As heartbreaking major tournament exits go, you’d have to go a long way to better England’s 2019 World Cup semi final defeat.
A narrow 2-1 loss to the imperious USWNT coupled with a missed penalty and a disallowed goal for the most marginal of VAR offside decisions ended the Lionesses’ journey in France at the last four stage and left top scorer Ellen White understandably emotional at full time.
But in her post-match interview, when the Manchester City striker was asked if England could have done any more, she wiped away a tear, laughed and replied:
After such an agonising result, just how did she manage to muster a sense of humour?
“To be in that moment obviously you’ve given everything to go to be part of the World Cup final and to be pipped right at the last moment was really heartbreaking,” White tells 90min.
“But for me I’m all about sarcasm and I try and laugh things off… and probably because I didn’t want to cry again on live TV. I cried initially in the interview so I was trying to redeem myself a little bit.
“For those interviews it is challenging but you’ve just got to remain humble and try and think that there’s always something around the corner. For me I try and do it with a sense of humour.”
England’s semi final defeat saw Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis both feature for the USA, and the pair have since joined up with White at Man City.
They helped City to FA Cup glory in November, but have also been a hit off the pitch, the USWNT’s famous winning mentality extending to their initiation songs as the pair went above and beyond by treating their new teammates to a ‘one off special’ fully choreographed dance routine.
Nine of the current Man City side were part of England’s 2019 World Cup squad – does the semi final ever get mentioned?
“Yeah I’ve brought it up a couple of times,” White laughs. “I’ve said: ‘why have you not walked in with your gold medals just to rub it in all our faces?’
“I’m like: ‘yeah just come in and wear your gold medal, it will just be funny to wind everyone up.’ But they’re too humble, they’re too nice to throw that in our faces to be honest so I don’t think they would bring it up. It’s just me bringing it up and trying to make them laugh.”
With their summer recruits and new boss Gareth Taylor bedded in, City really started to hit their stride before the Christmas break and can move to within two points of rivals Manchester United should they win their game in hand.
The introduction of United and the Manchester derby has added another dynamic to the WSL, the two sides serving up a memorable 2-2 draw in November to follow on from City’s breathless 3-2 FA Cup victory in January where a brace from White proved decisive.
It’s a rivalry that supporters have thrown themselves into, and White says the players are just as invested.
“I think it’s ingrained in you. As soon as you’re part of a club like Man City or United it’s ingrained in you.
“When you come up against one another it is such a big rivalry, it’s a must win game and it is all about the competitiveness. Definitely there’s a great rivalry there and that’s exciting for that to now be in the women’s game, it’s been a long time coming.”
Players from both sides of the Manchester divide could put their differences aside this summer to help form Team GB’s Olympic squad for Tokyo 2021. For women’s football in the UK, the London games nine years ago represented the first time the sport really entered the mainstream consciousness.
For White, a sport fanatic who hosts her own podcast with double Paralympic champion Richard Whitehead, it was not just competing on the biggest sporting stage of all that she relished, but the mixing with such an array of athletes.
“For me playing women’s football, obviously being English, playing at an Olympics we weren’t really able to do that,” White says. “So to be able to go to 2012 and all the kind of stars aligned for us to be able to be Team GB, it was such an amazing occasion.
“There’s so many different sports and I think that’s what I absolutely loved: being in the Olympic village and being able to talk to so many different athletes who have got so many different stories, that train their whole lives for this moment and have got so many different paths to how they got to where they are. That was really interesting: to talk to people from different walks of life.”
It was a quarter final exit at the London Olympics for Team GB after a 2-0 loss to Canada. We didn’t ask White what more they can do to progress further in Tokyo – but we reckon we can take a stab at the answer.
Ellen White wears adidas Predator Freak, designed for extraordinary control and available at adidas.co.uk/football-shoes