England and Lyon full-back Lucy Bronze is one of five athletes profiled in World Beaters – an exclusive series for BBC iPlayer which looks at stories behind modern-day female sports stars.
The 27-year-old won three Women’s Super League titles with Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as the FA Cup, before making a move to Lyon, arguably the best team in the women’s game.
Since her transfer to France in 2017, she has picked up two Champions League trophies, two French league titles and a French Cup.
An England international with 66 caps, Bronze will play at her second Women’s World Cup this summer having helped the Lionesses to a third-place finish in 2015.
Bronze spoke to the BBC about what it was like growing up as a football-obsessed girl in the north east of England, how she’s overcome serious injuries and social anxiety, and why she feels so comfortable playing in packed-out stadiums.
‘We were like the two Ronaldos’
I can’t do tricks but I absolutely loved trying and one of my fondest memories growing up was trying to imitate Ronaldinho and do his dance.
My best friend Lucy Staniforth plays for England now as well, and we grew up playing together and we used to try and copy all the adverts.
I had a little Portugal kit and she had a Brazil kit and we used to think we were like the two Ronaldos. We taught ourselves how to do ‘around the world’ – that was the first trick that we ever that we ever learned.
Those were the best times: us growing up together and messing about.
‘I was so socially awkward, I wouldn’t speak to anyone’
There were three football fields next door to my house. I used to walk down to the boys’ team but eventually I was told I was going to have to stop playing because I was a girl.
The closest girls’ team was an hour and a half away. I had to meet all these new people that I didn’t know and I was socially so awkward. I turned up and I wouldn’t speak to anyone.
Things like that held me back a bit. It made it harder when I was 11 but at the same time I got pushed into situations which, ultimately, have made it easier for me because I’ve been forced to do those things.
‘I completely snapped my knee in half’
I turned up for my first day training with England Under-19s super excited, and I just happened to bang my knee on the floor and it just blew up. It turned out that I’d completely snapped it in half.
I needed to go and see a surgeon and they said: “You need to have surgery now otherwise you might lose your leg. It’s infected.”
I had stitches all the way down my kneecap and I wasn’t allowed out of my hospital bed for a whole week.
My under-19 coach called and said: “You’re not going to be fit enough to play this summer. We’ve got a World Cup and a Euros. We’re not picking you to play. Bye.” He just put the phone down.
That’s when I was left to my own devices. I didn’t have a physio so I used to go to the park with my dog and just run laps. That was me for three months, training as hard as I could to get fit.
‘I’m myself in front of 55,000 people’
I’d rather play in front of a full stadium here [in Lyon], in my football kit, than speak to one person I didn’t know.
When I’m playing football it’s what I know; it’s what I’m good at. The spotlight is not just on you, you’re with 10 of your team-mates. I could have done other sports, like tennis and athletics, but I like being part of a team where it’s not just about you, it’s about everybody.
When I played in a World Cup in front of 55,000 people, I was happy and smiley. I was myself. But speaking in front of a camera I’m super awkward, and I don’t like it.
But it’s part of your role as a female athlete to motivate and inspire the next generation.
I know part of that is because of the things that I do on a football pitch – but I’ve now become part of something off the field that I need to help drive and to help make changes for the better.