Soccer

Leicestershire-born Ashleigh Plumptre out to beat England at Women’s World Cup

Ashleigh Plumptre is ready to face England (Tertius Pickard/AP)
Ashleigh Plumptre is ready to face England (Tertius Pickard/AP) Ashleigh Plumptre is ready to face England (Tertius Pickard/AP)

Ex-England youth international Ashleigh Plumptre insists it was a simple choice to switch allegiances to Nigeria, who on Monday night could knock her native country out of the World Cup.

Leicestershire born and raised Plumptre, 25, has represented England from under-15 to under-23 level, but in January 2022 received FIFA’s approval to join the Super Falcons.

Plumptre, who three weeks ago left Leicester after making 79 appearances for the Women’s Super League side, grew up with a half-Nigerian dad whose own father was born in Lagos.

Ashleigh Plumptre and Nigeria have reached the knockout stages
Ashleigh Plumptre and Nigeria have reached the knockout stages Ashleigh Plumptre and Nigeria have reached the knockout stages (Tertius Pickard/AP)

The defender said: “For me, it wasn’t difficult because I knew exactly what I wanted from football and I think that just came down from understanding who I am. On my journey, I’ve learned more about myself and I know what I want from football.

“And I always say, ‘for me, it’s more than just playing.’ It sounds really weird but I always say I’m not obsessed with football, specifically, I’m obsessed with what I can learn about myself from playing.

“And that’s why playing for Nigeria would probably be the most fulfilling thing I could do.

“Not to say that my experiences were ever bad with England, they never were, but it was just more that my life went on a different course.

“And I’m like, hmm, this is important for me, for my sister, for my family and for the young people who identify as being mixed heritage.”

In an interview for the Nigerian Football Federation, Plumptre describes her younger half-sister Bayleigh Bisi as having a darker skin tone and different hair texture, which initially led to her more strongly resonating with their Nigerian heritage.

Plumptre feels her own journey is entwined with her sibling’s – going so far as to say that the road to this World Cup, which saw world number 40 Nigeria oust Olympic champions Canada en route to the knockouts, is one shared by them both.

She added: “I feel like people have different reasons for wanting to play for a different country.

“For me, obviously, I grew up playing for England and I enjoyed my time with them but I always say it was always more of a life decision than a football decision.

“I felt like I had a responsibility to try and play for Nigeria, if I could.

Ashleigh Plumptre, right, in action for Leicester
Ashleigh Plumptre, right, in action for Leicester Ashleigh Plumptre, right, in action for Leicester (Mike Egerton/PA)

“And that just came from experiences within family. I’ve got my younger sister, I used to coach an under-12s team with girls with mixed heritage girls, and I feel like I have a responsibility to learn about my heritage and I have the privilege of being able to play football and use that to be able to learn, so it came about like that for me.”

Nigeria have contested all nine World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals in 1999.

Should they wish to equal or better that feat they will have to find their way past European champions England.

Plumptre is prepared to face the Lionesses, a side which includes several former team-mates.

She said: “I was like, ‘it’s gonna end up that way’. I know a lot of the players, I grew up playing with a lot of them, play against them. So I would completely relish that opportunity. I would love to play them.”