If you’re a West Ham player and a child comes up to you at the training ground for your autograph, make sure you sign it – because that child could be a future England captain, like Ellen White. Th e 27-year-old Notts County Ladies striker is skipper of the Th ree Lionesses – and a dyedin-the-wool West Ham fan. ‘I grew up in Aylesbury but West Ham was in my blood,’ she told Blowing Bubbles in an exclusive interview. ‘My dad grew up as a West Ham fan, so once he had kids, that was it – we were straight into West Ham colours from the word go!
‘Dad’s such a big fan that as well as taking us to Upton Park whenever he could, he even took us to the training ground. Th is was the era of Julian Dicks, John Moncur and a young Frank Lampard – I watched them train and got all their autographs.’ With her father running his own soccer school, as well as following his favourite team, it was inevitable Ellen would end up playing his favourite game. Th e fact she happened to be very good at it from an early age was something of a bonus. ‘When I was growing up, there were far fewer girls’ teams, so I started out playing in the local boys’ league until I had to stop at the age of
eight, which was the cut-off in those days,’ she explained. ‘Fortunately at my final tournament I was scouted for Arsenal’s centre of excellence so I went straight into playing there, without a break.’ The cut-off point for mixed football has now been raised to 16 – ‘that’s maybe a year or two too much, 14 would be better, but playing against boys is fantastic for getting accustomed to the speed and physicality, you develop your skills so much more’ – and that brief taste of mixed play certainly did not hold back Ellen’s career.
Since then she has gone on to have stints at Chelsea, Leeds, Arsenal and Notts County, playing for both England and Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics, and being a leading figure in the era in which coverage, awareness and participation in the women’s game have exploded – to her delight. ‘Girls’ football is I think the third fastest-growing sport in the country now, and there are so many opportunities to get involved both in and out of schools – not just playing, but doing things like refereeing and being physios as well,’ she said.
‘In every way, the game has grown, and more coverage means more opportunities for people to watch, too, which is hugely important. Of course we’ve got a long way to go to play catchup but the game’s getting bigger and better all the time.’ As a growing sport, women’s football knows one of its greatest selling points is the level of accessibility that fans can get, in contrast to the division between players and spectators in the men’s game – and this is something which White clearly enjoys. ‘It’s a huge advantage that the men don’t have,’ she said
‘There’s so much accessibility – fans know us, they feel they can come and talk to you get to know you as people. That’s really important for us – we want people to enjoy the experience of coming along, so they’ll want to come back and bring their friends. We love playing the game to as high a standard as we can, but it’s also very important to us as players that the people who come and watch enjoy the experience and want to do it again.’ Aside from leading the
England team, White’s main job is playing for Notts County – and having taken the decision to relocate to Nottingham to go fulltime as a footballer, it is an undertaking she takes very seriously. ‘I’m extremely lucky to be able to call myself a professional footballer for Notts,’ she said. ‘There were many reasons why I decided to move to there – one is so that I can dedicate my whole life to doing something I’d only previously dreamed about, and another was to work with Rick Passmoor and Colin Walker, two coaches I’d worked with previously when I was at Leeds Carnegie. ‘The first half of the season was up and down but we have some extremely talented players so hopefully we can really show our full potential and go on and do exciting things for our ever-so-loyal fans.’
Next summer those fans will have a chance to watch England at the 2017 European Championships, and given England’s success at last year’s World Cup in Canada, White is desperate for the team to put on another performance for the nation to rally around. ‘It’s always an honour and a source of great pride to captain the side,’ she explained. ‘We secured our qualification before the summer with back-to-back 7-0 wins over Serbia, but we only found out we had definitely advanced standing at the luggage carousel at Heathrow Airport on the way back from the away game,’ she explained
‘It was the ideal way to go on our separate ways for the summer, with 14 goals, six points and two clean sheets. It set us up perfectly for September’s games against Estonia and Belgium.’ Being based in Nottingham makes it difficult to get to as many West Ham games as she would like, but that does not lessen White’s enthusiasm for her team. ‘My husband – who’s a Forest fan and only got to see his first West Ham game towards the end of last season – says we pinched Michail Antonio from them, but I tell him they started him off and we’ve made him into a better player!’, she joked. ‘Antonio is a player I have a lot of time for,’ she explained.
‘I don’t play in the same position as him but he’s so full of drive and enthusiasm, I think he’s brilliant – I like to think there’s a bit of that in my game. How he’s not had an England call-up yet, I don’t know.’ Talking of players who have somehow eluded an international cap, speaking as England captain, White is full of praise for Irons skipper Mark Noble. ‘As a fan he’s everything you’d want your captain to be,” she explained. ‘He’s absolutely amazing – he leads by example, puts in the big tackles, does all the rubbish things that no-one wants to but which are in fact really important, and he pops up with
great goals too. He has a bit of banter off the pitch too which shows he has some personality and is likeable, he’s a local lad who cares about the team and would do absolutely anything and everything for the club – what more could you ask for?’ Professional commitments and distance mean it is diffi cult getting to games – ‘West Ham also hardly ever seem to win when I come to see them play, so maybe that’s no bad thing!’ – but absence makes the heart grow fonder. ‘From the very fi rst time I went to Upton Park as a kid, I absolutely loved everything about the place,’ said White. ‘I can’t wait to see how things shape up at the new ground. Fingers crossed I’ll manage to get down there a bit more oft en. Even though I’m not there as oft en as I’d like, and West Ham Ladies may not be at the top level yet, I hope all Irons fans take pride from knowing that the England captain is one of their own.’ BBM