Former England youth defender Ashleigh Plumptre says she would play for Nigeria at senior international level – if the West African country came calling.
The 23-years-old, who plays for newly-promoted Women’s Super League (WSL) side Leicester City, is eligible to play for the Super Falcons because of her father’s Nigerian heritage.
Having helped guide the Foxes to the FA Women’s Championship title in 2020/21, Plumptre was voted player of the season and rewarded with a new two-year deal.
And, despite 30 England caps at youth level, Plumptre says she would like to play for Nigeria.
“The idea of me being able to play for Nigeria, with that being an option, I would happily grab that with both hands,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
“What representing something that really means to somebody is very important. Obviously, there’s a lot of things I can openly say that I don’t know about Nigerian culture but I want to learn because I know that it’s in me, and it’s in my sister and in my dad.
“We can only get it from my granddad, he’s the only thing that we know in terms of Nigeria. I’ve obviously visited Nigerian relatives in America and in England.
“Seeing this little journey my sister and I have been on, and the understanding of our family heritage, not just that but watching Nigerian documentaries and learning about the past is incredible.”
Life-long Foxes fan Plumptre played 25 games this season for the club she first joined as an eight-year-old and previously played in the WSL with Notts County in 2014, before moving to the United States.
Stints stateside with US college side USC Trojans and LA Galaxy followed, before she returned from studying in January 2020 to play a key role in a memorable season for the Foxes.
After establishing herself at club level, Plumptre who has a British mother, believes a potential international career with Nigeria could pave the way for other biracial footballers to follow.
“What it will mean for me as somebody who is British born but with Nigerian heritage is huge. People look at me and they think I’m tanned and that I’ve been on holiday, they don’t think that I’m Nigerian,” she added.
“I don’t think that should be significant in saying whether somebody is Nigerian or not because it’s in your blood, it’s not about what you look like.
“My sister, she looks African because she has an Afro and her skin tone is darker than mine, with that obviously, she’s had different experiences in school than I have had.
“I think with football being my platform, I am using that as something that’s bigger than me. As much as I can resonate with my Nigerian heritage.
“I feel like I can hopefully inspire someone like my sister or other kids like her maybe in this country or other countries to look at me and be like you know what? It doesn’t matter what your skin tone looks like.
“If you can resonate with your heritage and it means something to you, it means you can represent something bigger than you, then that’s what it comes down to.
“I think people too often look at the surface of this rather than actually try to find out inside what our drives and passions are, and what means a lot to us.”
The continent’s most successful national side with nine African titles, Nigeria are the only African team to have played in all eight Women’s World Cups since 1991.
Despite possessing the talent to potentially make the step up to Englands senior side, Plumptre has been growing professionally and fully aware of the Super Falcons’ rise in the global game.
“When you look around there are several Nigerian players playing at the top level of the women’s game,” she pointed out.
“With the Super Falcons I have been following them and the continued progress the team is making. But one player that I remember is Asisat Oshoala.
“She was at Liverpool when I played for Notts County, then I was about 16 and the big thing was having Oshoala over at Liverpool.
“That was the big name and then she obviously went to Arsenal. And everybody knew of her and how talented she was. For me an an English person, she was Nigerian football to me.”
She’s hoping to meet the club’s Nigerian international duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho soon, insisting that the pandemic has made it difficult to link up with them.
“With Leicester Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Ihenacho have been a good roles model for me. It’s funny we haven’t met but that’s all because of Covid but at some point hopefully we’ll be able to meet each other,” she explained.
Plumptre has been immersed in the culture, food and music of her father’s ancestral home, but admits she has never visited the country.
“I listen to a lot of music but my favourite genre is classic 90s R&Bs, the stuff my dad grew up listening to are what I listen to now,” she explained.
“But with regards Nigerian songs I like, I will go with veteran and legendary musician King Sunny Ade because I’ve heard some of his records.
“I really enjoy the Nigerian Jollof rice, fish stew but my favourite meal is moi-moi [steamed and flavoured cakes of ground beans].”