Published 26 November 2021 8 min read
Ellen White

Kelly Smith: Goalscoring record couldn't have happened to a nicer person than Ellen White

Written by:

Frank Smith

Lionesses legend discusses Ellen White breaking her England women's all-time goalscorer record and what makes her former Arsenal team-mate one of the world's best strikers

(Originally published on November 26 and rewritten on December 1 following Ellen White breaking the record.)

For some, the idea of losing the title of being your country’s record goalscorer would come as a major disappointment. But for Kelly Smith, she plans to be one of the first people to pick up the phone to congratulate Ellen White now the England striker has achieved the feat.

Smith is one of the greatest women’s footballers of all time, with skill and talent which made her a trailblazer for those who followed.

Truly world class, the forward would go on to play professionally in the United States well before footballers were full-time in the UK and paved the way for other Lionesses to succeed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Smith played 117 times and scored 46 goals for England and it would have been even more had it not been for a string of terrible injuries.

The Watford-born star and her wand of a left foot spent much of her club career in the colours of Arsenal and it was during her third spell with the club that she trained every day and played alongside a young White, with the pair having already linked up at international level.

Injury ruled Smith out of the 2010 game with Austria which saw White mark her senior England debut with a goal but the Arsenal legend was on hand to see many others.

Kelly Smith and Ellen White celebrate Arsenal's FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup win in 2013 with Steph Houghton
Kelly Smith and Ellen White celebrate Arsenal's FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup win in 2013 with Steph Houghton

Smith sat down to speak to recently, with White only two goals short of matching her 46 England goals.

Since then, White scored once against Austria on Saturday in what was her 100th appearance for her country, before breaking the record on Tuesday night when she bagged a hat-trick in the 20-0 demolition of Latvia.

And Smith said: “I will be delighted if Ellen breaks the record. Having played with Ellen, I know how good she was at Arsenal and she has developed her game further over the years to become even better and now she is a feared, lethal striker who is renowned around the world for her goalscoring ability.

“When I played with her she was more used on the right-hand side of a front three or on the left-hand side rather than through the middle but she has evolved her game over the years and is deadly in and around the box.

“Her goalscoring ability over the years has been brilliant so when she does break the record I will be picking up the phone to say congratulations because it is some feat to get that many goals.

“If she is also able to do it on her 100th cap as well then that would be amazing. It would be brilliant for her and her family.”

White first started playing football at a session her dad ran called ‘Mini Ducks’ in her hometown of Aylesbury before going on to play for Aylesbury United’s boys’ team.

It didn’t take long for her talent to get noticed though and she was spotted by Arsenal’s scouts at the age of eight, going on to train with the Gunners’ Centre of Excellence on a training pitch at their famous old ground Highbury until the age of 16.

After successful spells with Chelsea and Leeds Carnegie, White re-joined Arsenal in 2010 and was united with Smith at club level two years later.

During those early days, White would often have to be used either wide right or left in a front three because of the likes of Smith, Julie Fleeting and Lianne Sanderson occupying the central role.

Kelly Smith and Ellen White as part of Team GB's side at London 2012 Olympic Games
Kelly Smith and Ellen White as part of Team GB's side at London 2012 Olympic Games

But Smith believes that time playing across the frontline has aided White’s development as a striker and praised the improvements her former team-mate has made to her movement, running ability and hold-up play in recent years.

“She pops up in big games and in big moments too, which is what you want from your striker. You certainly want her in your team,” Smith added.

And therein lies one of White’s most important attributes when it comes to her national teams: she delivers when it matters most.

White’s six goals at the 2019 FIFA World Cup made it seven in the competition in total, having also netted a stunning lob in 2011, meaning she surpassed Smith’s record for most World Cup goals scored by an English woman.

The former Grange School pupil then bagged another six at this summer’s Olympic Games, which contributed towards the 32 year old being nominated for this year’s 2021 Women's Ballon d'Or.

But what is it about White which makes her such a big-game player?

Smith replied: “I think it is doing it day in and day out in training and applying yourself. It is the hunger that you have, the fight and the desire to always perform in training. With the repetition you keep working on those moves, the more you hit the back of the net your confidence grows and when you have good players around you it helps.

“She has a really good understanding with some of her England team-mates, especially those that she plays with at Man City. Lucy Bronze up and down on the right-hand side and she has a great understanding with Lauren Hemp. I watch the England games and every time the ball is delivered by Hemp it is on a plate for Ellen.

“It is also the passion and the hunger to want to perform in the big games, staying concentrated, staying in the game and having that confidence in your own ability that when you get those one or two chances, you step up for your team, and she does just that.”

And on what makes White stand out compared to other strikers, Smith added: “I would say her movement in and around the box. Also her calmness when she gets in those positions – you can’t teach that. 

“She has the self-belief and she is a winner at heart. She has won league trophies with Arsenal and Man City and she wants to win every game. She hates losing, even in five-a-side she would have a bit of a sulk on if she lost because she just hates losing and she breeds confidence throughout the team.”

Whenever you speak to any of White’s team-mates, past or present, one of the first things which comes up is White the person, not just the player.

White on breaking goalscoring record

She may have just become England Women’s record goalscorer but that belies how selfless White is as a player and a person, always putting the team first.

Smith said: “Ellen is a great person. If she does break the record, it couldn’t happen to a nicer person. 

“She is so grounded, she is very personable and she is a team player. She is the ultimate professional. She lives and breathes her job and she goes out on a daily basis and applies herself.

“She is a leader too. She probably didn’t used to speak so much in terms of our team meetings but she was always the ultimate professional, which is what you want to be as a player. Now for the young kids at Manchester City and England, they only have to look at how she conducts herself.”

Whatever happens in the coming months and years and whoever’s name tops the all-time top goalscorer list in the future, one thing is for sure, Smith and White’s status as an England legend is guaranteed forever more.