Ashleigh Plumptre ready for England and old friends after switch to Nigeria

Former England youth international decided to play for Nigeria because of her sister and has moved from winger to defender

Ashleigh Plumptre played alongside Alessia Russo, Chloe Kelly and Georgia Stanway in the youth stages of her international career but on Monday she will line up against them as her Nigeria team take on Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses in the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup.

Plumptre won 30 caps across England’s youth teams but never received a call-up to the senior squad. She was cleared by Fifa to switch allegiances to Nigeria, for whom she is eligible to play through her paternal grandfather, and made her debut for the country in 2022. The 25-year-old defender attributes the reason behind the switch to her younger sister.

“Even though we have the same dad, we both have a Nigerian dad and a white mum, she looks a little different to me and has experienced things in school that I never had,” Plumptre has said. “Most people just assume that I’m white. I identify as being mixed heritage. But my sister … she identifies as being black.

“That’s where I’m like: ‘OK, Nigeria would be good for me to do because then I can experience the culture more, I can come back and teach her about our heritage.’ That was the trigger for me.”

Before progressing to senior football Plumptre, who recently left Leicester City but is yet to confirm her new club, made appearances at various tournaments for England including a 2014 Nordic tournament for the under-16s. The young Lionesses played Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands and were coached by the former England player Marieanne Spacey-Cale.

“What stood out to me at that tournament about Ashleigh, even at that young age, she had her head screwed on,” says Spacey-Cale, who is head of girls and women’s football at Southampton and a player and coach developer for the Football Association. “She kind of knew what she wanted and was quite clear on how she wanted to do it.

“In that tournament she was a flying winger. I know she has now developed into a centre-back. She was really quick, she was direct. She wanted to be on the ball and beat players to get crosses and shots on goal. The fact she had such a sweet, cultured left foot at that age, she could really strike the ball well. Delivery of crosses and set pieces; she already had such a strong technique.”

Interactive

Plumptre played predominantly as a midfielder or forward throughout her England youth career and it was not until she went to college in America that she considered becoming a defender. She studied at the University of Southern California, majoring in human biology and being part of the college team USC Trojans and she was switched to right-back temporarily after the position became available. Her coach later played her as a centre-back regularly; she has not looked back.

“To have a balance across the backline with a left-footed centre-back is quite rare,” Spacey-Cale says on what she has made of Plumptre’s position switch. “The fact she has made her international career now as a defender, I think it goes to show people can put players in boxes at young ages but as the years go on you see a different side to them. I think she has done exceptionally well. She has played in the WSL as a centre-back, she is holding her own in that competition. The decision was the right one.”

With Nigeria, Plumptre has more of a full-back role and she has said she was initially nervous in the position: “Being on the world stage, it’s not something that I play there all the time. So my first game against Canada, I was probably the most nervous I’ve been for a game. Just because, I know it’s still a defensive position, but it’s a bit different than being a centre-back. But it’s nice now where I can find myself getting forward, whereas at centre-back I never could. I enjoy it.”

Ashleigh Plumptre gets past Heather Payne during Nigeria’s game against the Republic of Ireland.
Ashleigh Plumptre gets past Heather Payne during Nigeria’s game against the Republic of Ireland. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

She has started every match of this World Cup in Nigeria’s backline, the country’s defenders only conceding two goals so far – in their famous 3-2 victory against the co-hosts Australia. The win, as well as two 0-0 draws with Canada and Ireland, led the country to pip Canada to the Group B runners-up spot – setting up a last-16 match with the European champions.

If Plumptre helps to knock England out of a tournament they are among the favourites to win, the cliche from commentators will be said over the mics everywhere: “You couldn’t write a script like it.” Just maybe Plumptre can.

Contributor

Sarah Rendell

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
England ready for Nigeria World Cup test with Millie Bright back to her best
The defender, who overcame injury before the tournament, believes England can win Monday’s last-16 game ‘if they focus on themselves’

Suzanne Wrack in Brisbane

06, Aug, 2023 @11:26 AM

Article image
England beat Nigeria on penalties to reach Women’s World Cup quarter-finals
England are through to the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup after beating Nigeria in a penalty shootout, despite Lauren James receiving a red card

Suzanne Wrack at Brisbane Stadium

07, Aug, 2023 @10:22 AM

Article image
‘Keira is back’ – Wiegman says Walsh is in contention for Nigeria game
Sarina Wiegman said Keira Walsh may be available after injury for England’s last-16 World Cup tie against Nigeria on Monday

Suzanne Wrack in Brisbane

06, Aug, 2023 @4:00 PM

Article image
Nigeria secure last-16 spot and possible England clash after draw with Ireland
Nigeria progressed to the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup after a goalless draw against Ireland and will play the winners of Group D

Sophie Downey at Brisbane Stadium

31, Jul, 2023 @12:15 PM

Article image
‘Beckhamesque’: Lauren James’ World Cup red card was ‘moment of madness’
Sarina Wiegman said Lauren James had ‘in a split second lost her emotions’ after the 21-year-old was sent off in England’s shootout win over Nigeria

Sophie Downey at Brisbane Stadium

07, Aug, 2023 @2:18 PM

Article image
England's fluid back three and high press can keep Nigeria threat at bay | Anita Asante
Sarina Wiegman’s tactical switch risks playing to their last-16 rivals’ strengths but her tight-knit defence should be up to the job

Anita Asante

05, Aug, 2023 @5:00 PM

Article image
Japan joy, Germany dejection: Women’s World Cup power rankings
We rank the teams after a compelling group stage characterised by shocks and emerging stars, from Miyazawa to Caicedo and Dumornay

Suzanne Wrack in Sydney and Sophie Downey in Melbourne

04, Aug, 2023 @1:00 PM

Article image
England 0-0 Nigeria: Women’s World Cup last 16 player ratings
Lauren James struggled then lost her head and Nigeria largely produced the better displays before England’s win on penalties

Sophie Downey at Brisbane Stadium

07, Aug, 2023 @11:35 AM

Article image
England pair Lauren Hemp and Lucy Parker praise switch to blue shorts
‘This is a massive step in the right direction,’ said Lauren Hemp over the Lionesses’ kit change, which allows players on their periods to feel more comfortable, ahead of the World Cup

Suzanne Wrack

04, Apr, 2023 @6:27 PM

Article image
England ‘don’t fear anyone’ at World Cup, warns Mary Earps as Nigeria await
England’s goalkeeper Mary Earps has said the team ‘don’t fear anyone’ as they look towards Monday’s last-16 meeting with Nigeria

Suzanne Wrack in Sydney

04, Aug, 2023 @11:00 AM