Sophie Bradley-Auckland has confirmed that she will not be returning to duty with Liverpool FC Women for now, while sharing an insight into her life away from the pitch as a key worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Reds captain works in her family-run care home in Nottingham, with the last few months proving particularly challenging.
In an exclusive chat with Liverpoolfc.com, Bradley-Auckland discussed what being a frontline worker has entailed and explained why she has had to put her football career on hold.
"Unfortunately with the current situation it’s made me have to make a decision, one that’s been awful and I’ve actually lost sleep about it. The fact is that I can’t return to Liverpool until a risk isn’t posed on the care home," she explained.
Read on for the full interview...
Sophie, could you just tell us what the past few months have been like for you?
The past few months have been really difficult. I think it’s been challenging for everyone, not only myself and my current situation at the care home, but it’s been challenging for everyone across the whole of the world. We are hoping there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. At the minute it’s quite hard to see that, especially in the job that I’m doing. But yeah, it’s just been tough, something we never thought we’d probably experience, but [we’re] just taking each day as it comes and I guess my personality is just to hit things front on and that’s all I’ve been doing.
Just remind us of your life away from the football pitch…
As well as being a Liverpool footballer, I’m also the manager of Edenhurst care home in Nottingham. It’s a family-run business that’s been in the family for many, many years. It was originally run by my nan and grandad and then my mum and dad took over. I took over three years ago and began the role of working alongside my dad. It might be longer than that actually as it was when I had my third operation on my knee and thought I was never going to go back to football, so I stepped in to take over my dad’s role as such and then last year I became the manager jointly with my dad. I think it’s always been a part of my life. I was brought up in looking after people around the care home, likewise with my brother and sister. My little girl Macie is doing exactly the same so it’s very family run and we just care for the elderly.
Tell us how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Edenhurst…
With the outbreak of coronavirus, I think it was new to everybody. Me, my husband and my dad spoke early on to close the care home down early, which we are so grateful that we did. I think it’s really benefitted us and long may that continue, touch wood. We’ve got 24 people to look after but now we’ve got 24 very vulnerable people because of the virus, which is spreading very quickly and the people we look after, it would be very dangerous if any of them were to catch it, so I guess it’s made our job role even more important than before. So, like I say, we closed down early but we have to understand we have many residents who live with us who have got dementia, so now they are not able to see their family and friends. We’ve really supported them and it’s all good for technology these days so we can still do video calls. We’ve had window visits, a lot of them have had birthdays over this period, we’ve had Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, two very special times of the year to celebrate, especially for the residents we look after, the elderly people. So, it’s just been a strange time but the best thing about it is they are all so happy. We’ve kept them up to date with everything that is happening every single day. Not a lot has changed in the care home with activities to keep everybody occupied. The only thing that’s not been [the same] is actually seeing their family and friends and giving them a cuddle right up close, and I think that’s something they’ve probably all missed but hopefully that’s not too far around the corner.
Is that the biggest challenge you’ve faced, that lack of interaction that the residents haven’t been able to have?
A lot of it, I think we have probably noticed more than they have. A lot of the residents that we care for do have dementia so some of them might not remember when their family last visited anyway, but for us to see that they are not being able to visit, to speak to their family and friends - we keep saying at the minute we are not able to make it safe for you to come in. And all of our visitors have all been so supportive of everything that we’ve done. Our most important thing is the health and safety of the residents that we look after. Hopefully the doors will open soon but we’ve had lots of parties. We celebrated VE Day. We’ve had quite a few garden parties with the weather being so nice. So it’s been really nice and, like I say, we are all family that live in there anyway. There’s a big feel for that around and everyone who is in there, they’ve got their friends in there and they are used to all gathering in the communal areas and having a laugh and a joke. None of that changes. It’s so important for myself and all the staff to turn up every day with a smile on our faces and to make sure that when we leave we’ve made at least one of them happy - but it’s usually all of them!
In terms of your daily routine, could you give us an idea of what you are having to do in terms of keeping the home safe?
I guess my day always starts in the gym in my garage before I even go to work. For me the fitness side is so important as well and that’s my mental getaway where I can just focus on whatever session that I’ve got planned. The first thing I do is me and Macie go into the gym, Macie usually watches my phone and has her milk and I go on the treadmill or the bike, do my weights, just to give me that little boost before I go because I find it harder to train after work especially when it’s been quite long days as well. So that’s how my day starts and that could be any time in the morning, depending on what time I need to go in. The PPE has changed massively. So, we’ve all been used to wearing gloves and aprons but now we’ve got the masks, we’ve got the goggles, and turning up to work we have a protocol in place so that we get changed when we get to work and we’ve changed one of the rooms to a treatment room. We’ve got a staff room where people can get changed so we can stop everything coming in as much as possible. Touch wood, I’m very superstitious so, so far so good. We’ve now got testing in place so we’ve been testing residents and staff. That will now change to staff being tested weekly and residents monthly. And that’s a massive ask you know. It’s not nice having to go round and doing all the testing but it’s very reassuring for us, for the residents and also for their families as well and it’s something that we have to stay on top of. But it’s very time consuming. It takes a long time to go through all of the testing because of the paperwork. Then I guess that’s my main role at the care home, a lot of it is the paperwork side of it and my dad is very hands on. He loves doing all of the care and I chip in with that, especially over this period. Everyone has had to be good at everything really, to all chip in and help each other out. A lot has changed but the main thing is to still keep the residents happy and I think as long as we can do that every single day and stay happy and healthy then we can walk out of the door with a smile on our faces that we’ve done our job.
This is a tough question as nobody really knows the answer, but how do you plan for the future or see the next six to 12 months looking like?
It’s a hard one at the minute and we kind of take it day by day. I know the whole country has been going into the next phase of lockdown and different phases of opening different businesses, people going back to work and schools. For us it’s different. We’ve got a lot of people that live with us who are very vulnerable, so at the minute we are still in lockdown so friends and family can’t come to visit inside the care home. However, we are planning for the next step. We’ve been having the care home sanitised monthly by a company that Liverpool FC use actually. They organised to sanitise my home and straight away I was like, ‘Perfect, this will be great’, another precaution and bring them into the care home. Anything that we can do to protect everyone that’s living there and staff that are working there we’ll jump at, but we are working to look at the next phase because we understand that it’s very important to see your family and friends face up and eventually have contact as well. But if we’ve ever had anyone that’s towards end-of-life we have put things on so that family can come and see them because I think that’s really important, and that’s something different for us in a care home compared to a hospital. In a hospital I know you can’t go but in a care home we’ve made changes where possible to make people be able to come.
And so far, the home has remained COVID-free?
Yes. We’ve done all the testing, staff and residents, and they’ve all come back negative. So, that’s all we can ask for but it’s awful because every time I send it off ... my heart when I’m opening the emails to see and check that it’s negative, it’s just awful. It’s just a strange situation to be in. I always say running a care home is very stressful in its normal days but it’s even more stressful at the minute. If my husband Dougie goes to work before me I’m texting him 'Is everybody OK?' and there’s lots of added pressure I suppose just because we want everyone to be safe.
How does that process work in terms of trying to keep on top of numbers and testing, is it daily you are having to send the emails?
Well, we didn’t get the testing until later on and I know that’s been all over the news. We haven’t had the testing too long ago and in the last month we’ve tested twice. But we will now get that monthly. We just go round, it’s me and my dad. We go round and we swab every single resident and you have to do it in a way that there’s no cross contamination, you are changing your PPE every time in between every time, there’s lot and lots of different protocols that we are having to follow to make sure that it’s safe and the result is accurate as well. But it’s me and my dad that work together and it’s quite nice actually, I’ve always been a daddy’s girl I suppose, and even now working in the care home every day I'm with him. I’ve got Macie as well so me and Dougie have been having to swap when we go to work. Tonight at 8pm I go and pick the night staff up to bring the night staff to work. I drop the evening staff home. We really want to stop as much as possible our staff having to get public transport just because there’s an added risk in doing so, and we have been doing that since the lockdown began in March. So, between me, my dad and Dougie we just take it in turns who’s turn it is tonight to do that.
The amazing work you are doing is obviously having an effect on the other side of your life, football. Just tell us how it has impacted that?
I guess it’s made me have to make a decision. So, I was only able to come and play for Liverpool because I was able to continue with my role within the care home. Unfortunately with the current situation it’s made me have to make a decision, one that’s been awful and I’ve actually lost sleep about it. The fact is that I can’t return to Liverpool until a risk isn’t posed on the care home. My happiness - and that’s what I call playing football, which is my happiness, is something that I love to do - isn’t worth somebody’s life and that is what it is as well. It is actually risking somebody’s life. I have a duty of care. Like I’ve said, I’ve got 24 residents, actually 24 other members of my family I would call them, and I would never want to pose any further risk on them than what’s already there.
In your discussions with Vicky Jepson, is that one of the things that you’ve talked about - the fact that you won’t be returning to Liverpool for the foreseeable future?
Yes. So I rang Vicky and it actually came at such terrible timing because we had just found out that the FA had actually relegated us. I had this holding on my shoulders and I needed to tell Vicky now and we need that conversation. I’m still a Red. I will be back at Liverpool but unfortunately at this moment in time it’s not possible for me to come, so I think it’s very much up in the air. Vicky straight away was like, ‘When will you be back?' And I was like, ‘I don’t know.' I don’t think anybody knows because this virus is so unique, it’s something that’s not happened before and none of us are aware of what’s going to happen next. So, unfortunately all I’m holding onto is that I’ll be back. Like I said before, my training continues before I go to work and I’ll always be fit and ready to come back whenever that risk is not there on the care home.
How tough a decision was that for you to make?
Awful, it was really hard. I suppose three years ago when I lost all of my football contracts due to a knee injury and I ended up having three years out with my injury, I’ve got back playing and [been] having the time of my life. Liverpool has been so supportive with me having Macie and also the care home. Then now it’s been taken out of my hands again. It’s been really tough but I know I’ve got the backing of my family, I know Vicky and Adam [Greaves-Smith] are so supportive and Emma and all the rest of the staff. They trust in me to keep fit and to be ready to go again, but I don’t feel like I’m ready to retire just yet. Considering all the injuries I’ve had, I was loving being back playing and I was playing pretty well. So I’m ready whenever I can to get back, but it was awful, I’m not going to lie and say it was an easy decision. It was one that was quite emotional as well but unfortunately it’s been taken out of my hands and when it comes down to it, the care home is my priority as well as my family as well.
Have you spoken to any of your teammates at Liverpool?
Yes, I spoke to all of the girls. We had a Zoom call and I spoke to them all to announce that until the risk isn’t there then I won’t be returning. I don’t think some of them could believe it. I think it’s very hard sometimes and before I was the same as my focus was football, football, football! And now I’ve got a job as well, my focus has to change slightly. So I think it was probably a little bit of a shock. I think some would have probably gathered that I wouldn’t be coming back yet and for others it was probably a shock. It’s tough because I feel like I’m letting everybody down but I’ll be back. That’s all I keep telling myself and hopefully this doesn’t go on too long and I’ll be back and I can get the team where they belong - in the Women’s Super League.
Do you have a message for Reds supporters?
Firstly I’d like to apologise for the fact I’m not going to be back. The care home at the minute does take priority, but I would like to say to you all just stick behind the girls and good things are coming. Every setback leads to a comeback and I think we have a great squad and great management in place to make sure the girls are back in the league where I say we belong next year. But stick by the girls and hopefully I’ll see you all soon.