We caught up with former Arsenal and England captain, Faye White, ahead of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals this weekend.
You were injured for the 2006-7 UEFA Cup final win for Arsenal. What was it like watching from the bench?
That was the year I was just returning from a cruciate ligament injury. I was in the squad but not ready to play a game of that magnitude! We went away and I remember Alex Scott scoring in the first leg against Umea then we got back to Boreham Wood and held on really. I was sitting watching it and got on for the last couple of minutes, just to use up time really. It was a great occasion and great to be part of it and see the club win it. We were massively the underdogs at the time because of Umea and their strength but for us to win it in our first final, we just went all crazy.
What do you make of the contrast from then to now, even in just a few years, of the money now being invested in teams and the game?
I think the competition in itself has grown massively with the standard of clubs that you play in all rounds. Also Lyon taking the mantle of the Germans and the Swedish in the past being the winners and the strong teams, which they still are but Lyon seem to have gone that step further because of the finance and they’ve got almost the whole French national team, plus Lotta Schelin from Sweden, Megan Rapinoe from America, the Japanese girl [Shinobu Ohno] and Lara Dickenmann from Switzerland. Some of the money it’s reported they’re on is really good for women’s football. They’ve got a good support backing, I remember playing the year before last when we got to the semis, they had about 20,000 people watching them. Since they had the increase in funding and success, suddenly they’re getting so many people support the game at their stadium. A few years before that they didn’t have so much but they said that a lot of people came because it was Arsenal, which is great and it was a great atmosphere.
Can you see anyone beating current champions Lyon?
They’re such a formidable team and if you were a betting person, you’d expect them to get to the final and be favourites to win it. But as we showed against Umea, you never know and it’s a one-legged game this time as well.
What do you gather is the feeling around the Arsenal camp about the Wolfsburg ties?
They’re positive and they’ll know it’s another massive game and probably going to be harder because Wolfsburg are top of the German league at the moment. But the girls have confidence because they’ve beaten Potsdam in the competition already, the first time we’d beaten a German side. So that can sometimes help going into a game, thinking ‘well we’ve beaten so and so’, plus the girls put in a great performance in the week beating Birmingham, looking really sharp and obviously wanting to impress a new manager, so they’re flying it looks like at the moment and really up for it and looking forward to the new season.
How is Kelly Smith on the injury front?
She picked up a knock in her last game and it’s taken a little bit longer than initially they thought. I think because it’s the ankle she broke prior to the Olympics last year and it’s just bruising but it’s taken a long time for it to settle down for her even to be running again. So she’s probably a few weeks off being ready yet.
Are you excited about the start of the FA WSL season as well?
Each year it’s getting more competitive and younger players coming up through the ranks, but also now with a little bit more finance for the teams, drawing some of the international talent over, which is interesting now as a spectator, seeing how they fit in and take to english football. Also to see how some of the teams can compete against us and challenge Arsenal, So each year it looks like the movement of players adjusts the teams and you’ve got Birmingham and Chelsea, teams that are up their normally. Although I think that Chelsea didn’t perform how they should’ve last year and have got some of the biggest ones in the last couple of weeks with the additions that they’ve got, which is good for them and good for the league. It just depends whether they’ll be able to bed them all in and get them firing straight away. They’ve already lost in the FA Cup, they got to the final last time, so sometimes it just doesn’t happen straight away. But this Sunday it’ll be interesting to see how they do against Birmingham.
Do you feel it’s a boom time for the game, with new initiatives, more coverage, etc?
After each major tournament we’ve been in, you come back and sense a little bit more exposure, a little bit more excitement around people, new faces coming to watch games, including families. This time after the Olympics, certainly in the media, there’s more column inches it’s getting. Some of the girls are now writing regularly online and in the newspapers, which is great to get that exposure but also so many more requests – I know all the players are getting them – to do interviews and tv coverage, will take it to another level. When in the past the BBC has covered the FA Cup final, I remember it being really successful and Euro 2009, then the Olympics with me being involved in that side of things, it was really interesting.
Does it make you miss the ins and outs of the season, training, etc?
A bit of both really, as I’ve been so busy with the little one. I think it’s reduced though, not missing the training, because my time’s been taken up off the field with requests doing the Champions League, the FA’s 150 years, so in a way I feel I’m just as busy but now off of the field and not in training. I’ll always miss it, I loved being around the team and looking forward to the next big game, and I was fortunate to be at Arsenal and have a lot of those big games and also to win a lot. I probably won’t miss the discomfort I was training through towards the end with injuries and knee problems, but the playing and the adrenalin I do miss because I quite like that side of it. I’m still involved around it and promotion of the Champions League final. It’s really exciting to do that as well
The UEFA Women’s Champions League Final takes place at Stamford Bridge on Thursday 23 May. Tickets priced from £5 are available to purchase now from www.chelseafc.com/uefawomensfinal
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