In the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time) Mark Sampson’s team condemned hosts Canada to a miserable exit with a 2-1 victory thanks to two first-half strikes by Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze and set up a showdown with holders Japan on Wednesday for a place in the final.
Such are the strides being made by England’s women, that White believes losing against the Canadians would have been a failure, but the former skipper believes the impact of the team’s results in the last two weeks is driving the sport’s popularity to unprecedented levels, on and off the field.
White, England captain at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, told Sky Sports News HQ: “This is the biggest turning point because it’s a World Cup and everyone associates the men’s World Cup as the biggest tournament.
“The media coverage has risen hugely and that’s why the impact of this tournament can really help to change perceptions even more. We’ve already been riding on the crest of a wave but it’s starting to get even higher.”
England’s women had already secured their place in the history books winning their first World Cup knockout game by beating Norway last week, but their professional display in front of a vociferous crowd in Vancouver on Saturday night ensured a first World Cup semi-final for a women’s or men’s England senior side since 1990.
After making her England debut in 1997, White became skipper in 2002 and steered the team to the 2009 European Championships final where they lost to giants of the women’s game Germany, who face the USA in the other World Cup semi-final.
White understands comparisons between the men’s and women’s game will always be made, but the 37-year-old, who retired three years ago, is hopeful that England’s recent success and performances are helping to destroy the myths circulating among some male fans that women can’t play football.
“Throughout my career we found that fans used to watching the men’s game seeing a women’s match often said ‘Hey, you can actually play the game!’, White added.
“Not everyone will like women’s football and we accept that, but once you’ve got them watching, then usually perceptions change. That’s the amazing thing about this World Cup and the impact England are having.
“Fans will watch it on TV or read newspaper reports and that encourages them to watch the next game. At each tournament the skill of every team has improved massively – including fitness, tactics and professionalism.
“Once fans get over comparing it to the Premier League, they start looking at its own ability and skill. They realise it is a slower paced game but isn’t that the same as tennis? It’s not as quick and there aren’t as many aces but it’s still a game in its own right that can be admired.
“Look at the 100m in athletics. We all need to understand it’s slightly different depending on whether it’s the men or women running. It is frustrating sometimes to hear men’s and women’s football being compared, but it’s comparing a game that’s evolved over centuries to a game that’s grown over 20 years.
“That period has seen massive improvement, but some people unfortunately don’t think about this. They think the England men should be winning as well as the women. They don’t appreciate where the game has come from.”
Watching a clip at 1am in 1995 of England’s women playing Sweden in the World Cup was White’s big inspiration at the start of her career and she now feels the women’s game needs careful development at the grass roots and elite levels.
She added: “I was seen as a bit weird playing football back then but seeing that match made me realise I could aim for the same.
“This was a chance to see the women’s game and it ignited my desire to play for England. This World Cup will have the same impact on all the young girls in this country who love playing. The TV figures have been good and it shows more people are watching which is also good for sponsors considering getting involved.
“It’s always been tough competing against other sports but you hope that this World Cup can ignite something extra special.
“The focus from the FA over the last 15 years has been participation and those numbers are on the up, although we are still a long way off from countries like Germany or Norway. The next thing is about exposure and the commercial side for the women’s game.
“We also need to maintain coverage of the Women’s Super League with good attendances. The next phase is definitely the domestic league and more sponsorship. It then becomes credible to everybody. There’s nothing worse than watching Liverpool v Chelsea playing in a big stadium and it looks empty, even though 2,000 fans are there. It’s getting that perception sorted so people are thinking it’s worth watching.”