As she prepares to return ‘home’ for England’s clash against Sweden at the New York Stadium on Sunday, Millie Bright dropped into her old primary school and must have been tempted to think how far both she, and women’s football, has come.
The Chelsea and England star remembers playing football with boys on her school break because there wasn’t a girls side. But, in part because of the England Lionesses’ run to the semi-finals of the World Cup three years ago, women’s football has grown in popularity and Sheffield United’s women turned full-time this season, competing in the WSL Championship.
“I used to have kick-abouts with the lads at break but there wasn’t actually a team for girls when I was here,” Bright admitted as she returned to KIllamarsh Junior School.
“It’s always good to come back and get involved out on the field with the kids. It’s always weird and brings back lots of memories.
“It’s when I went to Eckington secondary school that I kicked on with the school team, playing competitive games. This sort of thing, getting a visit from a professional women’s player, was unheard of when I was young.
“We didn’t really know about women’s football, so it’s nice to show the children that there is a women’s game and that they know where to go if they want to progress.”
Bright has won 24 England caps since making her debut in 2016, and was the only England player to start every game at last year’s European Championships. She is once again expected to feature when Phil Neville’s side take on Sweden in a friendly, as they step up their preparations for next year’s World Cup in France.
Bright will likely win her 25th cap on Thursday as England travel to Austria, before travelling back to England for the New York Stadium date on Sunday.
“I’m hoping to see quite a few of the teachers and pupils from Killamarsh in the stands for the Sweden game,” she said.
“Rotherham’s pretty much classed as my home town so it’s going to be quite surreal playing there. Hopefully, we’ll get really big numbers coming out to support us, including my family and friends, and I’m really excited for it.
“It’s a vital game because everything we’re doing now is building up to the World Cup and making sure we’re performing. We want every game to be a win.”
Bright was introduced to pupils at a special assembly before taking part in a Q&A session and leading a coaching class on the school field. The England star was reunited with Ange Davis and Jo Bakes, her former teachers who still work at the school, but the biggest hug was reserved for her mum Nicky, a teaching assistant.
“It’s amazing coming back to my old school – I try to visit whenever I can – and I was given a really warm welcome in the assembly,” Bright added.
“I had fun during the kickabout with the pupils, who were the school’s regular footballers.
“When I was here, I used to play with the boys because not many girls played football but now there is a girls’ team which plays in tournaments. This is brilliant to see, as there’s so many more girls now wanting to play the game.”
Tickets to see Millie Bright and her Lionesses team-mates entertain Sweden at Rotherham United’s AESSEAL New York Stadium on Sunday, November 11 (ko 13:30) are £10 adults and £1 concessions and on sale at: www.thefa.com/tickets.