Women's Football

Lucy Bronze on how shyness has impacted her football career

Ali Rampling
Lucy Bronze has opened up on how shyness has impacted her football career
Lucy Bronze has opened up on how shyness has impacted her football career / Pepsi

Shyness and football is a curious combination.

Football fundamentally depends on being part of a team, the constant presence of others and interacting with different people - on the surface, not the ideal environment for a shy person to thrive.

But there also aren't many social situations where you can consistently not speak for 17 weeks and still get invited back every Sunday.

"Like, unbelievably shy," triple Champions League winner Lucy Bronze tells 90min with a laugh when asked to paint a picture of just how shy she was growing up. "I think my mum always spoke for me. People must have looked at me and thought I was like a puppet on a string because the words never came out of my mouth. 

"Fara Williams always makes a joke now; I joined Everton at 18 years old, and she was like: ‘I don’t think I ever heard your voice until two years later'. I just didn’t know how to speak to people, didn’t know how to make conversation and keep the conversation going."

While off the pitch Bronze may be introverted, on it she exudes confidence. The Manchester City full-back is renowned for her all-action style, with her marauding charges down the right flank and lung-busting recovery runs a real trademark. She scored long-range screamers against Norway in successive World Cups, and features alongside Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Ronaldinho in Pepsi's 2022 Play to Inspire campaign, where her strength, power and ferocious shot are celebrated.

Bronze admits that in the early stages of her career, the contrast between her on and off the field personas resulted in some people getting the wrong impression of her.

"I think when I was younger I was very misunderstood, especially in the England setup. I think because I didn’t speak but on the pitch when I’m playing football I’m always really confident. On the pitch I’m like hell for leather, I’ll run through a brick wall, I’ll do anything, and then I’ll come off the pitch and I won’t say a word.

"I think people used to think I was like an arrogant child and I always got misunderstood. It was only as I got older people realised I was just super competitive on the pitch and actually I wasn’t arrogant, I just didn’t know how to talk to people."

Bronze moved to the United States as a 17-year-old, joining North Carolina's prestigious college setup. She was coached by World Cup-winning manager Anson Dorrance, played alongside Tobin Heath and Ashlyn Harris and regularly pitted herself against the likes of Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press and Sydney Leroux.

A shy teenager leaving her home comforts, moving to an alien country and mingling with a new set of teammates sounds like a hat-trick of social anxiety triggers. On the contrary, for the first time Bronze found a mentality that resonated with her own - while the Americans' fondness of the English accent aided the social side of things.

"I think the most comfortable I’d ever felt was being out there; being around players who were just as competitive as I was, who played the game hard and ran fast, ran through brick walls like I did, never apologised for being a strong, confident person on the pitch.

"That experience really was an eye opener for me in terms of being so misunderstood in England, going to America and realising these Americans had a lot of attributes that I had mentally."

While her years of saying very little remain a Fara Williams punchline, as one of England's more experienced players, Bronze has begun to take on leadership roles within the national team. The 30-year-old was a vice captain under Phil Neville, and wore the armband at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup.

Being an authority figure did not initially come naturally to her - "I realise that I’m going to have to be more comfortable being uncomfortable," - so Bronze spoke with psychologists and talked to and observed other leaders to learn how to find her voice.

"If you’d told me at 21, 22 years old that I’d have been the vice captain of England and I’d have captained England I’d have been like: ‘I really hope that doesn’t happen, because I don’t want to speak in front of people, I don’t want to have to give a team talk, I don’t want to have to do all those things'," Bronze admitted.

"Not because I don’t want to. I’d love to be able to tell people how I feel, but when I was younger that would have been the most terrifying thing. Not stepping out in front of 80,000 people, speaking in front of eight people."

Bronze is from the generation of women's players who have grown with the game. Although the landscape of women's football is unrecognisable from when she first started kicking a ball about, football continues to carry the same significance beyond what unfolds on the pitch as it did as a child; a way to relate to others, express herself and come out of her shell.

"Sport has always been the way that I’ve connected with people. It still is to this day; I’m not the most socially amazing person at meeting new people.

"At school because I played sport that was how I found my best friends. Someone like Lucy Staniforth, who I’ve known since I was 10, it was because we played football together that we had anything to talk about.

"As I’ve got older I’ve got more confident. Being part of a team has always been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I could have played tennis, I could have done athletics, been a runner, but being part of a team was a big thing for me and made a huge difference to my life and the person that I am."

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