It reads like the plot of a film.

Young girl playing football on the street with boys in Madrid is spotted and signs for the local team. Family reasons means she has to leave to live in London. She gets a chance to join an English team and learns how to speak the language while she studies and then turns professional.

A move back to Spain allows her to play professionally in the country of her birth, and now she captains the nation her parents are from.

Lucia Leon may only be 26, but she has packed plenty into those years, and has had to work hard for everything she has achieved.

The right-sided defender/winger joined Watford in the summer, bringing with her the experience of playing in the Super League for Spurs and the Liga F in Spain for Real Betis.

Not only that, she is also captain of the Dominican Republic national team.

Her story begins, though, back in Madrid where she honed her skills playing in the streets with the boys.

“Football has always been massive in Spain, the number one sport. But women’s football was nowhere near as big then as it is now. I struggled to find a team myself,” she recalled.

“I was playing in my street with my friends, mostly boys, whenever we could.

“The offices of my local club were right there and they used to see me playing, and I remember they would come for meetings and I knew they could see me.

“One of their directors came over one day and said I needed to come and play for their team. Because I was still young, I hadn’t reached the age where girls could no longer play with boys.

“The club was within a walk of my house. It was the only reason I could join as my parents didn’t have a car and they didn’t want me getting the tube late at night.

“So I played there for a couple of seasons. Then Madrid CFF, which is a women’s team, offered me the chance to join them when I became too old to play with boys.

“I think at about 14 or 15 girls and boys had to play football separately, which is a shame because I loved it, but I can see the physical differences and the reasons.

“One of the club officials used to come and pick me up and drop me home because it was too long of a journey for my parents to allow me to go on my own. Getting a lift home was the only way I was allowed to join!

“As soon as I turned 16 I signed for their senior team, and we were probably equivalent to tier five in women’s football in England. When I left they were in tier two, and now they are play in the top tier.”

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She left to move to England, something she had not expected nor was she particularly keen on the idea. However, circumstances dictated.

“I had no choice to leave – my parents were not doing well financially, and there was a crisis in Spain in 2008,” she said.

“My Dad worked in construction and lost his job. My Mum had three jobs, we had two mortgages, and my Dad got offered a job working in London.

“He came over here first, and the rest of the family followed a few months later.

“To be honest, I didn’t want to come. I was enjoying my football in Spain so much and all I was thinking about was leaving my friends.

“My parents told me we had a one-way ticket to London like a week before we were leaving.

“The only thing that appealed to me was that I really wanted to learn English, as I spoke no English at that time. I had no idea about women’s football in England, or if I would even be able to play.

“But by word of mouth one of my coaches found out I was leaving to live in London, and he knew Juan Carlos Amoros who was the coach of Tottenham. I got in contact with him, and that is how I started my journey in England.

“I didn’t come to England for footballing reasons, it all started because of family stuff.”

Having sat and chatted with her for half an hour, I found it almost impossible to believe she only learned to speak English 10 years ago.

“When I moved to London I went to college and started learning very basic English. My first year was a bit of a waste as I spent my time hanging out with Spanish people and not speaking any English!” she laughed.

“Every time I would go to a shop or anywhere like that I was trying super hard to avoid using English because I didn’t know how to speak it!

“But then I realised I couldn’t be doing that forever, so in my second year I moved to a college that had a partnership with Tottenham. Karen Hills, who was coach at Tottenham, was my coach at college. So I was playing football all the time and it was quite easy to combine learning English.

“Sophie McLean, who is here with me at Watford, was also at Tottenham at that time and she had a group of friends who kind of adopted me. I used to go everywhere with them but not understand anything they said!

“But slowly I started to pick up things and just hanging out with people talking English, being at college, being at work, it started to happen for me.”

Although she arrived in London with a link to Tottenham, Leon started out with a club south of the river.

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“I had a trial with Millwall first. We were living in South London, and my Mum’s friend had a contact there,” she said.

“I was at Millwall for about a week, but then I had a trial with Tottenham and Juan said they wanted me to join them.

“The trouble was the travelling to get to Tottenham was so far. I was living in Peckham and I had to get to Wood Green. I spoke very little English, and I had no idea how to use the underground. The underground was just something I thought was so difficult and I didn’t want to get lost.

“So I was commuting from Peckham to Wood Green and back by bus. I had to leave home three or four hours before I needed to be there, and then would get back home around midnight, every Tuesday and Thursday.

“I don’t know how I did that, but I desperately wanted to play football. I’d go to college and then train by myself in the evening, and then twice a week I’d do the bus journey to Tottenham.

“That was my first year. In my second year I was in college in North London, so I’d spend the day there and then go training each evening. I was obsessed with football.”

Not only was the language in England totally different, so was the football – far more physical and combative than Leon had experienced in Spain.

“Back then I didn’t really know the difference as I was so young, but now it’s so obvious the game is completely different in the two countries,” she said.

“There are teams in both countries that are similar but it’s still very different.

“Actually, the way we play at Watford is really very close to the way the game is played in Spain. In fact, here we play a lot of football. Watford is probably where I have played the most technical football.

“English football is far more physical than in Spain. I wake up every Monday morning with pain and bruises – especially when we play the teams from up north!

“English football takes a lot more out of your body than it does in Spain. The amount of kilometres you cover in England is on a different level.

“I never thought I’d find a team in England that plays the Spanish style, so I’m very happy I found Watford.”

It was at Tottenham, though, where Leon realised the ambition of becoming a professional footballer.

“It was a dream, it really was,” she smiled.

“Tottenham gave me so many opportunities to study and play that I was really pleased they were able to become a professional team.

“I spoke no English when I got there, the girls were amazing to me, and I was very happy.

“The memories I have of Tottenham are still at the top of my list. I am so grateful they enabled me to sign my first professional contract.”

Leon and Tottenham quickly went from the National League to the Super League, a huge step up in quality.

“It was a shock! Tottenham got promoted before they were really ready if I’m honest,” she said.

“We got promoted to the Championship and finished seventh or eighth in our first season. In the second season it changed and the top two got promoted. Man United won the league and we finished second and got promoted with them.

“I don’t think we were expecting to. I don’t think I played enough games in the Championship to go straight into the Super League.

“The gap between the Super League and the Championship has decreased a lot in the four years since we got promoted.

“The teams in the Championship are much stronger now – there has been a lot of players come from abroad to play in the Super League and so Super League players are dropping into the Championship and raising the standard.

“Plus there are teams in the Championship offering better contracts than teams in the first division in Spain.”

It was a change in coaches at Spurs that led Leon to return to Spain.

“Juan Carlos left Tottenham in November 2020, and Rehanne Skinner took over. She didn’t really count on me, and so we spoke about it,” she explained.

“We were both very open about the situation and I said I would leave as long as I could find a club that was worth leaving for.

“I had some offers from English clubs but I wasn’t really interested, so I went back to Madrid CFF for six months. They were doing really well, I had friends there still and they wanted a right-sided player.

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“Then Juan got the job at Real Betis and he offered me a contract there. That was perfect and I signed for two years. The first year was good, the second year was more rough.”

Playing for Betis meant she had gone full circle, returning to Spain where she played with the boys in the streets but now in the top league as a professional. It was quite something for Leon and her family.

“My parents have always been super proud of me,” he said, “but I don’t think they understood the love I have for football until I turned professional and they could see I had done so much to be able to play football for a living.

“I had been working a job from five in the morning through to lunchtime, then going to college or going training. I always studied, I graduated from university with a degree in sports science and strength conditioning.

“I did that all while I was training and playing for Tottenham, and my parents saw my commitment and so when I got to play professionally in Spain they were so happy for me.

“They were from a generation where women didn’t play football professionally, and I had to break that barrier. Now they have seen me playing in the Super League, in Spain, and for Dominican Republic.

“That is their country, and seeing me play there and captain the team makes them really proud.

“I was born and raised in Madrid, but I feel like I’m from the Dominican Republic because my whole family is from there.”

As Watford Women are not professional, Leon has to juggle a lot to represent her country.

“It is difficult playing internationally but not being professional. I have a job as well. Plus the tiredness in travelling is quite high,” she said.

“I love it though, even if there are a lot of flights and a lot of travelling.

“For me to get to Bermuda to play for the Dominican Republic is a long way and then it’s the same coming back to England.

“Last week I arrived home on Thursday night from Bermuda, I stayed at home on Friday, then got on a coach on Saturday morning and we drove to Sunderland.

“I wouldn’t change a thing though because I love playing football as much now as I did when I was playing on the streets in Madrid.

“When that feeling leaves me then I know it will be time to stop, but it’s nowhere near yet.”

Dominican Republic are currently involved in the group stages of the Gold Cup, but there are even greater opportunities on the horizon.

“We’re currently playing Gold Cup qualifiers. We lost against Bermuda so we need to win our games now if we want to reach the finals in February,” Leon said.

“Of course we also have the chance to qualify for the Olympics and the World Cup.

“To play in one or both of those is one of my life-long goals.”

Having seen her play several times, it’s quite clear that Leon is more than able to handle herself in the physical test the Championship provides.

In fact, it’s fair to say she is robust, both with opponents and with the officials!

“That’s me, that’s my personality. I can’t blame English football for that!” she chuckled.

“I like the physical side of the game, and if I see what I think is an injustice on the pitch then I will say something. I don’t constantly argue but I do like to get my point across.

“I am fair I think. The referee we had for the game away at Sunderland is a top referee. She also did our game against Durham and I told her that both times.”

With her top-flight domestic and international experience, Leon is clearly someone who will be able to help the younger players in the Watford squad as they aim to cement their place in the Championship.

Watford Observer: Leon hugs keeper Sophie Harris after she saved a penalty against LewesLeon hugs keeper Sophie Harris after she saved a penalty against Lewes (Image: Andrew Waller Images)

“We are staying in the Championship. I believe in my team 100%, and I believe in the staff 100%,” she said.

“Everything we do, we do it as a team. This league has got tougher and I love the professionalism within the Championship, and pretty much every match is really tight.

“For us, it will come down to the details, like putting our chances away. Currently we are creating two or three chances and not scoring.

“We have to learn as we go along. It’s a long season that goes right through to April. We cannot afford to fall asleep and we are definitely learning, understanding the teams in this division and also helping 11 new players to settle in.

“We only train three times a week as we are not professional, whereas most of our opponents train every day because they are full time.

“So we have to make sure we take our chances in every game while we are getting used to life in the Championship.”

It would make another chapter to an already fascinating life story if Leon could be instrumental in establishing Watford in the second tier of English football.