- Rosie White starred the last time New Zealand hosted a FIFA women's tournament
- She's now a stalwart of the Football Ferns side hoping to impress in 2023
- White spoke about her memories, World Cup hopes and USA experiences
A World Cup on home soil. A historic win in the nation’s capital. A perfect hat-trick.
For most female New Zealand footballers, this would be the stuff of pre-2023 fantasies. For Rosie White, it is a dream she has already lived – at the age of just 15.
The setting was Wellington Regional Stadium, and White’s goals – right foot, left foot, header – secured her country’s first-ever win at a FIFA women’s tournament. They were scored in front of family and friends, too, as New Zealand hosted the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup™ in 2008.
“To this day, that’s still one of my favourite memories,” she told FIFA.com. “I hadn’t realised what a big deal it would be, having that World Cup in New Zealand, and to be involved in it at 15 was such an amazing introduction to international football.
"That Colombia win was huge too, I remember, with it being the first win for any New Zealand team at a World Cup. It felt like winning the tournament for us.
“That whole World Cup I remember as a really emotional experience. We were all so young, it was such a close team and it was just a big adventure for all of us. It’s been a long time now but I can still remember it all, and the emotions around it, really vividly. That tournament was what really excited me about taking football from just being a sport and something I loved doing to trying to make a career out of it.”
Fast forward 12 years, and White’s achievements – 110 caps, three senior FIFA Women’s World Cups™, two Women's Olympic Football Tournaments and stints with major clubs in England and USA – speak for the wisdom of that teenage decision.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster at times, but I count myself very lucky,” she reflected. “In terms of highlights, the 2012 Olympics would be the big one for me. That was the first time we’d made it out of the group stage at any FIFA tournament, and it felt like a big breakthrough. We were flying at that time. If we hadn’t ended up getting the US in the quarter-finals, I think we could have gone even further.”
Yet for all the goals, memorable moments and major tournaments that have punctuated her career, White remains convinced that the best is yet to come. Strengthening that conviction is, of course, the tantalising prospect of another World Cup on Kiwi soil.
But while that 2023 showpiece will kick off just weeks after her 30th birthday, with White – fitness permitting – at the peak of her powers, the personal significance pales in significance to the tournament's wider potential.
“The pace of development and level of investment in women’s international football has been so great over the past ten years or so that I think New Zealand has just struggled a bit to keep up,” she explained. “That’s why I think it’s not only fantastic that this World Cup is coming, but really necessary – just to give women’s football a shot in the arm.
“For us as players, this World Cup will be extra special because we don’t get to play many games at home compared to other national teams. Every time we do it, it feels special. When I look back at how amazing that U-17 tournament was, and how much bigger the senior World Cup is, it’s tough to picture just how amazing it’s going to be. I get excited just thinking about it.”
White’s great hope is that the decision she faced as a teenager, about whether to pursue a professional career, need not forever hinge on a willingness to relocate to the other side of the world. For while she has enjoyed and greatly benefited from her experiences in England and the US, the 27-year-old is keen to see New Zealand’s next generation presented with opportunities and options closer to home.
“We’re desperate for a professional environment in New Zealand and we’ve been pushing to get a team in the [Australian] W-League for a few years, so hopefully this World Cup gets us over the hill with that,” she said. “I moved away ten years ago and any young girl coming through now knows what I knew back then: that if you want to be a professional player, you can’t stay in New Zealand.
“People say, ‘Well, we’re a small country’ – and that’s true. But there are plenty of small countries around the world – in Scandinavia, for example – with professional women’s teams. We need to be developing and motivating kids from a younger age, and a professional team or set-up in New Zealand would be massive for that.”
For the past four years, White has seen first-hand the benefits of professionalism in the slick, star-studded NWSL. The Best FIFA Women’s Player, Megan Rapinoe, numbers among her team-mates at OL Reign, and the New Zealander has learned – slowly but surely – the benefits of her American team-mates’ focus, swagger and unshakable determination.
“The American mentality thing is really interesting,” she said. “When I first came to the States, I must admit that it was something that I was really put off by, and wanted to steer away from. That ultra-confidence, and taking yourself very seriously, went completely against my nature and everything I’d learned growing up in New Zealand. But over time, and especially over the last couple of years, it’s something I’ve really tried to lean into.
“I like to think I’ve not changed off the field but, on it, I’ve seen how important that mentality of ‘I’m not losing and I don’t care who gets in my way’ is to the US players. I underestimated how powerful it is at first. But I’ve come to learn that it helps separate the really top players from the rest – and maybe the US from other nations in women’s football.”
Reaching that elite level has long been White’s personal goal. Now, and having been hampered in recent years by injury and inconsistency, the striker is eyeing a period of sustained progress towards achieving it.
“I'm confident there are good times coming,” she said. “Technically and tactically, I feel I’m getting to my peak right now. Now I just need to push myself mentally and physically to reach that next level.
“I know what I need to do to play well consistently at the top level and, to be honest, I haven’t done that for the past couple of years. Going forward, it’s about putting it all together, and I’m positive because I know there’s more in the tank for me. I’m really excited to see what I can achieve.”