Ellen White is one goal off Rooney’s record – and fully his England equal | Women’s Euro 2022
Ellen White hates the spotlight. Yet when her image was cast on the white cliffs of Dover ahead of the European Championship, she was there like never before.
As the Lionesses’ top scorer, it has become impossible for her to avoid the headlines. And when she struck twice against Norway on Monday and came close to Wayne Rooney’s record 53 goals for England, the talk grew.
You can see on the Manchester City striker’s face and hear in her voice that she doesn’t like questions about the record. The 33-year-old is still friendly but has become almost robotic as she responds to the continuous questions and comparisons that have dogged her since coming close to Kelly Smith’s former Lionesses record and Rooney’s tally.
“It’s not my priority. For me, I love playing for England and I will do everything I can on or off the pitch to achieve that,” she said when asked about being one goal away from equalizing. Rooney after the 8-0 loss to Norway. “It’s an absolute pleasure for me to be part of this team and I feel so proud and really appreciate that.”
When pushed on the names his will be listed in the articles of days to come – Rooney, Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Harry Kane, Smith – White was almost excessively humble. “Phenomenal names, yes. It’s hard because you’re comparing men and women, but I feel very lucky,” she said. When it was pointed out that the men’s and women’s matches might be different but the goals were the same size, she replied, “Exactly. I feel incredibly honored to be among those names, but I’m incredibly proud to play for England.
You could be forgiven for being frustrated by White’s reluctance to fully embrace the line of questioning and unwillingness to be lyrical about his accomplishments. Except that amid the celebratory messages, the trolls come out in full force and jump on any mention of White alongside Rooney or Kane, the likely candidate to break the men’s team record.
“They just had the nerve on the radio to compare Ellen White’s goalscoring record to Wayne Rooney’s… Imagine a tournament where a team could lead 6-0 at halftime! Absolutely awful!” shouted a Twitter account after the BBC comment dared to mention White’s closeness to Rooney’s 53 goals in the Group A game with Norway.
“News reports Ellen White is one goal shy of Rooney’s England record… ffs they can’t be compared, getting ridiculous,” yelled another. And another said: “Did I hear that right the reporter says ‘Ellen White scores and moves within a goal of Wayne Rooney’s record’ Fuck you.”
The argument that men’s football and women’s football are different and deserve to be treated as separate entities is legitimate. They’re at very different stages of development, but that doesn’t affect the players’ relative impact in their respective worlds. White can be a pro sometimes up against semi-pros or amateurs, but you don’t have to go back that far to reach a time when she wasn’t capable of playing professionally. Meanwhile, the conditions and level of professionalism offered to Rooney and other players competing at the top of the men’s game are vastly superior to those experienced by some of the players and teams they face at international level.
Many variables affect a striker’s success, from the teams he faces to the age he started playing; facilities in which they train at the salaries paid to them; from teammates surrounding them to the position of football in the fabric of their home country.
The problem arises when Rooney and Kane’s counts are treated as higher than White’s. Yes, White scored twice against Norway in a crushing 8-0 victory (although that result looked more like Germany’s 7-1 loss to Brazil in 2014 than the minnows’ thrashing) and yes, she scored three goals in Latvia’s 20-0 World Cup qualifier defeat. But it’s woefully ignorant to suggest that Rooney and Kane haven’t scored goals against teams that are, to some degree, sitting ducks. Five of Rooney’s goals have come against San Marino, in two 5-0 wins, a 6-0 win and an 8-0 win. The former Manchester United striker has also scored three times against Kazakhstan and twice against Belarus, Andorra and Bulgaria, to name a few. Kane was also successful against San Marino, scoring five times against the microstate, and beat Montenegro, Bulgaria and Albania four times and Panama three times.
This is in no way an attempt to denigrate their impressive records, merely to point out that any top scorer finds that, more often than not, goals against top teams spice up their totals rather than top them.
So should we merge the men’s and women’s team charts into one and speak in the same sentence? Sure, they should exist independently, as records in their own editions of the sport, but what’s the harm in collectively celebrating their achievements for England? Who has put the most balls in the back of the net with an English shirt? Rooney. If White scores two more times, it will be her. Are there any caveats? Yes, just like there is between Rooney and Charlton, or White and Smith.
If people cared about fairness, they wouldn’t compare Rooney to Charlton or Lineker, who all played at very different times, in tournaments of different sizes, with more or fewer friendlies and with different regimes. very different conditioning and training to help prolong their careers. Instead, we bundle them up and enjoy the ride. Why, when it’s a female footballer feeding the table, do people suddenly have a problem with that? Perhaps their problem is deeper than fairness.