LYON, France (Reuters) - When Lucy Bronze kicked off her professional career at Everton, her earnings were all-but wiped out by the cost of being a footballer.
Bronze did not care about the money, though. She just wanted to play football.
It was a focus that paid off, and next month the Olympique Lyonnais defender will be central to England’s assault on the women’s World Cup in France.
A self-described aggressive and hardworking defender, the 27-year-old says she is now enjoying the “house and the car” in Lyon, where she hopes the Lionesses will play the semi-finals and the final of the sport’s top event.
And Bronze trusts that the experience she has accumulated since joining Europe’s most successful club in 2017 will prove an asset for England who finished third in the 2015 World Cup.
“When I first signed a contract with a women’s team, my contract stated that if I played I would get 100 pounds and if I didn’t play it would be zero,” Bronze told Reuters in an interview.
“If you got injured you got zero, it was crazy.” But Bronze wanted just one thing after years of practice on the streets with her brother, and growing up with parents who did not watch football, let alone play it.
“My mum and dad don’t like football, they didn’t watch it at all. Obviously they watch it now, they watch me, but my dad can’t play football, he’s terrible and my mum’s the same,” she recalled.
“My brother is two years older than me and he just used to play football on the street with his friends after school. And everything my brother did, I wanted to do the same... I wanted to be him.”
In due course, Bronze got a degree in sports science and said she was soon facing a choice.
“It was at that moment when I thought ‘do I want to get a job now and keep playing football or am I just gonna play football?’
“I didn’t get paid enough money really to live properly, sleeping on people’s sofas and stuff, but that was the moment when I thought I just wanna play football professionally whether I get paid 10 euros or 10,000 euros, I just wanna play.”
And she played, moving up the ranks from Everton to Lyon to make it to the short list of the first women’s Ballon d’Or, via stints at Liverpool and Manchester City.
“I think it was only five years ago now when I kind of took that jump and left my education to the side and left all those other things to focus on football,” said Bronze.
“I wanted to be the best at it and I had to put all the things aside and go for it, and if I wasn’t gonna make any money, I wasn’t gonna make any money.
“I didn’t think I was gonna be in the position I am in today with a house and car and living a nice life, but back then it didn’t matter and it still doesn’t matter.”
Sexist remarks didn’t matter either to a player who says she would ‘run through a brick wall to win a game’.
“I never had a problem with the people I was close to because I was playing football with them and they knew I could play, it didn’t matter that I was a girl,” she explained.
“It’s more people from the outside, fans, people you don’t know who question it. I remember teachers at school thinking ‘she thinks she can play football, but she’s a girl’. But it didn’t bother me.
“When you’re a woman in any job you get ‘she can’t do that because she’s a woman’ but to me it kind of makes me laugh — if you think I can’t do it I’ll show you that I can do it and then you’re the one who’s gonna look stupid for having those stupid opinions.”
Bronze, playing in a team who won a record five Champions Leagues, is an asset her England coach Phil Neville is well aware of.
“He asks me a lot of stuff about what I do in Lyon or what the club does,” she said.
What Bronze will do when her professional career ends is anyone’s guess.
“I wanna play until I am 45 if my body will let me,” she said with a smile. “After football I have no idea.
“I would love to go back (to school), maybe do more education, sometimes I think I wanna be a coach, then I think I’d like to be a fitness coach or in a boardroom in women’s football to make it better, and then sometimes I think I’m just gonna buy a bar in Barcelona.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot, Editing by Ossian Shine