Meet Millie Bright, the fearless England captain
On the field, Millie Bright has established a reputation as one of football’s most fearsome center backs. Off the pitch, things are different.
Bethany England, a Lionesses teammate, described the new captain as “quiet in her own way, but she does love a TikTok dance.” She is considerably more extroverted than I am.
England has firsthand experience of Bright’s ascension to the position where she will, fitness permitting, captain the European champions at the Women’s World Cup. Bright was a teammate of England’s at Chelsea and Doncaster Rovers Belles.
At Euro 2022, Bright assisted Leah Williamson as vice-captain, and she was slated to take on the same responsibilities in Australia and New Zealand this summer.
However, Williamson’s center-back partner will take the lead position now that she is unable to compete in the competition due to injury.
The Chelsea defender has been an injury doubt herself. When England kick off their World Cup against Haiti on 22 July, Bright will not have played a minute of competitive football since March because of a knee problem.
For many players, that would instil significant doubt. However, former Chelsea defender Claire Rafferty tells BBC Sport the 29-year-old’s fearlessness is greater than any she has seen in the game.
“Playing FA Cup finals and other big games, she is so reliable,” said Rafferty, who played alongside a young Bright at Chelsea between 2015 and 2018.
“She had her music on, dancing around, but then suddenly – focus. She was mature for her age. I just thought, she’s not human the way she deals with things.
“She was very close to [former Chelsea captain] Katie Chapman – not the loudest, but it was the way she instructed on the pitch. She didn’t come with a big name but she implemented herself among the team.
“In the changing room she was in charge of the music – and her music taste was good! It was quite diverse, a lot of R&B. You’ve got to be quite brave to be the one who puts the music on.”
Song choices aside, Bright has grown considerably in her eight years at Chelsea to become part of manager Emma Hayes’ key leadership team.
‘I was just in shock’
Rafferty was also present when Bright made her Lionesses debut as a last-minute substitute in a 2-0 Euro 2017 qualifying win in Belgium.
“Millie is never visibly nervous,” said Rafferty. “I got quite nervous, quite fidgety, but Millie took everything in her stride.
“She doesn’t take life too seriously – her priority is her family, her dogs. She wants to do her best on the pitch, of course she does, but not get swept up in things.”
Bright’s personality can be seen in her tattoos. Her partner’s face and a tiger are on her left outside forearm, with a dreamcatcher on the inside of the arm.
“My mum says ‘dream big’ before every game,” Bright said, explaining the artwork.
On her left bicep is an owl, which Bright says represents “memories from back home – at the stables we always had an owl which came every single year”.
Bright believes, despite being incredibly proud to captain her country at the World Cup, that this down-to-earth view on life will shine through in her leadership.
“I’d like to think people see the same Millie every day, no matter what,” she said. “I always lead for the team, that’s just natural to me.
“I expect standards from the group. I see myself as the driver because I am so competitive – you have to keep pushing to be better, year in, year out.”
Bright, who has been checking in with centre-back partner Williamson following her injury, says she did not give her new responsibilities much thought until recently.
“Straight away I was just in shock that [Williamson] had suffered such a severe injury,” Bright said.
“I don’t think the captaincy crossed my mind at all, hand on heart. Then I got my injury so my head was just fully on my rehab and trying to make the selection. [The captaincy] was probably the last thing I thought of.
“I’ve always been a big believer that you cannot put captains under the same umbrella – everyone has their different qualities and leads in a different way,” she said.
‘The team will fight for Millie’
Former England goalkeeper Carly Telford expects Bright – who has filled in as captain at Chelsea – to put her own stamp on the captaincy.
“She is a little bit different to Leah,” Telford told BBC Sport. “I think Leah multitasks on and off the pitch. Millie does all of her talking on it. She leads the team in the way she trains.
“You can’t not want to fight for Millie. Where we will miss Leah for her ability, I don’t think we’ll miss that want to fight for the captain because they will for Millie. That won’t change.
“Leah will be helping and guiding her too if Millie needs anything.
“Millie puts her effort and work in on the pitch and leads that way. She’s been to multiple tournaments now so has that experience, and she will know how to galvanise the girls on and off the pitch.”
The current England squad also want to see their captain lead in her own way.
“For every leader, the best thing is for them to be themselves,” said defender Niamh Charles. “Millie does a little less talking, but does her talking with her actions.
“What we always want is that you don’t change much when you’ve got the armband. [Bright] has always been in that leadership group. You always know that if you go to her she will help you and advocate for the players, and be that link with the staff.
“She’s a natural leader – there’s not much she has to change.”
Should Bright be fit in time to face Haiti – and the woman herself thinks she is right on track – then England will be boosted by the presence of a fierce defender, serial winner at club level and a hugely respected team-mate.
“Obviously, as a player on the pitch she is a force to be reckoned with,” said England. “I have been on the back end of many Millie Bright tackles and clatterings in my time!
“She just brings a great presence to the team in knowing that she leads the backline well, and she is so confident and physical that most strikers would probably fear coming up against her, because of the brute force she puts through you.
“Or maybe that is just me!”