IF SCOTT Mitchell had got his way, Ben White would not have been the name on everyone’s lips this summer.

A year ago, the defender had never even played a minute of Premier League football. Fast forward 12 months and the talented youngster is one of 26 men the entire nation will be pinning their hopes on to deliver a first European Championship success for England.

It has been quite the rise for the 23-year-old, who was born in Poole and now plies his trade at Brighton & Hove Albion.

Having been released by Southampton as a teenager, White was snapped up by the Seagulls before being sent out for loan spells at Newport County in League Two and then Leeds United. He helped Marcelo Bielsa’s men clinch the Championship title, starting in all 46 league matches before returning to Brighton and playing a key role for them last season.

The centre-back was a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s inflated 33-man group ahead of Euro 2020 and was one of the unlucky seven cut from the final squad. However, top level sport is all about opportunity. The misfortune of Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold picking up an injury left a spot vacant, one which White was granted after impressive displays in friendly wins over Austria and Romania earlier this month, his first appearances for the England senior side.

He could now represent England on one of the grandest stages of all this weekend, when Croatia head to Wembley as the nations battle it out in their Euro 2020 Group D opener – a repeat of the World Cup semi-final from three years ago.

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This time last year, football was still in its enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the European Championship was postponed. But 12 months is an awful long time as White can attest to. Having been nowhere near being part of the tournament had it been held as scheduled, opportunity now knocks with White developing into a household name.

But somebody who already knew all about White, was Dorset’s darting star Mitchell.

The 2015 BDO world champion from Bransgore is now making waves in the PDC and revealed how he tried to tempt White to ditch football and follow him down the darts route instead.

“We’re probably talking somewhere between 2012 and 2013,” reflected Mitchell in an interview with the Daily Echo.

“I used to play darts against his dad, Barry. They used to play at St Ives Club, so like in the school holidays and stuff Ben would go with him to the games.

“Ben was a really good dart player himself. So when my son Sam was Dorset youth captain, with the under-18s, I was trying to get Ben to play.

“I said to him ‘you need to come and play darts with my boy, you’re brilliant’. And he was a very good dart player. For his age he was really good and I thought he’s going to go and make it as a dart player.

“So I said to him, ‘go and play county youth’. And he said ‘no, I’m playing football – I play football on a Sunday so can’t play county youth’. I said ‘look, this football, so few people make it, the percentage that make it – but you’ll make it at darts, I can see it, you’re going to make it at darts’.

“He said ‘I’m going to stick to football, Scotty, if you don’t mind’, polite as you like about it. It seems like he’s made the right decision and I don’t really know what I’m talking about!”

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Thankfully for White and the rest of the nation, turning down Mitchell’s advice proved to be a masterstroke.

After his time schooling at St Michael’s Middle and QE Wimborne, as well as featuring for Poole and Dorset under-15s, White began to make his mark in the professional game.

And Mitchell, a former England captain in darts, says White’s family have played a key role in keeping him grounded.

“Ben’s just a lovely kid to come through a great family,” he said.

“His mum (Carole) and dad were around the darts all the time as well, Carole was probably the designated driver. So I got to know them playing against their teams and stuff.

“You honestly couldn’t be happier for a kid. He’s just such a nice lad. And he’s been brought up well.

“I was so pleased he got picked in the squad and then when he got let go and didn’t quite make the final 26 and I just felt for him. I sent him a couple of messages then saying ‘I feel for you mate. I know it must be disappointing now, but I promise you this isn’t the end, this is just the start’.

“Then look what’s happened. It’s a dream come true and we’re all just so proud. Everybody in our area, whether it’s through knowing the family through darts, knowing him through football, I’m sure there are so many people that are wishing him so well because he’s just a nice guy and they’re just a lovely family.”

He continued: “It’s lovely to see when they interviewed Ben I watched it on Sky Sports and he said the first person he phoned (when he got selected) was his mum. I think that just shows what he’s like as a lad.

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“That’s just how he is and how good the family are. They’re very family-orientated and the first one he phoned was his mum, I think that’s pretty cool.

“She was probably the one doing all the miles and trudging him around everywhere when he was a kid, when he was playing at under-18s and under-16s and everything. Those horrible dark, dingy, rainy Sunday mornings. I’m just pleased for them all.”

He added: “That’s two of us now that have come out of that St Ives Club that play for England, how about that!? It sounds quite good.”

Despite White’s rapid rise on the football field, Mitchell has still not yet given up hope of tempting him over to his beloved sport at some stage.

Scotty Dog said: “I suppose, to be honest, Ben could come back to darts in later life.

“Now we’ve got the senior world championships starting to happen next year, so there’s no reason why after his footballing life he can’t come to darts!”