'This doesn't happen to us' - how England and Chelsea's Millie Bright is inspiring Sheffield's next generation of footballers
It’s a long way from Killamarsh to the World Cup final but it’s a journey that England and Chelsea defender Millie Bright will be hoping to complete this summer.
The ex-Doncaster Rovers Belles player has travelled to Nice as part of Phil Neville’s 23-player squad for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France.
And the former Killamarsh Junior School student could cement her status as a local hero if England are able to improve on their bronze medal from four years ago in Canada.
Phil Neville’s side face a tricky group as Scotland, Argentina and Japan will all battle the Lionesses for a place in the last 16.
The tournament will be Bright’s first World Cup as England look to propel themselves to the top of world football with success in France all while continuing to inspire the next generation.
Over 20,000 fans watched England’s last warm up game, a 1-0 defeat to New Zealand at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, where Bright was rested before the start of the biggest tournament in women’s football.
Despite watching that surprise defeat from the bench, the 25-year-old has fast become one of England’s most important players alongside captain Steph Houghton at the heart of the defence.
It could have been a different story for Bright though, as she explains: “Horses were my first love. I used to work as groom and fitness instructor and have always done something I wanted to do and I have never worked in a job I did not enjoy.
“I miss the outside side of it with the horses, but I am so grateful that Chelsea came in for me as I would not be in the position I am in now.
“Playing at a World Cup is a dream come true and everything I have worked for.
"It is a special moment for my family and it is good for them to be part of it. They have been my massive support and my mum and dad go to every single training session and game.
“They have sacrificed a hell of a lot in their lives, so that I am in the position I am in now.”
That position means full time football for club and country but also a growing profile in the media.
The attention on women’s players ahead of this summer’s tournament has been greater than ever – and even resulted in a BBC documentary which followed the Lionesses in the build-up to the World Cup.
But if there is any fear of losing sight of an honest critique of her England performances, then Bright says she knows who to speak to: “My grandad is there and has always given me honest feedback if I have had a bad game, too. He tells me the reasons why.
“He is not one of those who tells me I have had a great game when I did not.
“I think that is important whether you are 10 or 25 years old. Honest feedback is everything you want as a player to develop and progress.
“Your mum never wants to offend you and will say: ‘Great game today, well done Mill.’
“As I have got older, she has probably started to learn the game as well and if I have not had a great game, she will be: ‘Are you feeling all right today.’ But my grandad has been the one to sit down and say: ‘Come and have a football chat with me.’
“It is just me and him and it is something I respect him for.
“It improves your mental toughness in being able to take on criticism. To be the best, you have got to and you are not going to have the perfect game every week and, at some point, you are going to make mistakes.
“That is the only way you are going to develop as a player. You have to take feedback on the chin and know they are doing it for the best.”
Development has been the key word in the last four years as Bright has risen to become one of the first names on the teamsheet for club and country.
And expectations are high for the former Sheffield United academy product this summer – especially after she started every game in England’s last major tournament at the Euros in the Netherlands two years ago.
Bright’s achievements in the last few years haven’t gone amiss in her home village of Killamarsh, as her mum Nicola told the BBC’s Lionesses documentary: “You don’t believe in things like this from a small village, this doesn’t happen to us.
“These kids have now got somebody to inspire them and Millie never had that. She never had anybody local to inspire her and these children have.
“That’s my daughter and that’s what is a bit surreal for me.
“Every match we go to is like the first match she has played for England. It’s such an honour every time she plays for them.
“You’re just waiting for it to stop and it just keeps going.”
It’s not all been plain sailing this season though for Bright after she missed England’s SheBelieves Cup victory in March due to injury.
And there’s no doubt she’s determined to make her mark for Phil Neville’s side this month despite that disappointment.
She said: “As a player you are always going to say I’ll play, I’m fine I’ll train.
“Especially for me I will train until I can’t train any more but it’s good that Phil took control of that and said they were looking at the bigger picture and want me fit and healthy for the World Cup and in the best possible shape.
“I was disappointed not to be there with them and be a part of it but I’m not the type of player who just wanted to be there because they won.
“I want to be there whether they win, lose or draw because I want to be part of the team.”