As Ellen White wheeled away in celebration surrounded by her team-mates at the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday night, history was being re-written.
Following her hat-trick in England’s record-breaking 20-0 World Cup qualifier win over Latvia, the 32-year-old now sits top of England women’s all-time goalscorer list with 48, two clear of recent Hall of Fame inductee Kelly Smith.
The iconic sight of White circling her fingers around her eyes – a celebration inspired by Cologne’s French striker Anthony Modeste – is one emulated by the next generation on the pitches of Aylesbury where she grew up and learned her trade.
It was a time when she was so prolific her dad tried to bet on her becoming an England international.
“You could say it’s in the blood,” Jon White told BBC Sport.
“I remember when she was about 10 years old and many years ago when people used to put random bets on, I went into a betting shop to put a bet on her playing for England one day in the future, but they wouldn’t take it.
“When she got her first cap I remember thinking, ‘if only’.”
Determined, hard-working and a natural goalscorer on the pitch, White is also described as humble off it.
“She’s probably never even thought about breaking this record, that’s the sort of character she is,” says best friend and England and Manchester City team-mate Steph Houghton.
“She’s so down to earth, so respectful and one of the best friends you could have.”
“Ellen is prolific,” adds former England manager Hope Powell. “She scores goals and has always had this great desire and passion to be the best she can be. But she’s humble with it, that’s a really key quality when it comes to Ellen.”
‘I always believed she would make it’
She made her professional debut aged 16, but White’s football career began long before that. With her dad running a soccer centre for 10 years and her grandad playing professional football for Exeter City, she was never destined for anything else.
From the moment she first stepped onto a pitch as a five-year-old, White showed her attacking prowess. Playing for Aylesbury Town, alongside and against boys, she once scored more than 100 goals in a season.
“I genuinely always believed that she would make it to the top, I felt it,” says Jon.
“She was the best player in that team.”
After impressing at a tournament she attracted the attention of Arsenal, where she would play between the ages of eight and 16, before returning again in 2010.
Future spells at Chelsea and Leeds – including three consecutive seasons as Chelsea’s top scorer – opened up new horizons and there was to be plenty more success to follow.
In an international career that began with a debut goal against Austria in 2010, 101 appearances later, she continues to be a regular name on the scoresheet.
“Am I surprised she scored on her debut? No,” says Powell, who handed White her Lionesses bow. “That’s why she was in the squad and she’s been doing it ever since.
“The thing I remember most is her enthusiasm to play football. She was just a great kid who wanted to play and wanted to score goals. She worked really hard to be the best she can be.
“You can see through her journey that she’s always been committed to being one of the best. She’s worked and earned the right to be in the position she’s in. That’s not luck, that comes with hard work, dedication, resilience and the right attitude.”
The superstar who ‘hates the limelight’
The resilience and dedication Powell speaks of is further highlighted by the fact White has suffered – and recovered from – two serious ACL injuries that have seen her sidelined for the best part of two years during her career.
A three-time England Player of the Year, White has featured at three World Cups – including the historic bronze-medal finish in 2015 – and was joint-top scorer in 2019. She also helped guide England to the SheBelieves Cup in 2019.
“If you look back at all the big games that she’s played in for club and country, when we need her, she steps up and scores the big goals,” says Houghton, who has captained England since 2014.
“That’s just her mentality. Any challenge that’s thrown at her, she always comes out on top.”
From a spectacular finish against eventual World Cup winners Japan in 2011 – a goal which White previously identified as her favourite – to a dramatic last-minute winner over the USA in 2017, White has an array of memorable moments during her 11 years with the national team.
And while there can be no doubt about her elite status, dad Jon says England’s record-breaker “hates the limelight” and remains grounded on and off the pitch.
“On the pitch she wants to be successful, be part of a successful team and win,” he adds. “Off it she wants to be completely discreet and doesn’t want anything that comes with being a professional sportswoman. I don’t know if she realises how good she is.”
“She never tries to be anyone or do anything that isn’t her,” says White’s husband Callum. “Any impression people get is just her.”
‘A girl scored against us and did Ellen’s celebration!’
Her on-field exploits haven’t gone unnoticed and, in 2016, White was awarded the Freedom of Aylesbury, where her illustrious journey began.
With every goal scored, she continues to inspire the next generation. So much so that youngsters in her hometown now mimic her celebration on the pitches where she once honed her skills.
“I coach my granddaughter’s team now and there are young girls copying her all the time,” says Jon. “A few weeks ago, a girl scored against us and she ran off doing Ellen’s trademark celebration. It was fantastic. Even though she scored against us, I loved it.
“She just doesn’t realise how popular she is and the impact she has on the younger generation in terms of being a role model.”
Houghton adds: “She’s not just a role model for young boys and girls around the world, but for her team-mates too.”
Admired and respected, White has dedicated her life to be becoming the best.
“It’s no accident that she is where she is,” says Powell.
“She manages the highs and lows so well, she works hard, has never cut corners and continues to tick every box that enables her to be so prolific.”
|48 – Ellen White|
|46 – Kelly Smith|
|44 – Kerry Davis|
|40 – Karen Walker, Fara Williams|
|35 – Hope Powell|
|33 – Eni Aluko|
|32 – Karen Carney|
|30 – Gillian Coultard|
|28 – Marieanne Spacey|
Those closest to White use several words to describe her – passionate, dedicated, loving and loyal.
“It’s true, that’s who she is,” adds Houghton. “She’s the perfect friend and team-mate and deserves everything that comes her way.
“She’s proven to be one of the best strikers in the world and now the best striker in England’s history.”
Husband Callum says: “I think she’s incredible. She’s had some massive highs and massive lows over the years, but her dedication and resilience to keep going, keep improving and keep adapting is credit to her.”
“She has always been passionate and dedicated,” adds Jon. “She’s given up her whole life and the last 25 years for football. It’s been her complete passion and that hasn’t changed from day one to now.”