ladies.
Sadly injury meant Lucy didn’t get as much game time as she would have liked at Everton, but when she made what can be perceived as the controversial move to Liverpool, that played in her favour.
Known now for her club and country displays as a right back, Lucy was still working out her position in those days on Merseyside.
“The England coach at the time saw a number of different attributes which helped me fit in the team in different positions. At the time Alex Scott had been England right back for as long as I could remember, so I had to work out where I could fit in, as I’d rather be on the pitch than not at all. At Sunderland I even played at midfield for a while, and could do a job but I’m no Iniesta!”
Few people are, but for Lucy international stardom wasn’t far away. In 2015 she scored the winning goal in England’s World Cup finals against Canada, silencing a stadium of 50,000 Canadians.
“It was absolute madness. It was one of my favourite goals as I literally heard nothing from the crowd.”
“International success is not too far in the distance,” said Lucy. “We’ve made two semi-finals in major tournaments and for any team, male or female, that’s an achievement. Ultimately we want to get our hands on the trophy and the next stop is the World Cup.
“We’re looking to qualify at the moment, but the final will be in Lyon at this very stadium, so it could feel like a home game for me!”
Which brings us to the question of the best stadium Lucy’s played in. The Groupama Stadium, Anfield and The Emirates are all up there, but for Lucy there can be only one favourite.
“The best one has to be Wembley. Playing in the FA Cup Final just a few months ago with Manchester City with loads of fans and also winning the cup for the first time, plus I scored a goal. The whole occasion was really amazing.”
Could Lucy have imagined the goal at Wembley, the international tournaments, the move to Lyon and two PFA awards when she was growing up in north east England?
“When I first started playing I didn’t even consider football as a job or a career. When I started playing on the girls’ team I never thought of England. It was only as I saw other girls play for England that I got involved in the youth set up but I never thought I’d be good enough for the senior squad.
“I just progressed slowly and even if you’d asked me last year could I see myself playing for Olympique Lyonnais, the Champions League winners, I’d have laughed or that I’d win the PFA award twice, I’d say you were joking. Everything has fallen in place well for me.”
Photography credit: Groupama Stadium / Populous / Intens-cite