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Interview: Sophie Bradley, Notts County Ladies

25 February 15 interview: Lucy Manning
photos: Raluca Moraru

Sophie Bradley started her career at Forest, moved to Leeds and is now Defender and Captain for Notts County Ladies FC. In between all that, she’s played for England at the 2011 Women’s World Cup and at the 2012 Olympic Games. We chatted to the local lass about representing her country and team banter...

Have you always been a keen footballer?
My dad wanted me to play tennis because I could make a career out of it. My parents would send me to football camps with my brother, but wouldn’t let me play in a team. I got my own trial for a team and my dad dropped me off – he didn’t even stay to watch me, I’ll never forget that. Now he comes all round the world with me and he’s so happy that I chose football.

Did you play for an all-girls team when you were younger?
I played for the boys’ team at school. I was captain, but I was stripped of it because a parent complained, saying it was embarrassing that a girl was captain. I was just a kid who wanted to play so it didn’t really matter to me. That’s the way I’ve always thought – as long as I’m playing.

You were awarded a scholarship to the FA development centre at Loughborough University. How valuable do you think schemes like these are for young players?
It was fantastic. I was at Loughborough for three years - I had to be up for 5.30am to train at 7am, to then go to college and then train again. That was my routine. I got a lot of stick off my friends cos I never got to see them, but if I hadn’t given all my time up to do that, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It was a really important part of my life. If you’ve got the talent, and people recognise it, then go for it.

How did you feel when you first discovered you’d been selected to play for England?
I was at school when my dad got the phone call - I thought he was having me on. The camp was intense, my legs used to hurt so much I thought I was dying. When I was younger, there were better players than me, but I worked harder - staying longer and waking up earlier. That’s all paid off now. It’s an absolute honour to play for my country. I never thought I’d be able to do it.

Your England team mates, Alex Greenwood, Laura Bassett, Jess Sigworth and Rachel Williams have all just been signed to County, does this mark your rise to the top of the league with an all-star team?
To be honest, it’s too early to say. You can name all the best players in the world – but can they play in a team together? We had a great team last year but unfortunately injuries didn’t go our way. I don’t want to set the bar too high but we’ll see. It’s looking good.

There’s a lot of international players in the team. How easy do you think they find the transition?
When Desiree Scott first came over, the hardest part was getting used to our banter. She laughs about it now, but at the time she’d be like, “You can’t say that!” We just wind each other up - English banter. It’s great to see the experience of another player from another national team. They have a different outlook on the game.

Women’s football is rapidly growing in popularity; games are being broadcast on telly and there’s full online coverage on BBC sport. How do you see the game growing in the future?
Ever since the Olympics, there’s been more interest in the game - more people come to watch. Hopefully it will continue. I don’t think it will ever be on the scale of the men’s game, but it’s going in the right direction. We can say we do this as our jobs now. Before, we had to pay to play.

You played on the England Olympic team, how was that?
Amazing. I wanna do it again, it went so quick. It was the highlight of my career by far. When people mention it to me I’m still like, “Oh yeah, bloody hell, I did play at the Olympics.” When you’re so in the moment of doing something, you forget how big it is.

In 2004 FIFA president Sepp Blatter said, “Female footballers should wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts…to create a more female aesthetic and attract more male fans.” How do you feel about these kind of comments?
Stuff like that doesn’t really bother me, it goes in one ear and out the other. All I’m focused on is playing football. You’re going to get those comments in any sport at the elite level - people are going to say stuff about you. I don’t really bat an eyelid.

There’s a strong rivalry between the men’s County and Forest teams. Is it the same between the womens’ teams?
Not really. Forest might see it different because County are in the top league but, for us, no. Laura O’Neill who plays for us used to play for Forest, I used to play for Forest, so not at all. It’s different in the men’s game.

Do you think there’ll ever be a day when women footballers will be paid the same as their male counterparts?
I don’t. It’d be fantastic, but we need to focus on the way women’s football is going rather than comparing it to men’s. If you look at older players like Sue Smith, she’s only recently been paid to play towards the end of her career. All those years she’s had to work a full-time job, train around it, and then compete at an international level. That makes you realise how lucky we are. It’s a hard one - it’s because we’re women that we don’t get paid as much as the men. If I was a man right now, I’d be loving life. But then again, I’m loving life being a woman.

When you’re not on the pitch, what do you like to do?
I spend a lot of time with my fiancé, family and friends. I’ve got a little sister who I don’t get to see much because I’m training all the time, so I take her shopping on my day off. My mum and dad own a care home, so I tend to go and help out there as well.

Do you work there when you’re not training?
I can’t do many hours. When the season finishes I can be a bit more hands on. I did a bit of coaching but that was too much football for me, I like to go and be away from it all. It keeps me grounded.

Is that something you think you’d go into if you didn’t have football?
Looking after people is like second nature. I realise football’s not going to last forever so I need to do something on the side, but for the minute, football is my priority.

Notts County Ladies website

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