White on selflessness, celebrations and training ground battles

White on selflessness, celebrations and training ground battles


Few players embody the camaraderie in the team more than Ben White. With his selfless overlapping runs, moral and physical backup whenever a teammate needs it on the pitch, words of encouragement after a setback, or joining in the celebrations after every goal – Ben is a hugely supportive, loyal presence on the pitch.

It comes naturally to him. Ever since his first steps into football, playing for the team set up by his friend’s dad, Kingswood down on the south coast where he grew up, he’s been a real team player.

“I just wanted to be involved all the time, I loved it,” he starts. “I would say I was quite quiet around the other players when I first started, but I was always a confident lad. I just loved playing football, and that’s where I would be loud – when I was on the pitch.

“I started when I was six, and played up a couple of age groups. I liked being one of the main players, and being the person everyone looked to and expected things from.

“In fact I remember a few games that went to penalties, I would take over in goal as well because I was better than our goalie! So I would take a penalty, then put the gloves on to save them!

“But yes everything – going in goal, playing every position, taking the corners, the free-kicks – I wanted to take on everything. I was the captain too.

“I was probably like that until I first joined an academy, that’s when I realised I was around a few other good players too!”

But Ben would always stand out, and more often than not live up to the expectation placed on him. “I wasn’t a particularly shouty or vocal captain, but I could always produce at the big moments,” he says.

“There were a few big moments growing up, we had a good team. I remember scoring from the halfway line in one game for the county side, in the final of a county cup. I was about 14 at the time. I remember it well, we used to play on Astro pitches, and there were these wires and cables running overhead. I struck this shot and it hit one of the wires, then went over the keeper. It kicked off a bit after that! But yeah that was a big moment.

“I don’t remember losing many games at all at that age. Kingswood was a good team – we won everything. We had a few players that went to join academies. Not many of them still play, but one guy, called Sam Surridge, he played for Bournemouth a bit, and is now playing for Nashville out in America.”

After starring at county level, Ben joined the Southampton academy, which is when he had to focus more on one position, and started playing at right back.

“I’d never played there before,” he reveals. “I had mainly played centre-mid until then, but had a bit of a growth spurt when I was 14 or 15, and that’s when they put me in defence. Then when I joined Brighton I went to centre back.”

It wasn’t just football that Ben had a passion for as a kid though. He was a keen all-round sportsman. He played hockey, tennis and cricket at school, and excelled at all of them.

“I think it was mainly because of my physicality,” he explains. “There was a lad at school who was very good at hockey and played for England, so he was our best player technically. But I was way more physical, so I could get the better of him that way. I played everything – tennis, squash, whatever I could.”

But it was team sports where his real love lay, largely because of that feeling of camaraderie and belonging.
“I think individual sports are harder in that way,” he continues. “It’s all down to you.

“I think being part of a team is how I learned how to deal with disappointment. I would get frustrated a lot when I wasn’t doing my best, and in an individual sport, that’s more difficult to control. If something goes wrong, you have to get yourself out of it.

“It came from just wanting to win so much – I’m still like it now. I hate losing and it’s something I’ve never got better at. In fact I never want to be good at that!

“When I got frustrated, I got angry, but I played better when I got angry. I would try to use it in a positive way. I still have that approach now. Especially playing in the Premier League, I come up against so many great wingers, so whenever something doesn’t happen for you, it’s nice to have that bit of anger and aggression to drive you on to do better.”

"I hate losing and it’s something I’ve never got better at. In fact I never want to be good at that!"

Having been in a team environment virtually his whole life, how does Ben think he would cope in an individual sport? “I don’t think I’d be as good,” he smiles. “I feel like most of the time, what I’m doing is for somebody else or for the team. All those overlaps I do are not really for me!

"I do get the ball quite a lot now when people double and triple up on Bukayo. But a big part of the game that I really love is the stuff I do for the team, maybe some stuff that people don’t see as much, that’s more for my teammates, and I really enjoy that side.”

It’s not surprising that with an attitude like that, Ben is a hugely popular part of the group, and that extends beyond the playing squad. The 26-year-old spends a lot of time in the company of the backroom and coaching staff and says their involvement is a crucial part of his day-to-day life: “Yes it’s massive. You create bonds with these people because you see them every day, and it’s nice to bring that out, be a bit more normal, and it’s a great, healthy mixture. You can just have nice, normal conversations and it helps you relax away from the games.”

There are tangible benefits too, Ben believes, to having a reliable, trusted team around you on the pitch. Knowing you have the support and encouragement of your teammates allows you to play with more freedom, safe in the knowledge that others have got your back, and also creates an environment of improvement, he says.

“Yeah I definitely appreciate that. Whether it’s a shout from someone around you to wake up or do better, it always gets me to a place to do better. It sharpens you up to deal with the next situation.

“Everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of the game, so it’s about how you react to that as a team, make sure you put the next thing right. This is the best team I’ve been involved with for that. The team spirit is amazing, and the unity here. There’s obviously always big moments in games, and things that go wrong, but we always stick together.

"We saw what happened to Aaron against Brentford, but we all know that’s how we play, so it can happen. It’s how you come back round and help with that situation, because after that he made three unbelievable saves that kept us in it. That’s what positive energy can do.

“Their goal came just at half-time, but there was no panic from the boys. We know we can come back and score the goal, so whoever is in that position, it’s a great feeling to know that the boys will come through for you and put things right.”

"it’s a great feeling to know that the boys will come through for you and put things right"

But with each training session being so intense and competitive, is that team spirit ever tested during the week? The players are pitted against each other every day at the Sobha Realty Training Centre, so how do they manage to maintain healthy relationships while also training to win?

“I think we have an understanding,” Ben smiles. “I play against Gabriel Martinelli every day in training for example, and to be honest I don’t want to go too near to him most of the time, but at the same time we have to keep it competitive. But you know there is a line, and it’s the same for everyone. We all come up against the same people each day, and there’s like an unwritten rule that you don’t go in too hard for a 50-50 or something like that. You can save those for the weekend!

“Every day me and Martinelli have a one v one battle, but then as soon as the session is over our relationship is so good. You do your best and give everything when you are training, but you need to look after each other too, you have to be clever.”

Often a good indicator of how close a team are, is the way they celebrate together on the pitch. This current side certainly tick the boxes in that regard, and Ben is usually right among the scenes.

“Yeah, that’s natural for us,” he smiles. “It matters so much to us. And also we’re getting closer to the end of the season, when every game, every goal is so important. You see what it means to us when we score. We are all happy for whoever it is who has scored, because we are all trying to achieve the same thing. That’s with the fans as well. I can definitely feel that togetherness with our supporters, and we love to share those big moments with them.

“We need them behind us even more at this stage of the season, and the atmosphere has been crazily good lately at the Emirates. They give us the belief as well when we need it – like that half-time against Brentford for example – and we can feed off each other. We need their support to lift us and give us energy, and hopefully they are seeing how much it means to us, and how together we are on the pitch too.”

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