England defender Millie Bright opens up about Doncaster Rovers’ Belles financial struggles

Millie Bright
Millie Bright

Millie Bright has opened up about Doncaster Rovers Belles’ financial struggles – and called for new money in the women’s game to be distributed evenly.

England and Chelsea defender Bright has revealed her parents had to help pay for treatment for a serious ankle injury sustained during her four-year stint with the Belles.

The 25-year-old has also recalled Belles’ ‘heartbreaking’ demotion from the top flight in 2013 because they could not meet financial criteria.

Barclays’ sponsorship of the newly-professional Women’s Super League is understood to be worth more than £10m over the next three seasons.

“My only hope is that the money that comes into the game is distributed evenly, as there were two experiences while at Doncaster that I don't think any player should have to go through,” Bright wrote in her BBC Sport website column.

“The news about Barclays sponsoring the WSL came in the same week that a top-tier club, Yeovil Town Ladies, went into administration, so it shows you that some clubs still struggle.

“I know all about that struggle based on my time at Doncaster, where I was part of the team that in 2013 was told after one game in the season that we would be relegated because we couldn't meet the financial criteria to stay in the top tier. Manchester City took our place.

“We had to play a full season knowing that we were going down and that is something I don't want any team to experience again.

“It was heartbreaking. It felt like we weren't respected or even wanted in the league, purely based on money. It should be about the level you play at, not how much money you have. That season, we just felt what's the point?

“The game is not just about the top four or five teams, it's the whole league that needs to be stable and developing. Without the other teams we are nothing.

“Then it's about looking after the division below, too, in the Women's Championship. Players need proper training and medical facilities but there have been stories of players who have had to rely on private medical care, or even crowdfunding, to fix an ACL knee injury.

“If you're a footballer, your club should be able to help you with medical needs, and that's where the women's game gets a lack of respect. It doesn't reflect well on women's football at all.

“I know about those struggles too. At Doncaster I injured my ankle badly and couldn't walk for three weeks. I was only semi-professional and training twice a week, but I had to go on benefits because I couldn't do my job as a horse groom or work in a leisure centre as a fitness instructor.

“I remember the conversation at the benefits centre when they asked me: "Why are you playing football?" I just told them it was my career.

“I had some rehabilitation at the club, but my mum and dad helped pay for treatment. I don't know what I would have done without them, but players in that situation should be better supported.

“Then there's the stress and the mental health problems you can get when you're out injured and can't work. The club should be able to offer the right support to take those stresses away.”

The Belles dropped into the third tier of the women’s game, the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division, last year for financial reasons. They will officially join Club Doncaster next month.