Lucy Bronze is ready for a sold-out Wembley. “It just creates an atmosphere,” she says. “That’s why people love football. That’s why they love the Premier League. It’s the buzz around the game. It’s the emotion in each tackle and each header, each goal. You’re not only celebrating that goal for yourself and the team but also celebrating with all these thousands of people around you.”
Germany’s visit to Wembley on Saturday is set to smash England’s record home attendance of 45,619 and possibly break the 2012 Olympic final record for a women’s game in England, set by the 80,203 fans who watched USA beat Japan. The mood is high. Sitting in St George’s Park, Bronze laughs at the memory of her first cap.
“Burton? When did I play in Burton?” she asks with a grin, when reminded of the then impressive 5,327 fans who watched her debut in 2013. “It must have been Japan,” she says, correctly. “Just before the Euros in 2013. I was a younger player, inexperienced, but I still remember going to that tournament and it was just like playing on the weekend.
“It wasn’t really this big, kind of, moment. Now we’re not even playing in a tournament; we’re playing at Wembley, it’s what everyone’s talking about, it’s on TV in France, TV around the world, England against Germany, and it’s a friendly.
“I think it’s funny when people ask me where the game’s going to be in five years’ time. I always think I just don’t know because I would never have expected it to be here now today. It’s come on so much in the six years since I made my debut. Everything that you think it’s going to be, it’s just more.”
The growth mirrors Bronze’s rise. There is some symmetry to England filling Wembley in the year the right-back was crowned the European player of the year. It is something Bronze has been thinking about. “People ask me how the media or the profile of the game is now and I’m like: ‘I have literally grown with the profile of the game.’
“My age group – Toni Duggan, Jordan Nobbs – we’ve all grown in the game and in the England squad at the same time and as the profile has grown so it’s probably an easier transition for us compared to the likes of Jill Scott, who has been around a lot longer.
“Someone said to me that we’re the last generation of the ones who kind of stuck it in the mud in the beginning but it’s nice to have been at both ends of the spectrum.
“We’ve come from paying to play. I had to pay for my kit to play on a Sunday and things like that. It definitely makes you appreciate things more and you see things from a different perspective.”
For Bronze, at international level at least, the argument of not playing in big stadiums for fear of rattling around is long gone. “We are getting above-average crowds at every single game now. And you know what? The England men don’t sell out every single game. That’s normal, it’s football. The Premier League’s the same. I think we know we’re on that level now but it’s kind of our responsibility to keep that going by playing the football that people want to see.”
Five years ago England’s 3-0 defeat by Germany at Wembley pulled in that record home crowd, but the state of the nation’s football was very different.
“I’m not playing centre-half any more,” Bronze, says laughing, when asked how much things have changed. “I’m not playing on the left side either with my dodgy left foot!
“Everything’s changed,” she says more seriously. “Since then we’ve beaten Germany for a start – we still hadn’t recorded a win against them at that time, it was only later on when we beat them at the 2015 World Cup.
“The last time it was the excitement of Wembley and Germany, then even a draw against them was an amazing achievement. Now it’s like: ‘We’re playing at Wembley? Yeah,’” she shrugs. “A lot of us do on a regular basis now. And playing against Germany? Fine, we’re used to playing against these teams, these players, whether it’s in our team at club level or against them at club level. It was a bit of a spectacle and a bit of an event for us to play Germany then, whereas now we’re England and we’re a top team and we know that.”
One Germany player in particular is well known to Bronze. The Budapest-born playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsán is more than a teammate at Lyon. Bronze counts her as a friend and speaks with awe of the way Marozsán plays.
“Some of the girls at Lyon said they’d hate to play against Maro. People ask whether I’ll play in midfield but do you know what? I would prefer to play against her in midfield than as a full-back. She literally has no time on the ball and she just picks these passes out of nowhere. So as a full-back, I’m going: ‘OK, the midfielder’s there’ and she just pings it behind to the player that I’m supposed to be marking and it just makes me look like an idiot.
“I see it because I play with her every single day. I’ve learned to appreciate that she sees things and is capable of things I don’t think any other women’s player really is capable of right now. And I’m excited she’s part of this German team playing in England. The England fans get to come and watch us but they’ve got this player on the other team that … I hope has a good game so they can see how amazing she is as a player. And if she’s playing well it means we have to play better than her. It makes for a good game of football, which is what I’m looking forward to most: having a good game of football … and winning.”
Winning will be tough because the Lionesses have struggled since the World Cup but Bronze is unconcerned. “We know that we’ve put on good performances but we haven’t got results. Then we got a result against Portugal but we didn’t necessarily put on the best performance, so it’s swings and roundabouts; you get that a lot in football.
“We know that as an England team planning for Euro 2021 is what the goal is. We’re not quite perfect yet but we know the results will come eventually. If it takes until 2021 for us to go unbeaten all year I’ll take that.”
Stepping out in front of a potential 90,000 crowd does not disturb Bronze. “I’m not a player to get choked up,” she says, grinning. “I mean, it’s nice to have people come to watch, I love playing in front of the big crowds; I want them to be there but it’s not an emotional thing for me. It’s more an excitement thing. It just makes me happy.
“Even when I’ve played for Lyon at PSG, and there’s been 15-20,000 PSG fans there? Boom. When you come on the pitch it makes me smile because even though they’re against me I’m just like: ‘This is fun, this is exciting.’
“It’s that feeling, the energy that it gives you. It’s gonna bring out the best in us because it’s what it does to the best teams.”