My stomach hurt first time I ate Nigerian food – Plumtree

Leicester City defender Ashleigh Plumtree, who has a Nigerian father, played at junior levels for England before she trained with the Super Falcons earlier this year. She talks about her first visit to Nigeria, why she opted to play for the Falcons and learning the Nigerian culture in this interview with NFF Media

How did you get into football?

I started playing football when I was four. I played for Leicester City when I was eight till I was 14, then played around for few clubs in England. I played for Birmingham City, Derby County and Notts County before going to America, where I played for the University of Southern California. I got back from the United States in December 2019, signed a two-year contract with Leicester and we got promoted from the Championship to the Women’s Super League for this season. So, it’s my first year in the Super League.

Why did you choose to play for the Super Falcons?

I had experiences playing with England when I was younger and I really enjoyed them. I have to be honest, what football means to me now is different from what it was when I was younger. The biggest thing to me now is my family pretty much. I have two younger brothers and one younger sister. My sister and I have the same dad. My dad is Nigerian, my grand dad was born in Lagos, my two brothers have an English mum and their dad’s also English. My sister’s hue is a bit different to mine but we’re both Nigerian, but she has one or two things that I haven’t and we’ve been interested in knowing more about our heritage based on how she identifies herself and how I do as well. It’s only been in the last couple of years especially last year during the Coronavirus pandemic when my sister and I kind of bonded over the fact that we had this Nigerian heritage. She’s only 11 and I feel like I can help and advise her on a lot of things, so it’s like I’m taking her on a journey with me.

Do you plan to trace your origin?

Definitely, I talk to my grand dad. He goes back and forth from Nigeria all the time. He lives in England now but he was brought up in Lagos and as I said, he’s constantly coming back here (Nigeria). We’re learning through him, we have other Nigerian relatives in England who go back and forth too. This is my first time in Nigeria, I’m just trying to learn from my family. I have family (members) all over the world but they always come back to Nigeria.

What is the difference between European and African football and have you been able to adapt?

I have to be honest, it’s a learning curve. Obviously, African football is different to European football in so many ways and I’m learning that. For me, as a footballer, you should always be learning and also there are potentially other things I can help the girls with, such as the tactical knowledge. It’s been interesting so far, the athleticism and all, are some of the things I’m not really used to. I think it’s important to adapt if I’m going to be invited to more camps. I guess I have a bit of a British mentality sometimes, I can allow myself to get frustrated at things. Off the pitch, I’m kind of smiley but on the pitch, I can get frustrated easily and that has happened to me in a few training sessions. Compared to England where everyone is just swearing, here you just get on with things.

Are you learning the Nigerian culture and what’s the feeling like since you started training with the team?

I’m trying to learn through my sister and my grandfather at the moment and the physio helps me anytime I see her; she tries to teach me Yoruba words. I can learn as much as I want when I’m in England but you’ll never get the real feel if you’re actually not here. The little things are just fascinating. I’m here for football but I’m learning about things that are just as important that I’ll probably take for granted at home.

Have you shared your thoughts about Nigeria with your family since your first visit?

My dad came to Nigeria when he was about 14. He’s not been out since. He never had a Nigerian passport; my grandfather did, so he had to get his before I got mine. So, that was an experience in itself, trying to get our passports. I have a lot of families who are Nigerians who live here (in Nigeria) even if I don’t get to speak to them much, some I’ve not even met even though I’ve spoken to. I believe I have to be in Nigeria to really experience the culture.

What are the positives you took from the training camp and how much are you looking forward to playing your first competitive game for the Falcons?

I think it’s been very good for me to be amongst these players that have very good work ethic, but just get on with it and there’s never any kind of complaints. We go 100 per cent and nothing less and everybody expects that from each other, which I really like about it out here.

What do you think about the food?

The food is really interesting. At home, my step mum cooks it and she was taught by my aunt. My step mum is white and British, my dad is Nigerian and he doesn’t even cook the food. Everything I have at home is always super hot, hotter than it is here but at home, I have to have milk with it because it’s so hot. At home I love moi moi. The jollof rice here is not as spicy as it is at home, which is great. I had to adapt because my stomach, for the first two days, was hurting because the food was different. But I feel like I’m accustomed to it now and I said to my family that I’m trying to have something different every day just to tell them what I’ve had. I feel like English food is pretty blind, so it’s always good to try something that has a little more flavour.

Do you fancy playing the AWCON and the World Cup with the Falcons?

I try and take one thing at a time. I don’t want to look too far ahead because there are things to concentrate on in the near future. Obviously, I want to play in big tournaments, so experiences like that will be immense. It’ll be a lot of pride to represent Nigeria. At the moment I’m just trying to prove my worth here, I just don’t want to be here just because I’m from England and I play for Leicester, I have to show my abilities. The style of football is very different, so I have to show that I can adapt to that and hopefully if things work out, I can be there and try as best as I can to represent this country as well as I can.

Since you play for Leicester, have you found time to link up with Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi, who play for the men’s team?

No, I haven’t, which is really annoying and it is mainly because of COVID-19 because they got to separate us a little bit. We recently had a memorial for the chairman and myself and two other captains went and the men’s team were there as well. It was the first time we’ve actually been around them. It was a kind of an in-and-out thing for them as they had to go prepare for a game.

Credit: The Punch