Getting To Know: Ben White
Photographer: Ross Cooke assisted by Scott Atkinson / Stylist: Carlotta Constant assisted by Emelia Gayner / Words: Joseph Furness
Cool, composed and nonchalant, 23-year-old Ben White takes to the challenges of top-flight football and fame as adeptly as a soul surfer takes to the sea. Befittingly, the Poole-born footballer is signed to coastal team Brighton and Hove Albion F.C. and counts paddleboarding as one of his favourite pastimes.
Savvy to the unpredictable riptides of the fast-paced football scene, White acknowledges the importance of pushing one’s boundaries. He’s voyaged the UK to play for a selection of teams – including Newport County A.F.C, Peterborough United and Leeds United – across every division in the Football League accumulating skills, perspectives and friends along the way. Accordingly, everything from the way he plays as a modern day centre-half, his taste in music to his everyday style derives from a multitude of inspirations. In the best sense of the term, he’s a sponge. Perhaps this is a result of a childhood spent in one of the most prestigious academies in the country.
In case you didn’t know, White grew up in Southampton F.C.’s esteemed Saints Academy system. After eight years at the Academy, White was released. Disheartened but determined, he embraced the roadblock as a test; ever since, he’s been ceaselessly climbing the ladder of success to become one of the most-talked about defenders in the top flight.
Recently, we caught up with White to talk about his experiences with the Seagulls, Love Island-inspired days off, team pranks and more.
How did your relationship with football begin?
My earliest memory of football is playing with my mum in the back garden. Well, she’d be hanging the washing up whilst I’d have a kick around, and then I’d ask her to be the goalie. As you can imagine, she found it hard to say no. Even though I accidentally booted the ball at her many times (resulting in several bruises), she was patient and persistent.
What was the first football club you joined?
I joined a local side on a Sunday as a midfielder, just for a season or so. Subsequently, I had a trial at Southampton and attended the Saints academy. Whilst I was there, there were quite a few recognisable names, including Chamberlain [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] and Prowse [James Ward-Prowse]. Although these two players weren’t in my age group, they were the ones I was closely observing.
After being released from Southampton, what was your next step?
At first, it was hard being released without a contract, but I knew I was going to find my way back. I’ve always had a lot of self-belief. Fortunately, I secured a trial at Brighton as a centre-half when I was 18.
You’ve been on loan for a good part of your career. Tell us about your time at Newport County A.F.C. and Peterborough United.
Moving to Newport wasn’t easy – I could’ve picked an easier route. Crawley was just down the road, so it would’ve made sense to go there, but my instinct was telling me that decision wasn’t right. I think it’s vital to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
After Newport, I went back to Brighton’s first team for six months. Then, as you know, I went to Peterborough and played 14 games there. It served a purpose.
It was during your time at Leeds United when you started to make a real name for yourself. Talk to us about your experience there.
I think I dealt with the pressure of playing for Leeds United pretty well. I wasn’t too familiar with the club and the size of its following until I signed the contract. But as soon as I put pen to paper, my phone blew up with messages and social media notifications. It was crazy: I couldn’t even go out for dinner or visit the supermarket in Leeds without being recognised.
It was a shame that my time at Leeds was contemporaneous with the pandemic, but some of the fans still broke through and got to us to show their support. The key takeaway from my time at the club was that I helped play a part in getting the team back to where they deserve to be.
What was it like playing under the management of the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa?
When I first got to Leeds, Bielsa put me straight in the U23s room. I was shocked, and I spent over a month there. I was in constant contact with all the first team players who told me to keep going as it was all a test. Luckily, I took their advice, as one day before a game at Bristol, he suddenly threw me into the team.
After playing for Leeds, did you feel mentally prepared for the Premier League?
Sure, but I’m not one to think too far ahead into the future. I like to assess what’s happening in the present and take things game by game. Playing the Championship was an incredible experience – each game was unbelievable. And every game I play for Brighton in the Premier League is important to my team and me. Having said that, I try to treat every football game the same.
Are there any teammates you feel are underrated?
It’s got to be Dunk; he’s unbelievable. I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the best in the league.
Who’s a player on a rival team you’ve been surprised by?
I wouldn’t say anyone’s shocked me, but I must admit that Rashford is impressive. He plays as well as you’d expect.
Let’s discuss Derby Day. Did anyone give you words of advice before your match against Palace?
I think it’s a day in the Premier League that we feel like we need to win. Nevertheless, I guess it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s always crucial to accrue points and do the best you can.
Who are your best mates within the game?
As I’ve been on loan a few times, I’ve made a whole host of friends over the years who reside in places across the country. I still speak to a few players over at Newport and Leeds. To be fair, I’m pretty close to most of them.
We’ve heard rumours about a prank that took place last season that involved Patrick Bamford and a prison. Can you confirm what happened?
Haha, yes. One day, Pat left his car open and unsupervised, so I took the opportunity to play a prank on him. I found dog biscuits and some sticky liquid inside his car, so I used them to trash his car whilst he was busy training. A few days later, Pat got his own back. On this particular day, I was about to leave training but I couldn’t find my keys. The boys then told me where I could find them. Once I had the keys in my hand, I discovered my car was no longer where I left it – instead, it was parked outside the local prison! Because Pat offered to take me to collect my car, I didn’t suspect it was him! I really should’ve known better.
Finally, what do you do on your days off? How do you keep your mind off of football?
I’m pretty good at distracting myself from football; when I come home, I practically forget about work. I live with my boy, and we find it easy to entertain ourselves. I’ve just started paddleboarding, and I’m really enjoying it (even if I’m yet to master the skill of standing on it).
I’ve got my dogs too: I regularly take them for walks which provides me with headspace. Plus, I’ve got a fire pit and a barbeque in the garden. Me and my boy sit out here during the evenings and discuss the day’s events – it’s a bit like Love Island. Occasionally, you may be able to hear a mix of upbeat African music and old-school classics like Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline coming from our speakers.