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World Cup: Ashleigh Plumptre discovering Nigerian heritage

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World Cup: Ashleigh Plumptre discovering Nigerian heritage

English-born Ashleigh Plumptre is discovering her Nigerian heritage

Nigeria defender Ashleigh Plumptre’s World Cup odyssey in Australia and New Zealand is a culmination of a journey in which she has learned to embrace her family heritage.

Growing up in the city of Leicester in the United Kingdom as a mixed-race third-generation Nigerian, tapping into her mother’s English heritage wasn’t hard

But it took the COVID-19 lockdown, conversations with relatives and a phone call to the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) for her to really begin to make sense of her African identity. And she loves what she’s found.

“Football is the platform that’s helped me realize and uncover many things about my heritage,” the 25-year-old tells DW.

After impressing at a Nigerian national team camp in 2021, the Leicester City center-back applied for a Nigerian passport and was soon thrust into the Super Falcons’ starting XI.

Football is the vehicle through which she has been able to return to Nigeria and embrace a part of her identity which, up until now, had only existed in the form of her grandfather’s childhood stories.

“I’ve just opened myself up to everything in the culture,” she says. “I want to be able to encourage young people to do the same thing and identify with being mixed race.”

A traditional powerhouse in women’s football in Africa, the Super Falcons head “Down Under” looking to make amends for a disappointing fourth-place finish at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco last year.

For Plumptre, a former England youth player, it will be her first World Cup.

“It feels very surreal,” she says. “I never thought I would ever be in a position to go to a World Cup. I remember when we beat Cameroon at the WAFCON (in the quarterfinal) to qualify; it was just unbelievable.

Plumptre has already been an integral part of a Nigeria team that is defying the odds Down Under, picking up a point against Canada before beating hosts Australia. Plumptre has started both games and is clearly enjoying the ride so far.

“It probably won’t settle in until after the World Cup when I come back home and look back on all that I have done.”

Nigeria ‘can surprise people’

Having won 11 WAFCON titles and played at every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1991, reaching the quarterfinal in 1999, Nigeria are the most successful team in Africa.

But it has been a difficult few years for the team as investment has dwindled, and other African teams like reigning African champions South AfricaMorocco and Zambia have caught up.

The team’s struggles under head coach Randy Waldrum reached a nadir when the American launched a tirade against the NFF while speaking on the On The Whistle Podcast, revealing that he was owed seven months’ worth of salary and claiming that the Federation had stopped him from taking his preferred assistant to the World Cup.

He also detailed the allowances allegedly owed to players and accused the NFF of damaging team spirit by withholding invitations from players who had spoken out.

The NFF reacted with a bombastic reponse of its own, accusing the coach of dropping some key players from the World Cup squad. Just before the tournament started, the team threatened to boycott their first match against Canada if their allowances were not agreed but the Federation rallied to stem it.

In the likes of Barcelona’s Asisat Oshoala and Atletico Madrid’s Rasheedat Ajibade, the Super Falcons boast some considerable talent.

“The depth in our team is very good,” she tells DW. “We’re a talented team and I want to go as far as possible. I think we can cause upsets and really surprise people.”

Bigger tournament, guaranteed pay

For the first time, FIFA have announced that they will pay each player at the World Cup a basic income of $30,000 as the tournament welcomes 32 teams for the first time – an encouraging step for Plumptre.

“It reflects the growth of women’s football worldwide,” she says. “The respect for the sport has been growing. There are a lot of people before us who have had to put in the work to get us to this position. This is now the foundation for the next tournament to grow on.

“We have a lot of incredible players who deserve to be seen and who deserve whatever recognition comes with that.”

Mixed race pride from Leicester to Lagos

Strictly speaking, Plumptre’s granfather won’t be able to see his granddaughter representing the colors of his native Nigeria on the international stage; he is now registered blind.

But Plumptre knows that he will still be proud of her as she inspires a new generation to embrace every aspect of their mixed-race heritage, from Leicester to Lagos.

“He likes talking to his friends about me,” she laughs.

She’s already giving him lots to talk about.

Author: Andrew Collins

andrewc@gmail.com

London, UK

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