Women’s World Cup: The English coach who helped USA’s Rose Lavelle ‘fall in love with the game’
In 2017, US soccer star Rose Lavelle made her international debut against England in the SheBelieves Cup.
After the match, she put her cherished jersey in an air-mail envelope, addressed to Roger and Averil Bradford in Gloucestershire, UK.
Why? Because Lavelle – part of the USA squad set to face England in the Women’s World Cup semi-final on Tuesday – credits the Bradfords’ late son, Neil, as the reason she “fell in love with the game”.
Neil Bradford was Rose’s first coach as a junior player in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sadly, after years of treatment for cancer. Neil died, aged just 44, in 2016 – just before Lavelle’s international breakthrough.
“Sport was his life”, Neil’s father Roger told BBC Sport on Tuesday. “He was in his element when he was teaching. It was his greatest gift.”
Neil was working as an academy coach at Cincinnati United Soccer Club when he spotted the talent of a young Lavelle.
“I had hoped he would be able to be alive for when I got my first cap”, midfielder Lavelle, 24, said in May. “I feel like it was kind of poetic that we played England.
“I did get to play a club match in front of him before he died. It was nice to play one last time in front of the guy who basically made me who I am today.
“He is a constant reminder of why I do what I do. He is the reason I got to this level. He is the reason I started to go out into the back yard and play around with the ball.”
Lavelle has gone on to win 31 international caps to date, scoring nine goals – two of them at this World Cup.
Neil’s father Roger added: “We used to always visit Neil in the States.
“We have known Rose and her family since she was 10 years old. She was an outstanding player, always very quick.
“It’s lovely to hear her say she credits Neil with her success – but we always knew she would make it.”
Roger says he and Averil are in two minds over who to support during Tuesday’s match:
“The perfect result would be England to win 4-3 with Rose scoring a hat-trick.”