How Lucy Bronze became one of the all-time football greats

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

​​”Lucy Bronze is the best player in the world, without a shadow of a doubt – with her athleticism and quality,” says Phil Neville. “There’s no player like her in the world.”

And it transpires that the former England manager is right. The 30-year-old defender ranks among the world’s best right-backs, and as her England team mate Fran Kirby said, “When she gets the ball and she’s driving with it, there’s not many that can stop her.”

Now Bronze will use her tekkers to help England win their first European Championship title, with the Lionesses hoping to play in this year’s final following their semi-finals match against Sweden tonight.

Since making her debut in 2013, Bronze has racked up over 160 domestic senior appearances and played for her country over 80 times, including as part of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads. In 2015 Bronze was even given the Silver Ball at the tournament and became the first women’s footballer to be nominated for the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year prize.

“We were successful and I scored a couple of goals and I think my football life changed overnight. People knew my name and who I was, and I had a target on my back when I was playing, but it was something I enjoyed and always wanted,” she said of her time competing at the 2015 World Cup.

Lucy Bronze in action againsy the Netherlands (Action Images via Reuters)
Lucy Bronze in action againsy the Netherlands (Action Images via Reuters)

And the accolades keep piling up. In 2019 she became the first English footballer to win the Uefa Women’s Player of the Year. A year later, she was named Fifa Best Player. Most recently, when naming their all-time Euros XI for Betway, England legends Faye White and Kelly Smith named Bronze in their side.

From the injury that nearly dashed her footie dreams to her now jam-packed trophey cabinet, we trace how Lucy Bronze went from cub to Lioness.

A tight family unit and quaint childhood

Bronze was brought up on the remote ‘Holy Island’ Lindisfarne off England’s north-east coast until she was seven, and has lived in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland ever since. Born Lucia Roberta Tough Bronze, her father, Joaquim, taught the toddler Portuguese.

“We were brought up to be bilingual,” she told The Guardian back in 2017. “Dad used to speak to us in Portuguese but we always replied in English. That’s probably why I’m not very comfortable speaking Portuguese.”

In an interview with BBC sports in 2018, Bronze recalled her first football memory: “Playing with the boys, and one of the boys on the other teams laughing at playing against a girl; needless to say, he came off the pitch crying by the end.”

Although Bronze didn’t shy away from gutsy displays of defiance, she also relied on her mother to put naysayers in their place. She once told an ignorant male coach who implied Bronze couldn’t handle playing in all-boy squads: "Right. No one is telling my little girl that she can’t do something.” In the end, her daughter continued playing with them until the rules no longer permitted aged 12.

Bronze has remained extremely close with her mum, and regularly posts the two of them hanging out on social media. Most recently, she shared a photo of the two of them out for Easter lunch with Bronze’s rumoured girlfriend Manchester City footballer Keira Walsh.

An injury-prone road to stardom

Bronze joined local female team Blyth Town before moving to the Black Cats in 2007. Within a year she was named the team’s captain after winning Manager’s Player of the Year thanks to her incredible performance at the FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division. However, it was in 2009 when she truly burst into the limelight after Sunderland defeated Arsenal in the FA Women’s Cup Final.

Following this victory, that summer Bronze moved to the United States to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels women’s soccer team after their coach, Anson Dorrance, spotted the young star during a soccer camp and offered her a scholarship.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

“So I went to America. I had a great time there. But then improved there. I got better there. England then rang me up again and said, ‘If you’re going to be in America, then we’re just not going to pick you,” she explained in an interview with The Telegraph. “So I kind of have this, stuck between a rock and a hard place situation. People always ask me why I didn’t ever, why I didn’t stay in America. Didn’t I like it? I loved it. I played at the best team. The players that I played with, I think about eight of them have won at least one World Cups.”

In the end, Bronze decided to return to England. “And funny, well, not funny enough, but that’s when my knee injury started,” she continued. The young cub’s career was very nearly over before it even began. On the Game Changer podcast, Bronze delved into the challenges of a recurring knee injury she battled with as a teenager, revealing she had felt a lack of support from England. At 17, Bronze was told she would be dropped from the squad for the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship.

“So they’re like, yeah, we’re not going to pick you. And I was like, ‘What?’ Like this is three months away. I’m sitting in a hospital bed. Not because of any of my wrongdoing, just an unfortunate run of events.”

She eventually returned to Sunderland, where she won every domestic honour in England during her spell there. This was all the while studying sport science at Leeds Metropolitan University and working part-time in a pizza parlour, which during the 2019 World Cup changed the colour of its shopfront to bronze in her honour.

Since then, she has played for Everton, Manchester City and French team Olympique Lyonnais, which the sporting legend finds hard to believe. “I didn’t dream of joining Man. City as a professional one day, or representing England, because I didn’t know that was even possible.”

In June 2022, she agreed to join Spanish giants Barcelona on a two-year contract, where she will return after the Euros.

Life outside the beautiful game

Bronze admitted to The Guardian that there weren’t any women footballers she could look up to as role models when she was growing up. In fact, even now she finds it surreal that she’s seen as a role model to many others.

“There’s a lot of players who come to me now and ask me questions. It took a while for it to click in my head and think that they’re asking me questions because they really look up to me or they think I’ve got the answers or I’ve got the experience. Once that clicked in my head I’ve enjoyed it,” she said.

 (Getty Images for British Olympic)
(Getty Images for British Olympic)

It’s something she wants to further explore as part of her post-playing future. “What I’d like to do is what they do in the FA and UEFA. I really like the idea of changing the game, like Baroness Sue Campbell, the [FA] head of women’s football,” she told The Gentlewoman magazine. “I want to help. I’ve played it, I know everything about it, and so many things could be done to change it – things that aren’t that hard. Or I might just retire, then buy a bar in Spain and run that."

Nontheless, there is still one more thing Bronze needs to do before she can think about hanging up her boots.

“I’m still driven by the fact that I’ve not won everything. Always my biggest focus has always been a winner with England,” she divulged on the Game Changers podcast. “I didn’t know what the Champions League was when I was younger, but you always know what the World Cup is. I think that’s the one that you always hear about. So yeah, I’ve always wanted to win a World Cup, a Euros, an Olympics – all three would equally be just as good.”

With the England versus Sweden Euros semi finals match tonight, hopefully Bronze will be one step closer to achieving her childhood dream.

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