Millie Bright is one of only four newcomers in the England squad for the European Women’s Championship this summer – and the Chelsea star is out to make an impact.
When England manager Mark Sampson announced his squad for this summer’s European Championship in the Netherlands, he said his decisions were about “respecting the journey this team has been on”.
That journey included them claiming a historic bronze medal two years ago at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, plus a rare win over Germany to top things off.
With a squad of players who have had to fight homelessness, losing family members and depression among other things during their careers, Sampson has given them one more shot at gold before several of them hang up their international boots.
Nineteen of the 23 players selected by Sampson were part of his squad in Canada two years ago, with Chelsea’s Bright one of only four new faces.
The 23-year-old is as physically strong as anyone in the FA Women’s Super League and capable of playing as a holding midfielder or as a centre-back.
Not afraid of a crunching tackle or an aerial challenge, Bright has done enough under Emma Hayes over the past two years to convince Sampson she’s ready for the biggest stage.
“It’s a real mix of emotions to be picked,” says Bright. “I was so nervous waiting for that e-mail, but I’m so excited and really, really proud.
“No matter what camp you get called up for, it’s the same feeling when you open the e-mail and I’m excited to see how far I can push myself now.”
Born in Chesterfield, Bright spent her early days as a footballer playing for Doncaster Rovers Belles and the now defunct Leeds United side.
Used sometimes as an auxiliary striker, Bright’s performances with the Belles in the second tier of the FA Women’s Super League were more than enough to convince Hayes of her quality.
Paul Green, Chelsea’s assistant manager, had managed Bright in Doncaster and played a key role in convincing her to join the west Londoners.
It was a move which paid off immediately. Bright was part of the Chelsea side that won the FA WSL in 2015 and a year later would pick up her first cap for England as a substitute against Belgium.
“It shows hard work pays off,” she says. “I’ve worked so hard with Chelsea and with England, and I’ve tried so hard to make an impression.
“It’s really nice to be acknowledged. I know that if I’m needed in any position I’m willing to do it because just being part of it is amazing – it’s a pleasure to be involved.”
Despite starring in FA WSL 2 before her move to Chelsea and playing her way through the age ranks with England at Under-17, Under-20 and Under-23 level, Bright never expected to one day become an England international.
“I’d have definitely said no if you’d have told me I’d be in this squad back when I was with Doncaster or Leeds,” she says.
“A lot of people tell you you’ll get there, but it’s such a big pool of players the manager is choosing from so I’m just over the moon when my name gets called.
“I’ve got a lot of people and family behind me, and they’ve always supported me. All the people who thought I wouldn’t make it, well I’ve made it now and this is where the hard work starts for me because I want to stay here.”
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Bright could only watch the 2015 Women’s World Cup from back home as some of her Chelsea team-mates picked up their bronze medals in Canada, but she realised then that England would have a realistic chance of going one step further this year.
“100% we can win it,” she says. “That’s the belief and confidence that we’ve got now. We’ve beat top teams like the USA, and every player and every member of staff believes we can go there and win.”
The players should at least be prepared, with Sampson deciding to announce his squad an unprecedented three months in advance and before a ball had even been kicked in the Spring Series by any of the players who will be involved in the tournament.
It was a move which courted plenty of opinion among supporters of the Lionesses but one which Bright believes will benefit her and her team-mates.
“You can kind of push it all to one side now and focus on the Euros. It’s a lot of pressure off for us and I think it will help us in terms of our preparation that the manager has released it early.”
By Rich Laverty
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