Millie Bright column: England defender on World Cup hopes, Whatsapp chats and horse riding

Millie Bright

Chelsea and England defender Millie Bright will be writing columns for the BBC Sport website throughout the rest of the season, as she and her club team-mates aim to retain the Women's Super League title and the national team attempt to win this summer's World Cup in France.

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You may have heard that I am not going to the SheBelieves Cup, which starts on Wednesday with England facing Brazil before taking on the United States and Japan.

The reason I'm not travelling with the squad is to rest and manage a little niggle I've had for a while so we don't risk my participation at the World Cup this summer.

It's disappointing not to be going as I was looking forward to the challenge of a tough tournament against top players. However, after a busy schedule with Chelsea and this being a tournament featuring three games in quick succession - plus the travel to the US - myself, Chelsea and also England head coach Phil Neville decided we didn't want to aggravate anything and have a setback in such an important year.

It's not a new problem, so there are no concerns about it scuppering my chances at the World Cup, but we came to the decision that it would be best for me to get treatment to make sure I'm in full swing come June.

It has been a boost to hear Phil say I am in his plans for the World Cup, but I would never take anything for granted. I wanted to go to the SheBelieves Cup because I want to make every training session and every playing opportunity count, but it's just about seeing the bigger picture.

The 2017 European Championship was my first major tournament for England, but everyone tells me the World Cup is a different level. This is the biggest year of my career, so it's important to be sensible and professional. The process of getting to the World Cup is as important as playing there.

'Open' Neville is my type of manager

England women's manager Phil Neville, right, and the team ahead of an international against Brazil at Meadow Lane in Nottingham last October
England women's manager Phil Neville, right, and the team ahead of an international against Brazil at Meadow Lane in Nottingham last October

Phil has obviously played a big part in deciding what's best for me this year, but he is a manager that I trust and respect and I like him because he is a really open person. He's interested in your football but he's also interested in your life, and I get along with him really well.

It might have caused some surprise last year when he revealed that he had 30 Whatsapp groups with the squad, but I like it because it's a relaxed way of staying in touch with him and the other England staff. It means that when you arrive in camp, you don't need to catch up because you are in constant touch with each other.

I should point out that Phil does know the difference between a Whatsapp group and a chat between two people. My group, for example, will include me, Phil and other England staff and it gives them an informal way of offering me feedback after my games for Chelsea and England. It also allows me to ask questions too.

It's all very relaxed, and we might chat about how many minutes I've played for Chelsea, or it could be about the gym work I'm doing or any technical drills that perhaps I need to work on. All the players have individual targets that we are constantly working on.

It's not overwhelming and there is no pressure to message every day, it's all there for the benefit of developing and keeps the relationship flowing.

Phil likes to think he's a bit of a joker, and there's a good vibe in camps but he is always driving standards. His mindset is to keep pushing, to always ask for more, but that's what we need to keep building as a team. There is an expectation to go one step further after reaching the semi-finals of the last World Cup and European Championship and Phil's winning mentality can definitely help us do that.

Horses were my first love, but I'm glad I chose football

Millie Bright
Millie Bright on her first pony, Fidget, aged three

If things had worked out differently, I could be competing in a horse show this summer rather than gearing up for my first World Cup.

Horses have always been a massive part of my life as my parents have stables close to our family home on the outskirts of Sheffield.

I was first plonked on a horse by my mum when I was about one, and they were a part of my daily life until I moved away from home and became a professional footballer with Chelsea in 2014.

At times, it was relentless. As a kid, I'd be up at 6am to look after the horses before going to school. As soon as I got back I'd be taking them on the field to practise for weekend shows.

It was difficult, and I used to be late for school quite a lot, but I've never seen it as a chore and my mum never pressured us into doing it. Spending time with the horses was also a good place to escape to if you were having a bad day, so it was good from a mental point of view.

I got to a point where I was doing county-level shows, but it was dressage that I really loved where, effectively, the horses are dancing. At one point I was a groom for Hannah Esberger, who has competed for Great Britain and has seven national championship titles. I remember coming home one day and telling my mum that I got to ride on a horse of Hannah's which was worth £100,000. I was so delicate on it, because I'd be in massive trouble if there was any damage to it.

I don't know where horse riding could have taken me and it's something I can always go back to when I've retired from football, but the crossroads came in my life when Chelsea wanted to sign me and make me a professional footballer in 2013 when I was 20.

I had been playing semi-professionally with Doncaster Rovers Belles up until then, having previously trained at Sheffield United's school of excellence from the age of 12.

The strange thing is, I actually turned Chelsea down when they first rang me but ended up joining a year later. Some might say that was a risky move, but Doncaster had just been relegated from the Women's Super League 1 and I didn't want to run away.

Millie Bright, left
Bright, left, eventually signed for Chelsea in 2014

I also didn't feel quite ready to make the jump to full-time professional football, but a year later when Doncaster finished runners-up in WSL 2, I got another call and this time I didn't hesitate.

It was my dream to become a full-time footballer, and although it was hard to leave the family behind at home, it was a move I couldn't turn down.

The day I left to come to London, there were waterworks everywhere at home. I've always been close to my family and the hardest bit was leaving my mum.

I see myself as her rock and she was mine, so I felt guilty because I could not always be there for her, but my family have always been super proud of me. They've never once doubted me and my mum and dad come to all my games.

They've given me the confidence to be the person I am and, even though I do miss them and the horses back in Sheffield, making the move to Chelsea has paid off in the end.

Millie was talking to BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan.