‘It was a bit scary’ – Arsenal’s Ben White recalls pre-match curries and half-time punch-ups on road to England big time

BEN WHITE was toughened up for the Premier League with pre-match curries and dressing-room punch-ups.

Although back then it seemed like the only rice he would get near was pilau, the defender has proved to be a £50million success at Arsenal following his summer move from Brighton.

Ben White moved to Arsenal in the summer for £50mCredit: REX FEATURES

The centre-back had a stint at Newport County as a youngster

The centre-back had a stint at Newport County as a youngsterCredit: GETTY

White, preparing for tomorrow’s sold-out Wembley friendly against Switzerland, is now certain to be a regular member of Gareth Southgate’s squad alongside the likes of West Ham star Declan Rice as we head towards the World Cup in Qatar.

The centre-back left the comfortable surroundings of Brighton’s academy for a one-year loan stint at Newport in League Two during the 2017-18 campaign.

After being farmed out to Peterborough and Leeds, 24-year-old White starred on the south coast last season and has now become a crucial part of Mikel Arteta’s side at the Emirates.

White smiled when asked about life in Wales and explained: “I don’t think I ever thought about playing for England back then.

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“I was just thinking I need to be good enough to play in League Two.

“I think every year I’ve managed to prove I’m good enough to play at the level I was playing at.

“Newport was one of the best years of my life.

“I’d gone from playing at an academy where everything is nice and you have everything you want — and then you go there and everything is completely different.

“You’re having a curry for your pre-match meal.

“Everything was totally different from what I knew in the academy.

“In my first game there was a punch-up at half-time — between our own players in our own dressing room.

“It was a bit scary to be fair. I didn’t want to make any mistakes, that’s for sure.

White says Mark O'Brien 'helped me massively' despite taking his place in Newport's team

White says Mark O’Brien ‘helped me massively’ despite taking his place in Newport’s teamCredit: REX FEATURES

“I think it happens in every changing room. We’re all really passionate about the game and no one wants to lose.

“At Newport there was a player called Mark O’Brien. I actually took his place. I played throughout the season and he was always on the bench.

“But he was the best guy to have around and he helped me massively, even though I had taken his place in the team.”

Going back to the subject of the curry, which is highly unusual to say the least, White added: “I think when you go play in those leagues, you see what you should be doing and probably stuff you shouldn’t be doing to get to the next level.

White in action against Tottenham's Son

White in action against Tottenham’s SonCredit: GETTY

“At England, pasta is all I have, really.”

Would he suggest a madras or a bhuna to Southgate for the Three Lions before a game?

White, a quietly spoken and thoughtful lad, grinned and said: “I’m not sure he would like that very much.”

The defender played for England in the Euro 2020 warm-up games against Austria and Romania last June but despite being in the squad, he did not feature in the tournament.

White played in England's Euro 2020 warm-up games

White played in England’s Euro 2020 warm-up gamesCredit: GETTY

Southgate also failed to pick the player, who was released by Southampton as a youngster, for any of the World Cup qualifiers during the three international windows earlier in the season.

But his Arsenal form made him a cert for the two Wembley games against the Swiss on Saturday and then Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

White added: “Getting called up again shows that what I’ve done this season is really paying off.

“The last time I got called up I was straight into a tournament, so to come back in and be part of it again is a really nice feeling.”

White after England's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy

White after England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to ItalyCredit: GETTY

In what is proving to be an encouraging season for the Gunners, White has lead by example with a string of assured performances after a tough start.

Arsenal lost there first three Prem games by a total of 9-0, starting with a 2-0 opening-day defeat to new-boys Brentford and ending with a 5-0 thumping by Manchester City.

White admitted: “I didn’t really have any expectations of how the season was going.

“I was at a new club and I wanted to start off well and that didn’t happen.

White's Arsenal career got off to a horror start against Brentford

White’s Arsenal career got off to a horror start against BrentfordCredit: GETTY

“I am taking it game-by-game and playing as well as I can for Arsenal and will see what happens with England.

“If you are not playing well, it is a massive issue for everyone but there are much bigger problems in the world.

“As long as my family are safe and everyone is healthy, that’s a much bigger issue than not playing so well.”

Asked whether there are similarities between Arsenal and England in terms of a young, vibrant squad, White agreed.

White is looking to book his place on the plane to Qatar this November

White is looking to book his place on the plane to Qatar this NovemberCredit: GETTY

He added: “Definitely. Before you go anywhere it is like a new school  and you don’t know what they’re going to be like.

“As soon as I went into Arsenal it felt like home and was so easy to get to know everyone. I was made to feel so welcome.

“It is exactly the same here. You’ve got no worries about anything else. You just do your best.”


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