Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers Belles instrumental in rise of Lionesses Millie Bright and Rachel Daly, says Sue Smith
The 93-capped England international was at Wembley to see her old team beat Germany 2-1 after extra time in Sundays’ European Championship final. The victory has been hailed as a watershed moment for the English game and both Smith and Sarina Wiegman’s squad have demanded it should be.
Despite being a proud Merseysider, Smith’s spells at Leeds and Doncaster have left her with a strong affinity for Yorkshire, and saw her play alongside some of the key figures England’s success when they first emerged.
Although Millie Bright was not in the official team of the tournament, Smith highlighted the centre-back as one of its star players.
“Millie came through at Donny when I was there and it’s been brilliant watching her fulfil her potential,” commented Smith.
“Injuring my knee on my debut (she tore her cruciate ligaments in March 2012) meant I never really got to play with Mary Earps but she was another who got her first regular senior football with the Belles, as did Beth England. It just shows the part they and the manager at that time, John Buckley, played in England’s success.
“Rachel Daly was in the Leeds squad when we won the 2010 League Cup. She’s a big Leeds fan and like me she only left when the club withdrew the funding for its women’s team.”
Daly, Earps, Barnsley-born forward England and Bright – who had a loan at Leeds after Smith’s departure – were ever-presents in the tournament.
Ellie Roebuck, back-up goalkeeper to fellow Sheffielder Earps, came through Sheffield United’s youth ranks before joining current club Manchester City.
All 23 players in the squad yesterday signed an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two candidates to be the next Prime Minister, calling on their victory to be the catalyst for “real change”.
“Women’s football has come so far since I made my England debut in 1997,” said Smith, “but it still has so much further to go and I’m pleased the girls are pushing that message. Football has given me and still gives me so much and I just want ever girls in this country to have the same opportunities.”