WHen England’s players walk out at Wembley on Sunday night in front of nearly 90,000 fans for the biggest game of their lives, there will be three Yorkshirewomen in the line-up who have been key members of the Lionesses’ run to the final of Euro 2022.
Defender Millie Bright, 28, from Sheffield, spent the first six years of her career with Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Full-back Rachel Daly, 30, played football against boys while growing up in Harrogate.
Here, three coaches who played significant roles in their development, talk us through the rise of Yorkshire’s Lionesses.
John Buckley was Millie Bright’s manager at Doncaster Rovers Belles for her five years at the club from 2009 to 2014.
“There’s Millie, then Mary Earps in goal who had a year with us at Belles, and then although she’s not played, Bethany England on the bench.
“It’s amazing to think they were playing in my Rovers Belles first team at 15, 16. Although they’re brilliant players now they probably weren’t ready back then and yet they were so much better than the older players we had.
“And Millie is a great example of that. She’s always been an animal of an athlete, her athleticism is second to none and she’s got better and better.
“One of the traits that she had, and she’ll maybe chuckle when she reads this, but Millie was a girl you never had to say pass the ball with a wee bit of conviction to, she used to hit every pass like that, even when somebody was four or five yards off her. You had to say ‘Millie try and tailor your pass for how far somebody is away from you, so that you’re understanding is better’.
“I watch her now and her understanding is miles better, but bearing in mind she was still learning the game with Belles.
“She’s also got a really strong mindset, she was a bedrock for her family, she had leadership skills in abundance.
“I never put a challenge in front of her that she didn’t answer. She was a really good player back then. I knew she could be this good, but did I think that she’d be the vice-captain of England? The answer’s probably no, but it just goes to show you what kind of pedigree is within her.
“I go back a long way with Millie, not just with football but with things I helped her with in life, and she’s a cracking girl. There’s nothing I wouldn’t ask that she wouldn’t do and it’s the same with the other two. She keeps in touch with me after every game, she’s a great girl.
“Rovers Belles was a great grounding for Millie, Mary and Bethany, and I’ve been delighted to watch their progress.”
Mike Sweetman was Rachel Daly’s schoolteacher and girls football coach at Rossett School in Harrogate.
“I was head of transition so knew all the girls footballers in the area and if they weren’t coming to Rossett School I’d try and get them to come.
“I’d heard this kid in Year Six at Saltergate Primary, Rachel Daly, was amazing so I went down to see her one Sunday morning, but the girls weren’t playing so I ended up watching a boys game.
“There was this little blonde-haired kid up front and just as I was watching Rachel’s stepdad Mark Wilson came up to me and said ‘before you start worrying about whether she’s coming to Rossett or not, she is’.
“I said ‘I’ve just given my Sunday morning up and she’s not en veplaying’. He pointed to the blonde-haired kid and said ‘that’s Rachel’.
“And wow, she was class. That was the first time I’d seen a girl at that standard with that level of ability. She wasn’t particularly rapid or fit, she was just technically perfect.
“Her balance was unreal, she coul use both feet. She’s naturally a striker but England have her playing left-back, that’s how good she is. She’s a natural footballer, her Dad, Martin, was a good footballer for Harrogate Town.
“When she came to school she wasn’t allowed to play football with the boys at that age but I just let her come and play with the lads in PE. She played football at every opportunity. The boys were very welcoming of her, there was no antagonism towards her.
“She was playing with the Under-16s team as an 11-year-old. Opponents complained but only because she was too good for them.
“The only way they could stop her was by putting two or three players on her.
“I ended up ringing an England scout and saying you’ve got to come and watch her. We won 4-0 and Rachel scored twice and that’s how her England journey began.
“We really are all about inclusivity at Rossett School and giving the girls the same opportunity as boys. Her parents knew that and took the chance.
“And the school and town is buzzing for her. I’ve got her first England shirt framed, every kid I passed when I took it to my car the other day, whether they played football or not, was saying: ‘That’s Rachel’s shirt.’ It felt amazing.”
Andy Cook, the Nottingham Forest Women’s head coach, was Beth Mead’s coach in Middlesbrough’s Under-14s and Under-16s sides before the Whitby-born player made the move to Sunderland and eventually to Arsenal.
“She comes from a really good family, her mum and her dad have always supported her well. You could see her ability straightaway, even at 13, she had this ability that nobody else had.
“At the centre of excellence at Middlesbrough, she was on another level compared to a lot of the players there.
“I moved to Arsenal after leaving Middlesbrough and was the Under-17s and reserves coach and Laura Harvey, who was manager at the time, was asking about Beth, who was now with Sunderland.
“Leah Williamson, now captaining Beth for England, was asking what Beth was like. So even at a relatively young age she had a reputation around the country. The girls who knew her from England camps knew how good she was and how good she could be.
“It is no surprise to anybody who has played or worked with her to see her go on and do what she has done.
“You can’t imagine what it must be like to be her mum and dad, we have such a sense of pride but have only known her for a few years.
“It is unbelievable to see what she is doing.
“Coming from Hinderwell just outside of Whitby, it is not blessed with an abundance of sport pitches. It is a small village outside of a small town on a Yorkshire coastline.
“Even the travel from Middlesbrough to Whitby is 45 to 50 minutes on a good day. Her dad would have been taking her to Middlesbrough three to four times a week and then further to Sunderland when she started there at 16. Then her parents had to say their goodbyes while she plays at Arsenal.
“Those little details add so much. It adds to the romance when she comes from a little fishing village just outside of Whitby.”