Lucy Hope on grafting her way to professionalism & Everton's progression
By Ali Rampling
Lucy Hope takes being a self-starter to a whole other level.
From moving to Sweden aged 19 for her first taste of professional football, to singlehandedly finding herself an agent to help her land a full-time contract, the 26-year-old's initiative has driven her from amateur Scottish football to WSL high-fliers Everton.
Hope (nee Graham) discovered her love for football in the school playground, and began her senior career at Forfar Farmington aged just 15.
"When I think back now it's quite strange how I had the confidence to actually go into that kind of changing room quite young," Hope told 90min. "I think now when I see the young girls coming through in the changing room, how daunting it can actually be.
"But I think it really brings out your personality. You see and hear a lot of things - a lot of banter - that is probably ahead of your own time. But you kind of just sit there in the corner and chuckle to yourself."
Hope moved to Hibernian 18 months later, before an injury at Swedish side Mallbackens in July 2015 presented the opportunity of a half-season loan to the Damallsvenskan outfit. She jumped at the chance.
Speaking minimal Swedish - "I can count to like 10 but that's not very handy" - posed obvious challenges, but helped improve other sides of her game.
"I think football speaks its own language, and it really developed me as a visual learner and [helped me to] see pictures around the pitch a lot clearer rather with a voice that I didn't understand what they were saying," Hope added. "So for me it really helped me observe football."
Hope returned to Hibs in January 2016, but with the Scottish outfit still an amateur side, she had to juggle football with a job at Tesco. The Scotland international would work a supermarket shift from 6am until midday, do her gym session at Scotland's national performance centre in the afternoon, before driving to club training in the evening.
"It was kind of full on but obviously I needed a job to fund and facilitate myself to get back and forth to training," she explained. "It seemed to work out, they always gave me time off, and they always encouraged it.
"I'd gotten into the national team one time and they put me on one of the emails as like somebody to look out for in Tesco. They were always singing my praises, they were never kinda frustrated that I was taking time off. I used to go and have to chat with my manager quite a lot: I need to go away again, I need to go away again."
Hibs qualified for the Champions League in 2016 and 2017, meaning Hope would be working at Tesco one day, jetting off to play European football the next.
In the 2016/17 competition, Hibs were drawn against German champions Bayern Munich in the last 32 - a squad stacked with young talent and seasoned internationals, including Vivianne Miedema, Mana Iwabuchi, Melanie Leupolz and Fridolina Rolfö.
"Now if we were to come up against that team, I'd find that way, way, way more nerve wracking than I did back then," Hope recalled. "I think it was just naivety of being young, inexperienced; you're just excited to be there and play and compete hard.
"Whereas now you see the names on the team sheet and you go: bloody hell, we never really actually had a chance. But it was all fun and games, it was all about the experience at the time."
Inspired by her taste of professionalism in Sweden but coming to the realisation that scouts weren't going to knock on her door and offer her a contract, Hope messaged an agent on social media.
"Again just me being a little bit audacious, thinking I'm sitting there in my bedroom like: is this what I want to do? Can I take it further? Am I happy playing at this level? Do I want to stay at home?"
This helped her earn a move Bristol City in 2018, and after netting 12 goals in all competitions during her debut season in English football, a transfer to Everton materialised the following summer.
Everton have made huge improvements this season - Hope's fourth at the club - under Brian Sorensen. After beginning last term with Champions League ambitions before going through three managers and finishing 10th, they are now a team transformed into a slick unit with a clear vision. The Toffees sit fifth in the WSL with six victories from 11 - already bettering their win tally from last season.
"When you look at the managers before, away from the pitch [they were] having us really working well together as people and bringing in really nice people, but whether we've clicked on the football pitch has been questionable, and we've always kind of struggled with an identity a little bit," Hope reflected.
"Whereas I think Brian and the staff have come in and it's just: this is how it is, this is how we're playing, stick to the script type thing. Sometimes when there's grey areas and decisions to be made, that's where relationships can maybe start breaking down or people are on different pages.
"For him to come in and say: this is our style of play, this is what we want to do, I think everyone's jumped on board with that and are thankful for the safety and stability. It's a very clear picture and people can see that in how we're playing."
Sorensen's appointment has also brought about a change for Hope. Traditionally an all action, box-to-box midfielder, she has spent recent months in a full back role.
"I don't know if I should say this but it feels a little bit easier," the 26-year-old laughed. "I feel like right back or right wing back is an easier position than central midfield. I can hold my hands up and say that. I'm enjoying this because it's a little bit different, it's a different style, I see different pictures, I play with different players.
"I think if you're a centre mid you can probably play anywhere apart from goals. Centre mids you need to have your head on a swivel constantly, you need to be so self aware and you need to be able to read the game well, and you need to be fit as well. So I feel anyone who can play in the central area can probably play in the wide area."
Does playing at right back now mean she has to mark the effervescent Jess Park in training?
"I do sometimes."
That must be a nightmare?
"Nah," Hope deadpans. "She's in my back pocket."