An England football player who really does care

Powered by article titled “An England football player who really does care” was written by John Ashdown in Leverkusen, for The Guardian on Friday 8th July 2011 16.41 UTC

Five years ago, Sophie Bradley was playing for her school team and working part-time in her parents’ care home. Now she is playing for England in the World Cup – but because this is the women’s game, she is still working for her parents.

Second jobs are the norm in women’s football. Unlike the stratospheric club salaries of their male counterparts, the top players who are centrally contracted to the England side earn £16,000 in addition to smaller sums earned at club level.

For Bradley, who made her World Cup debut during England’s 2-0 victory over Japan, which clinched their progress into Saturday’s quarter-final against France, her care work provides an escape from the sporting maelstrom.

“I like the side away from football,” she says. “I did coaching at one point but my head was too much in the football. So working in the care home is just different. It’s my mum and dad’s business, and I’ve been involved since I was a little girl.”

The 21-year-old has not had to take a holiday for the tournament – family perk – but does have to squeeze her football into a heavy schedule. Bradley plays club football for Lincoln Ladies, involving at least three training sessions a week as well as matches.

“I work usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” she says. “At Lincoln we train quite a lot, but I’m always in and out. [The residents] see me in my football kit or after I’ve just come back from the gym. Even if I’m not working I like to go in to see them. They like a fresh face.

“They think football’s more of a boys’ sport, but I suppose it’s that generation. Now they know somebody who plays they think it’s really good. They’ve been watching the games on telly. One of the ladies wrote me a letter to bring out here. I’m quite close to her, so it’s great to know she’s looking out for me.”

Experienced women’s football watchers have the level-headed Bradley pencilled in as a future England captain. She is more than good enough to play in the US, where women’s football is much bigger business, but the chance of more money – $32,000 (£20,000) is the average salary for a seven-month season, while the best players can earn six figures – does not appeal. “I’d miss my family and I’d miss looking after the ladies and gentlemen in the home.”

Many more performances such as the one against Japan, when Bradley belied her years with the rugged defensive performance of a veteran, might see offers pouring in. But for now there is no envy of those who are plying their trade full‑time across the Atlantic. “I love what I’m doing,” Bradley says.

“I wouldn’t work in the care home if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s one of the things I’ll always want to do – something I want to progress in. I’m doing all my NVQs so that, hopefully, one day I can run a rest home myself, because I love it, I really do.”

Right now, though, all her attention is on football. While this evening’s opponents, France, have surprised with their form so far, England have improved with every game and should reach the semi-finals for the first time.

But beyond that, things get tougher. Either Brazil or the US lurk in the last four, with Germany the likely finalists from the other half of the draw. It would be a shock to see England go all the way, but not out of the question.

“We want to get to the final, that’s our aim,” said Bradley. “That’s why we’re here.”

Heard of the Habs?

You may not remember much about England’s on-pitch contribution the last time the World Cup was held in Germany in 2006, but you will surely recall what happened in Baden Baden: the Wags were born.

The wives and girlfriends of the England players entered the dictionary as a collective noun after stalking the German spa town like Reservoir Dogs, walking arm and arm in hotpants, high heels and oversized sunglasses.

Five years later, another England team is in Germany: the conspicuously talented women’s squad. So what, then, of the Habs? Have the players’ husbands and boyfriends been raising hell in Leverkusen this week before Saturday’s quarter-final against France?

“Er, no,” said the FA’s Glenn Lavery, who is travelling with the team throughout the tournament. “Friends and family have been flying over for the games, but there has been none of that.” The England team have been billeted in the Düsseldorf Hilton alongside their Gallic rivals. Their nearest and dearest are banned from checking into the same hotel, said Lavery.

Incidentally, there should be no H in Habs – since none of the team are married, he said.

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