Ellen White bows out of football as a European champion, England’s record goalscorer and with the praise of her peers, team-mates and royalty ringing in her ears.
But the 33-year-old, a quiet presence in the dressing room, will likely find all the kind words and attention that followed her shock announcement on Monday quite uncomfortable.
White’s retirement means her last appearance came in England’s Euro 2022 final success against Germany – the country’s first major trophy in men’s or women’s football since 1966.
She had come a long way from September 1998, when the girl from Aylesbury made front-page news in the the Bucks Herald.
“Ellen was in tears and really upset,” her dad said after White was prevented from playing in a local team.
“As far as she is concerned, it is not about being female, it is about playing football.”
She would certainly end up making her mark in the sport.
White came through the youth ranks at Arsenal from the age of eight before making the cross-London switch to Chelsea at the age of 16, where she was the top scorer for three successive seasons.
A move up north to Leeds Carnegie followed, as did a first England call-up which she marked in typical fashion with a goal, before the advent of the Women’s Super League in 2010 enticed her back to north London.
Arsenal had already won seven successive English titles when White joined them in 2010 and she would add to her medal collection during her time with the Gunners.
During White’s first season at the club she scored six goals in 13 appearances as the Gunners won the League Cup, the Women’s FA Cup and the WSL.
White represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics and was selected by England for the 2011 World Cup – and was also named England’s player of the year.
She made the move to Notts County on a three-year deal, but a major setback came as an ACL injury forced her to miss the entire WSL season in 2014.
She did not allow that to halt her progress, however, with a move to Birmingham in 2017 leading to another goal-laden chapter in her domestic career.
But it was at the 2019 World Cup where White really burst on to the world stage.
White scored in England’s opening game against Scotland and did not look back, finishing the tournament as the Lionesses’ all-time top World Cup goalscorer and with the Bronze Boot – ending with the same amount of goals but with fewer assists than United States duo Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.
Manchester City came calling for White in May 2019 but another knee injury required surgery, ruling her out of the first three months of the season.
She returned to win a second Women’s FA Cup and star for England in their SheBelieves Cup defence, but lockdown hit in March 2020.
She did not waste her time during the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, studying the world’s best in a bid to find an extra edge.
“I’m just trying to improve myself and develop myself,” she told the PA news agency back in April 2020, after poring over Erling Haaland, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy.
“I’ve looked at the way they receive the ball, their movement in and around the box, how they create their own space and get on to the ball… their range of finishes, how they get that half a yard.
“I like looking at a range of different strikers. Haaland is different to Kane, who is different to Vardy. Just something different to add to my game really, just trying to get better.”
When football returned, she became only the second WSL player to reach 50 goals following a brace during Manchester City’s 8-1 thrashing of Bristol City.
And in England’s first match since the pandemic, White struck a hat-trick during a 6-0 thrashing of Northern Ireland and kicked on as England began a new era under Sarina Wiegman.
She struck a total of five goals as England racked up 32 in just four World Cup qualifying matches, adding another in winning her 100th cap against Austria, and broke Kelly Smith’s England goalscoring record with an early brace against Latvia.
She would remain the first-choice striker for Wiegman heading into the Women’s Euros finals, scoring twice in the 8-0 thrashing of Norway in the group stage.
While the goals dried up, Wiegman kept faith in White and she started every game on the run to victory.
Beth Mead, Harry Kane, Wiegman and even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge congratulated White on her career.
Ever humble, she departed with the words: “This is for the next generation and potentially the next Lioness. You don’t have to be the best at something to make your dreams come true. Just look at me.”
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