My Aim Is To Represent This Country The Best Way I Can – Ashleigh Plumptre

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    …The Power Of Nigerian Culture Is Felt So deeply In Nigerians And I Feel That Deep Within Myself Too

    Ashleigh Megan Plumptre is a professional footballer with a Nigerian descent who played as an England youth international and plys her trade for Leicester FC of England in the Women’s Super League.

    Finding herself at a crossroad when she was to kick-start her senior career, Ashleigh who then has made a combined 30 appearances at youth level for England, scoring 10 goals; was at the time also qualified to play for the Super Falcons Nigeria following the fact that her paternal grandfather, is Yoruba from Lagos.

    Having earlier expressed an interest in representing Nigeria at senior level in June 2021, the Leicester Born player eventually made her Super Falcons debut in February 2022, in a 2-0 victory over Ivory Coast in a 2022 AWCON qualifier, after she was cleared by FIFA in December 2021, as being eligible to represent Nigeria.

    The FA cup Women championship winner (2020-21) with Leicester says in this Q & A session reveals that her motivation in deciding to adorn the green and white of the Super Falcons, is hinged on her desire to “represent my heritage”.

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    Ashleigh Plumptre

    Below is an excerpt of the question and answer session…

    You have had a storied football career playing at age grade 15, 17, 19 and 23 levels, for England and now at the senior team level for You have also played in the US. What is the motivation behind your football career?

    Football has been a sport that I’ve played since I was 4 years old. With the only focus being to play for fun when I was younger, it allowed me to express myself and feel what it felt like to compete amongst a team.

    When I grew older and the pressure increased, I thought more about what challenges I wanted to overcome and what fears to conquer in the game. I wanted to challenge myself against and with some of the best players as I was growing up so that I could expose myself to the discomfort of being pushed outside my comfort zones. When I turned a teenager, I had a fascination in the US system and wanted to be somewhere that could challenge me both academically and athletically.

    My university, University of Southern California, was the perfect place for this. I grew in all areas of self- development and came back to England as a more well-rounded individual.

    The motivation for me now is to compete around likeminded individuals and most importantly, to have an influence and impact on those I’m able to through playing the sport. My motivation is to spread a message to young people that you are capable of learning and growing so much as a human being by devoting yourself to a hobby of any kind.

    You discover things about yourself. You find out what you’re passionate about and can carve out your own path in the way that makes YOU fulfilled.

    So far, what has been the highlight of your career as a footballer, the most memorable moment?

    The most memorable moment… it’s hard to pick one. It must be between signing my first professional contract and making my debut for Nigeria against Ivory Coast

    What was the real reason behind your decision to play for Nigeria?

    My decision came at the time that it did because I wanted to learn about and represent my heritage. I’ve grown up in England and never delved into my heritage much growing up. Id visit my Nigerian family but never visited Nigeria or knew anything more than what I saw in my own family. My sister was a big reason for me.

    She never visited Nigeria but identified a lot with her heritage and I felt it was important for myself but also for her to learn more about what it meant to represent the nation. Overall, it is about representing a group of people (my team), as well as the Nigerian people which means representing something way bigger than myself.

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    Ashleigh with Super Falcons teammates

    What do you love most about being Nigerian?

    Culture. I’ve always had a draw to Nigerian culture but also as a continent, I think Africa is filled with so much beauty. Whether it is the traditions, the food, the music, the dance, the sport… I could go on. The power of Nigerian culture is felt so deeply in Nigerians and I feel that deep within myself too. When I’m with the team and I’m amongst them as they sing and dance, I really do feel a strong connectivity – like we are a family that will support one another.

    What’s your favourite Nigerian food?

    Moi-Moi. My auntie once showed my step mum how to cook it and since then, it’s been my favourite dish.

    Do you speak any Nigerian language?

    I do not. I’ve picked up a few Yoruba words from my teammates and I’m trying my best to understand Pidgin. I once tried to copy a teammate but I don’t think I’m very good yet – ha!

    How would you describe your overall experience with the Super Falcons at the just concluded Africa Women’s Nations Cup?

    This was my first major tournament. I still can’t quite believe I’ve played in AWCON. My favourite match was playing against Morocco (the hosts). I had never played in front of such a huge crowd. I think there were 45,000 people there! It was also the first time I had played in front of a crowd that was as loud as that. Also, in that game we went down to 9 players but we fought right up until the end of the game and through extra time with 9 players. I

    remember saying to everyone “we really can win this”. Even with 2 less players, I really believed we would win the game. We lost on penalties but I had never felt so proud to represent this group of women and this country during that match.

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    Ashleigh in action for the Super Falcons of Nigeria

    How was your transition, did you have a culture shock?

    Haha! Culturally there are so many differences between British people and Nigerian people. However, one of my most memorable moments was my first camp when people were initially a little tentative to talk to me but after I did my very embarrassing initiation in front of the team, I got a lot of laughs and so many of the girls came to give me a hug. It was cool to have been brought together by dancing… even though I wasn’t very good!

    Who is your favourite Falcons teammate?

    Ah how could I pick just one?! I have a good relationship with the team and I have my own friendship with each one individually. Yewande Balogun I call my big sister. She took me under her wing from the start. Ife Onumono was my roommate for over a month during AWCON and we had some great chats so I will always cherish the time we had together there. Osi Ohale has been gentle and kind to me from the beginning. I look up to her as a leader a lot. I could list many more.

    How did your family react to your decision to play for Nigeria?

    All very supportive. My sister was probably the most proud of me with my Dad being a close second.

    What’s your most memorable Falcon experience?

    Qualifying for the World Cup this past summer. I was struggling with an injury throughout that game against Cameroon and I remember coming off at about 65 minutes. Sitting on the bench and just clasping my palms together just hoping the game ended 1-0. When the

    whistle blew and I knew we had qualified… pure elation!

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    From experience what do you think needs to change with female football in Nigeria?

    First and foremost, I think just the opportunity. I think there’s still a stigma around women playing football in Nigeria. Like I said at the beginning of this interview, I cannot emphasise the benefit of allowing young women to participate in sport or just a hobby of any kind.

    Often, parents look at the sport not generating money for their children or family but what is not recognised enough is the fact that yes, it can be a professional job but more importantly, it can be the driver to self-development. Through football I have been pushed to grow in confidence. I’ve learnt how to be a part of a team. I’ve developed leadership qualities that have given me opportunities to influence others and speak to influential

    people. Through football, I have discovered so much about myself that I do not think I would have been able to uncover if I hadn’t dedicated myself to my sport. So, to answer the question, what should be voiced more is the importance of giving young women the OPPORTUNITY to play. I think people would be surprised at how beneficial it can be in the overall development of a young female.

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    Ashleigh and father Tim Plumptre

    What’s the future for you with the Falcons?

    My aim is to represent this country the best way I can and bring about as much success as possible. To impact as many people as possible in a positive way… players, staff, fans and people in Nigeria. To give people something to be proud of.