Ashleigh Plumptre: Curiosity for my heritage made me switch England for Nigeria
The world offers us vast stories of how various men and women have risen right from their immediate communities to taking the world by a storm, forging histories that can never be forgotten for generations to come.
For these individuals, success was not accidental, it was achieved based on the intentionality of their purpose and desires to be unique, to be different, and to be the very best.
The amazing story of Ashleigh Plumptre, unravels a wonderful story of a young lady who has placed herself on the path of greatness. It shows pure grit, sheer determination complimented with a talent which has continued to make way for her.
In an interview with Publisher, Triangle News International, Femi Salako, Plumptre shares her amazing story of how she left the possibility of playing for the England National Team despite playing for the country at the Junior levels to playing for the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria.
- You broke into the senior team of Notts County at a pretty young age of 16; what really spurred your interest in football?
I started playing football at the age of 4 years old, and I was that kid that would play every sport until I was about 8 years old. I was having fun until I got spotted by Leceister City Academy until I was about 14 years old. From 14 I went to Birmingham City for like a year, and as I was getting closer to 16 it was getting professional. I went to Derby County because it was close and I was preparing for my GCSE exam,(I went to America on a full ride football scholarship) and at that time, I didn’t want football until I got done with my studies. I was at Derby County for a year, then moved to Notts County, where I got to play with other top professional players. I was only 16, so I was at school at the time. I got to play with other professional players, and it was really good for my development at the time. Then, after Notts County, I went to America and also played football. I got my degree in human biology while also playing high level football at the same time.
- You won the Players’ Player of the Season award in the 2021 season and also emerged as the second-best defender in the league last season. How will you describe your time at the Leicester City Women Football Club (LCFC)?
Leicester was the only club I wanted to sign for because it was like my hometown team, which I have supported since I was young, and because it was the only local team I felt a sense of affinity for because I always watched the men’s team play. When I was younger, I watched the women’s team play sometimes in the sixth tier because they were really low in the football pyramid at the time, but they have really progressed over time to reach the top of the football pyramid tier 1in the WSL league.
It was a day after I got back from America, where I finished my degree, that I got signed by Leceister. It was really huge for me and my family because I started at Leceister at age 8, and then I went full circle and signed again for them as a professional footballer. It was really big for my family, and I had a lot of aspiration when they were in the championship when I joined to get them to the top league in England the WSL (Women’s Super League) and that was a huge momentous occasion for me because that was my target as soon as I joined the team.
- Your brief stint at the University of Southern California team and LA Galaxy OC was proof of your great football talent; why didn’t you continue your soccer career in the US?
When I was in America at the time, my coach at the university encouraged me to put myself forward for the draft—it was called a drafting system—by playing for a professional team in America, but I wanted to come back home and play for Leceister City because it meant more to me than a team here in America; I wanted to be part of something that meant a bit more to me. And Leceister obviously did that, and being in America, I missed being part of my siblings while growing up and want to be around them.
I also want to be involved in charity in our local community; I want to give back to the people who helped me get there in the first place.
I am an ambassador for charity, especially for the disabled, because my younger brother has autism. And the people in charge were people who were very passionate about helping the people who needed help the most.
Also, being in the position I am as a footballer, I felt the responsibility to use my platform to have an impact on one of the things that gives me joy and on anybody I can have influence over.
- Why did you change your football allegiance to Nigeria after having represented England at under 15, under 17, under 19, and under 23?
My coach in America asked me if I ever considered playing for Nigeria. I was 18 or 19 at the time, and I wasn’t focused on international football then. I was only focused on winning a national championship with my university and trying to get the best degree I could because, to be honest, I did well in my exams but I wasn’t happy enough with them. I wanted to make sure that while I was in America, I worked as hard as I could to get the highest honors I could because I was disappointed with how I did, even though I did well.
And then, when I won the championship with Leicester, I remember sitting on this table, where we are now, and thinking I have to play for something more than just myself because I value the city and what the club initially put into me when I was growing up.
So I know I felt valued and I could bring value to something I cared about, and then during this time, it was like COVID-19, so I had enough time to spend with my family.
I was thinking about how I have never really known much about my heritage, but I recognize the importance of doing so, and while growing up, despite the way I look, I have always identified as being of mixed race, and during this period, I invested more time in learning more about my heritage.
I sat my family down and told them I would like to play for Nigeria; I cannot play for England anymore, and it’s fine with me because I have to play for a bigger purpose—to play and learn from my teammates. At that time and now, I feel like this is where I am meant to be. Whenever I’m away with the Super Falcons, I feel something bigger because I love how Nigerians feel about football (the Nigerian spirit), and it’s one of the things I love most about playing for Nigeria: I feel protected on the team, I feel like we all really lift each other up and want the best for one another, and for me, that’s great, and I am excited to see what will happen in the future.
- How will you describe your relationship with other players in the Nigerian female national team (the Super Falcons)?
My first camp was in Austria, and a lot of players didn’t know how to take me because I was new, but a lot of them knew each other. But then the moment came, when I had my initiation, and I was dancing and we all kept laughing because of the way I was dancing and it brought us together. Since then, everyone has been like family, everyone really cares about one another, and after a game played with Zambia (a third placed game) with AFCON, I was in the shower and one of our captains was next to me, and I was upset that people haven’t seen the best of us yet at that time because we were losing a third place game and it’s too hard to take, but she was super supportive and very encouraging, and I hope they fill the same spot for me.
- The Super Falcons have been drawn in Group B with Australia, Canada, and Ireland in the women’s world cup to be co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. How will you describe the Super Falcons’ chances in this tricky group?
I think our group for the World Cup is very tough. Australia being the host, I feel like AFCON was a good preparation for the World Cup, and we played in front of 45,000 people against Morocco. We went down to nine players, but we still felt like we could win. Having that experience will help us as a team against Australia.
We already played Canada twice this year, and we drew with them in the second game, so we have more pressure on them. People don’t take us seriously as we are not expected to beat Australia or Canada but , we are not bothered; we focus on ourselves.
Ireland is similar to us. It’s their first time, but I will say they have a fight about them, and I feel the game will be very good because we are similar and we have a really great chance. We just want to prepare, and when the time comes, we will be ready. The journey will not start in July; it starts now.