Creative Soccer Culture

Ellen White On England, The World Cup & The Women's Game

Set to once again spearhead England’s attacks in France this summer, Ellen White has been round the game long enough to have a fine understanding its intricacies. We recently caught up with the Manchester City Striker to talk all about the upcoming World Cup, the rise of the women’s game and which box sets she'll be watching. Focused on success, she’s clearly looking forward to the challenge ahead, just don’t call her a veteran…

To start with, congrats on getting into the England side. Having been through the process of being selected before, how does it feel to be heading out to France?

It feels even better than being selected for my first one. This is now my third World Cup and it kind of blows my mind. I never take playing for England for granted and it’s a real honour. We’ve got such a competitive squad so for me it feels amazing to be in the squad and I’m really looking forward to getting out to France.

When you got the call up this time, what went through your head in comparison to the first time?

I’m still as nervous as ever. Obviously you try and do everything possible to be selected and I feel like I have got a good relationship with Phil Neville but you want that call or that email to have that definite “Yes, you’re in the squad”. So I’m still nervous but excited at the same time and it’s so exciting to hear who else is in the squad and who else will be going out there and also to get the itinerary for what is happening and when.

The fact that I had James Cordon announcing me in the squad blew my mind really. I’m a big Gavin and Stacey fan so I was naturally very excited. What the FA did behind the scenes to make that kind of announcement happen was really cool. None of the players knew that was going to happen. It definitely shows the rise of the women’s game and the profile it now has. The reach as well that was achieved through social platforms with that announcement was enormous too. The difference between the three tournaments I’ve played in, in that sense, is phenomenal; it’s so major. Personally it’s still a really amazing feeling to be selected for England whichever way it comes but to have someone like James Cordon announce it is special and a lovely touch.

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You mentioned the detail, have you already thought about what you’ll pack for the tournament, lining up any box sets to dive into?

It’s a good point. You do get quite a bit of downtime at a tournament and in the build up. While it would be nice to go out and explore you don’t want to do too much walking. It’s important to rest and recover. The games come thick and fast so yeah I’m sure we’ll get into the box sets. I’ve got it all covered from Amazon to Netflix but to be honest, I tend to watch stuff like Grey’s Anatomy all over again. I room with Steph Houghton and so hopefully this time we can sit down and watch something together. We keep saying we want to watch Luther as neither of us have watched it. It gives us a chance to chill, relax and not think about anything. A few of us might go out for a coffee and that type of thing when we’re out there but it’s all about feeling relaxed. 

When you get that itinerary through and it shows the friendlies we have to warm up with and where we’ll go to train ahead of the tournament, that all adds to the excitement of it all. I like to see the hotels we’ll be staying in and all the finer detail just because I can’t wait to get going.

While you want to relax and recoup, it’s important not to be caged at a tournament isn’t it?

Yeah I think the FA do their research really well and carefully too in terms of finding a location that offers a lot. You’re obviously fighting with other nations to get the best spot but I think they try and prioritise that it’s within walking distance from a decent coffee shop [laughs]. They understand the importance of having that little escape, somewhere you can go and not really think about football. Getting some time to see family is obviously important too. Ultimately, you’re going to a World Cup to work and that’s the main priority. We’ve made no bones about it either, we want to win the World Cup. Our focus will be on that but it’s important to have that relaxing time just to balance and re-group before the next game.

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Does your role change going into this tournament in comparison with the last given your experience?

I’ve been called a veteran a few times already which is funny. I’m always like “woah, woah, woah”, there’s still plenty more of me to come. But, we do have a lot of young players coming through and there’s a lot of youth in the squad. I’m probably more experienced now than I was before in previous tournaments so I like to show through my professionalism both on and off the pitch and kind of lead by example. I think there’s a lot of us in the squad who share that mindset. It’s important to mention that the younger players in the squad have a lot of experience too. They’re at big clubs and have played on big stages. They have Champions League experience so know what it takes to rise above those occasions. We’ve got a dynamic mix of youth and experience I’d say. We like to have a laugh but we know when to switch things on and off. 

Picking up a bronze in Canada, that tournament was so big for so many reasons. Has that medal made you hungry for more?

It really does make you more hungry. The experiences at that World Cup are things I’ll never forget and winning a bronze at a World Cup is incredible. I have that medal hanging on my door as motivation. I can see it when I’m in bed because I look at it and think “I want a gold one”. It really does drive you and push you. I really want that gold medal. It’s the same for a lot of us, we will strive for as much as we can achieve but we know it’s going to be a tough tournament. Those experiences and those memories can really be an additional factor to push us on in this tournament. There’s a good few of us who were involved in that and have that bronze medal but we want to fight and we want to go even better than that.

The explosion of the profile of the Women’s game has been so huge over the last few years. What would you say the catalyst for that is?

I think the level of exposure that has been given to women’s football and women’s sport in general really has been really positive. Not just across social platforms but in the broader media. BT, BBC, Channel 4 have all got on board with Women’s Football and have put it in the limelight and in doing so, made it very viewable for anyone to see. It means that people don’t have to hunt to find our sport now. It’s there for all to see and it’s accessible. That’s what we’ve got to keep progressing with. We’ve got to make sure it’s there and available for people to see all the time. Definitely in this season across the WSL, our games have been so much more visual. I think there’s four live games available every week which hasn’t been done before so if that continues, it will only help the game grow.

There also seems to be a lot more sponsors getting on board too. Recently we’ve had Boots and Barclays both getting involved. It’s really starting to grow and those sponsors are helping to make that happen. The investment really does make a difference.

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Going from the summer of 2018 into 19, do you feel like you can have that galvanising feeling like the men’s team did?

Of course, we want to create a buzz. Obviously we understand just how much reach the men’s game gets and can’t underestimate how exciting that summer was but yeah we’d love to create that kind of energy back home and get people excited about the tournament. Supporting us from back home and people getting drawn into England playing in a World Cup would all be so good. If they can travel out to support us then that would be remarkable. It would be amazing to drum up that level of support because it’s tough for us out there as you do end up in a kind of bubble. If back home we see that buzz going off then that gives us another level when we’re out there. We’re passionate about playing for England and want to do our country proud. Having that support is something we’d really value.

I feel like it was one of the highlights, to see so many people packed out with pints going all over the place last summer. Any goals, there was such excitement. It would be great to see that again. People packing the pubs and the local areas all to support the tournament. We’d love to see that happen. People coming together with their friends and families to watch our games, that would really excite us. We’d only want to put on a really good show for people.

You touched on family a little… Your Dad ran a football academy. It must be so special for them to see you achieve what you have and what you’re doing in going out to another World Cup?

Yeah they are really supportive. My Mum, Dad and husband travel everywhere to watch me play. It would be great to see them in the crowd in France and I’ve potentially got a lot of family coming out to France to support us and it’s lovely. It’s always nice to look into the stands and see their support. My family support West Ham and my dad always takes out this massive West Ham England Flag which is special. He’s never told my mum how much that cost [laughs]. My brother and sister are great in supporting me as well.

You’re going to play in full stadiums in front of big crowds – what’s that like for you? Does it give you more energy on the pitch?

I think over the last season, especially the England games we’ve played at home, we’ve had big big crowds. It has really spurred us on. It’s amazing to hear a crowd fully backing the England team. It’s a dream to play in front of big crowds, it really is what you aspired to do when you were younger. Seeing so many fans embrace what we’re doing has been incredible. I think that England v Scotland game is going to be amazing with a massive crowd.

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On the club game and stadiums, we’ve seen the likes of Juventus and Altetico Madrid open up their stadiums for matches for their women’s side. Do you think we can expect to see more of that?

What teams have done has shown that there is an appetite for this and if it’s presented well and made accessible then people embrace it. Why not, I say. It’s obviously tough if you’re usually selling 5,000 tickets normally to then step up to so many more for a big stadium, but how do we know if we don’t try? There was 43,000 people watching the FA Cup final at Wembley and at England we’re selling out stadiums so I’d love to see more of that across the club level. Getting more eyes on the game, getting more promotion for our matches, it’s only going to be a healthy thing to drive support.

Back to the World Cup, what do you think it would do for women in this country if you had a successful tournament?

I might not even be able to put into words what it could do for the Women’s game and WSL. Naturally it would bring more interest and you’d see more people get into it. The big thing for us is getting more people into club games and using a successful tournament to feed into that. It’s visually getting people to see women’s football. Not just on the pitch too but the whole world around it. From refereeing to coaching, to the business elements. It’s a whole industry that is waiting to take off. There’s so many avenues to the game that can excite people so it’s not just young girls and boys we’re trying to bring into football as a whole but it’s everyone. For us we don’t see it as “women’s football” it’s just “football”. People should be excited about the whole spectrum of the game.

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Like you say, it’s important that we stop giving it the label of “women’s football”, it’s more powerful if we just bring it into “football”. We want equality…

Especially for clubs, when you look at teams overseas, they are like institutions. If you support Juventus, Atletico, Real Madrid or Barcelona, you support the club in its entirety. The institution as a whole, whether that’s basketball, handball, volleyball or football. It’s exciting and it would be great if we can take that approach that if people support a club, they support every aspect of it. Obviously it’s a lot to ask for people to commit to all those sports but having that mindset that places value on each element equally would be a great thing to strive for.

England get their World Cup campaign underway against Scotland on 9 June.

Daniel Jones

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