By Rachel Steinberg
The 100-cap club isn’t a secret society—but the way Ellen White has kept quiet, you’d think it was.
The Manchester City striker is poised to join Gill Coultard, Fara Williams, Alex Scott, Karen Carney and other pioneers on the list of Lionesses centurions when England play Austria in their World Cup qualifier on Saturday.
And whether White is circling her fingers around her eyes to create her signature goal-celebration goggles or racking up awards, the 32-year-old has become one of the most recognisable figures in football.
“When I think of England, I think of Ellen White,” said City and Lionesses teammate Karen Bardsley, who first met the Ballon d’Or nominee at La Manga in 2009.
“She embodies everything I think young girls should strive to be when they look at a female footballer.
“She’s intelligent, she’s just so dedicated, she’s a really, really good teammate, she’s always looking out for her teammates, and I think every team needs an Ellen White.”
Football coursed through the veins of the White clan, but few opportunities for the future three-time England Player of the Year existed for five-year-old White in Buckinghamshire.
The solution, decided her father, Jon, was to start a children’s academy called Mini Dux.
White was the only girl—a situation she found herself in again when she joined Aylesbury Town before getting talent-spotted into the Arsenal academy.
That experience on boys’ sides, White believes, was instrumental in shaping her into the dangerous forward who, with 44 goals, is just three away from breaking Kelly Smith’s all-time Lionesses record.
There was a heightened hunger in the eyes of the 32-year-old as she took a penalty against Latvia in the Lionesses’ World Cup qualifier last month. She missed, but added another to her tally to draw level with Kerry Davis for second overall. That glint of determination is about all anyone will get from the England legend who prefers to speak with her feet.
“Ellen is an extremely humble person,” explained Bardsley.
“And I think that’s one of the things I really admire about her. She’s not mentioned it to me at all.
“She’s been through a heck of a lot. She’s had a lot of injuries, I’m sure there were a few times when she wasn’t sure if she was going to get back in the squad.
“There were a few times when maybe she was out of favour, and you see the work she puts in behind the scenes.
“And for her to achieve those milestones, it would mean a lot for me to see her achieve that.
“I think for herself, her family, her husband, I think it would really sum up all of the things that they missed out on, to commit themselves to football.
“It would really cement her contributions to the game, that legacy.”
Surpassing Smith this weekend could come with an added stroke of serendipity. White’s first goal as a Lioness, in 2010, was on her debut—against Austria.
Shocked & speechless to be voted for by the amazing England fans. I am so proud & honoured to win this award! I can’t begin to explain how privileged I feel to play for @Lionesses it’s honestly a dream! Thank u, & can’t wait to see fans back at our games starting this Friday 🤩 pic.twitter.com/Do4nvkHeOQ
— Ellen White (@ellsbells89) September 15, 2021
Fans know the fiercely competitive White—the one who became England’s top Women’s World Cup goalscorer in 2019, the FA Cup winner, 2012 Olympian and the woman who battled back from injury to score in front of a record crowd at Wembley.
Off the pitch, however, she’s a joker—and known to fall asleep instantly anytime a team bus is involved. She’s the type of person who will happily stop on the street for a photo with a fan even—as Bardsley once witnessed—when it requires a careful balancing act on a set of crutches.
She is, according to England and City teammate Lucy Bronze, “One of the most professional players I’ve ever played with. “This girl is obsessed with doing everything the way it should be done.
“Whether it’s in the gym, or doing extra training sessions, I don’t think anyone’s going to be surprised that not only is she going to get 100 caps, but I have no doubt she’ll break the record.
“She’s too close to it. And she’ll push on and make it even harder for the next person to try and compete with that record.”
White might soon find herself in a race with Harry Kane to surpass Wayne Rooney’s all-time England record: 53 goals. And with one more World Cup qualifier before Christmas and a new international tournament on the horizon in February, that glint in White’s eye isn’t going anywhere.
After all, every team should have an Ellen White—but the magic of the soon-to-be centurion is how so few actually do.