Through the Goggles of Ellen White

If given the opportunity, I could write about Ellen White for days. She is an inspiration, she is a footballer, she is a woman. She did the latter two simultaneously, which is why she is the first. Ellen White to me, will always be the person who made me fall in love with football. Or maybe not fall in love with football but make me feel okay about falling in love with football.

In the face of adversity, Ellen White did the best thing she could have done for young girls, she showed up. She showed up, played football and she did it with a smile. Young girls need to see role models in the careers they want to do in the future so they can picture themselves doing that job – you cannot be what you cannot see. Ellen White made sure to be a visible, present, honest role model for women and she is without a doubt one of those that has pioneered the ‘women’s’ game to what it is today.

I put ‘women’s’ game in quotations because calling football ‘women’s football’ doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not ‘women’s football’ it’s just football and women are playing it. Every girl has had their sport diminished because they’re a girl and it is not okay. I can only thank Ellen White for being such a big part of the needed change; the shift in tone and attitude that we are now seeing came from women like her persevering through times that were often not as welcoming, understanding or inclusive.

Ellen White is a footballer, but more importantly she is a woman. As a tribute to her famous goggle-eyes celebration inspired by Anthony Modeste, let’s take a look at Ellen White’s legendary career that has spanned more than two decades through her goggles…

Photo: Ryan Asman

White’s career spans one of the most defining eras of women’s football. Unlike the majority of players nowadays, White was part of a generation of footballers that had to work alongside playing football – she worked as a Sports Development Officer for Arsenal. White talks about going to the gym before work, going to training after work and balancing playing matches and her day job. Now, the possibility of having a career in football is so much more possible for aspiring girls. The attention that women’s football is now getting means that girls can watch women like Ellen White on television play football and aspire to be like them. The visibility and availability of the women’s game that players such as White have fought to get is now emanating into the young girls watching.

White is one of few footballers to go to university – she studied Sports Science at Loughborough University, but she mentioned once in an interview that her dream job would be a firefighter. Dare I say that we might see her donning a big yellow jacket and a hose pipe some time soon? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, White will continue to be a household name for many years to come, not only for her footballing career, but for all she has done off the pitch for the women’s game.   

Although we’ve seen plenty of Ellen White’s face plastered over the newspapers in recent weeks in the light of the Lionesses’ European victory, White first appeared in her local newspaper at the age of 9 for very different reasons. In 1998, White was banned from her local football team for being a girl. The Chiltern Youth League banned White from being able to play alongside her male counterparts due to concerns over the use of mixing changing rooms. This decision was just the start of many hurdles that White had to overcome in her career as a professional (female) footballer. No doubt, Chris Davidson the chairman of the league at the time will rightfully be ruing his decision to exclude what turned out to be the Lionesses’ top-goal scorer who has just won the European Championship watched by over 17 million viewers.

White started playing football at the age of 5 in a ‘Mini Ducks’ league organised by her dad because of the lack of leagues for young girls at the time. She was unsurprisingly then scouted for the Arsenal academy at the age of 8. White played for Arsenal’s academy until 2005 when she made a move to rivals Chelsea, making her professional debut and spending three seasons being the top goal scorer there. She has also made appearances for Leeds, Birmingham, Notts County, Arsenal and Manchester City. White played the most successful seasons of her career at Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City – suffering from several long-term injuries whilst at the other clubs. Her break-through season arguably came when she re-joined Arsenal in 2010 where she won 7 trophies in just 3 seasons. She is known for her goal-scoring instincts and ability to run and find clever spaces in the box.

Her commitment to winning the ball in the box can be scary at times (I often thought she looked similar to that of a Lion hunting prey), you could see how badly she wanted it in her eyes. From Women’s Super League titles, FA Cups, and League Cups, there isn’t much that White hasn’t won, and although she signed a two-year contract with Man City last year, she will not see it out, choosing instead to leave on a well-deserved high. White is one of few players to have scored over 50 goals in the WSL and she leaves club football as the all-time record goal scorer in the league.

For country, Ellen White is undoubtedly one of the best players in the game, both men and women. She has scored 52 goals in 113 senior matches for England which makes her England’s second highest goal scorer behind Wayne Rooney (only one goal short of matching his record). She played for several England youth teams but made her professional international debut against Austria in 2010 where she scored the final goal. White has since made appearances at three World Cups, Three European Championships, two Olympics and has been England’s Player of the Year three times. White is best known for her goal-scoring antics and unbelievable positional sense – it is no surprise that she has chosen to retire at the absolute pinnacle of what has been an outstanding career.

Photo: @Lionesses

Although White didn’t have a stand-out tournament during the 2022 Euros, only scoring twice, she started every match and her presence on the pitch was invaluable. One thing that you hear time and time again from people that have worked with Ellen White, is that her attitude is almost all of her game. Of course, she is a talented player and exceptionally gifted striker (I’m sure no one will forget her phenomenal strike against Japan in 2011), but her fierce work ethic and can-do attitude is what sets her a level above the rest. This can be seen when she came back from an ACL injury in 2016 to play her first international game in nearly three years against Serbia and managed to score twice. With the women’s game attracting bigger crowds with each tournament, it is so important that young girls see women footballer’s consistently showing up and realising their dream.

She leaves the game as one of England’s greatest (not just in the footballing world). She has been a massive part of every England team she has been a part of, and has now finally helped the Lionesses to win a major trophy for the first time in history. Realising this dream, is the perfect way for White to bow out and hand the baton on to the next generation of Lionesses. Although, no doubt we will be seeing Ellen White in the stands at Wembley cheering the girls on. 

The sheer amount of attention that her retirement announcement has attracted is indicative of White’s career and the Football Association will look to recognise it in one of the upcoming Lionesses home games. Aside from her collection of accolades and titles, her record-making statistics and her phenomenal style of play to round off an outstanding career in football, Ellen White will go down in the history books for something much bigger. Her commitment to bring equality to football and encourage young girls to not only be not ashamed but be proud of wanting to play or watch or talk about football.

Of course, White will be a household name in football for a long time to come, but her contribution to the women’s game off the pitch will not go unnoticed. Even on the back of winning the Euros, White is keen to make sure that the momentum is not lost. She has brought change and inspired confidence for the next generation of girls wanting to play football, and that will be her legacy. Ellen, thank you for what you’ve done for us, it’s been a pleasure being able to see the world, even if just for brief moments, through your hope-tinted goggles.