Ashleigh Plumptre

Ashleigh Plumptre: Living The English Dream

In the first edition of a new feature series, Ashleigh Plumptre charts her rise from childhood Leicester City fan to LCFC Women player, via a Stateside move across the pond.
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Ever since she was a young girl, Ashleigh has been Leicester through and through. From donning the famous City kit as an eight-year-old in the Girls' Centre of Excellence, to becoming a full-time professional footballer for the Club she still supports 13 years later, Plumptre has achieved plenty in her short career to date.

And that's without mentioning her representing England at international youth level, being part of a Women's FA Cup Final at Wembley and winning the National Championship in the USA.

While she nearly took a completely different career path, the 22-year-old is far from finished setting big targets, and has grand ambitions for the future…

Born and bred in Leicester, growing up in the leafy outskirts of the city and going to primary school in Melton Mowbray, sport, and football in particular, were never far from Ashleigh's mind.

"I remember playing at school a lot when I was younger," she began. "I would play with boys all the time at lunchtime and after school, but I never actually played for a boys' team.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

Plumptre first joined City's Girls Centre of Excellence when she was eight years old.

"From the age of four until I was eight, I played for a local team called Asfordby Amateurs and then that's when I joined Leicester.

"I always think about the time I got given my first pair of shin pads and they were the ones with the ankle protectors on and I didn't have a clue how to put them on, so I remember being shown how to!

"I was one of those kids that played every sport. My mum would say I'd have to have a ball in my hands or at my feet. I just happened to play at a summer camp where you play different sports all day, every day, and I just got into football.

"The coach was like 'you should join a team' and since then I've always been in some kind of team."

Her love for the Foxes has been passed down from her family and grew even stronger once she signed for the Club. Even after leaving for pastures new in her teenage years, Plumptre always had the ambition of one day returning to where it all began.

"I came to a few games when I was younger, especially when I played at the Centre of Excellence," she recalled.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

The 22-year-old always had an ambition of returning from the USA to play for LCFC Women.

"I had the opportunity to be one of the kids at half-time playing on the pitch and I actually watched a few clips back just the other week, as my dad used to record everything when I was younger, of me on the field. It's always been Leicester for me.

"When I went out to America, I remember looking where Leicester were and we weren't in the position we are now, we were in the third division of women's football.

"I always used to think to myself, it would be so good if when I finish being in America I could come back and play for the team that I grew up playing for. Leicester is the club I had been at for the longest, leaving when I was 14, so my whole childhood of playing football has been with Leicester.

"The fact that I could come back and actually try and help them get somewhere we, probably a few years ago, weren't expecting to be able to get to, is really exciting for me. 

"First and foremost, getting promotion and winning the league with Leicester, ever since I knew we were in this division, that's always been a dream of mine. Further down the line, hopefully competing in the WSL and the idea of having Leicester in the Champions League, that would be amazing."

The chance to move over to America to complete a degree in human biology and a football scholarship at the University of Southern California (USC) was not an easy choice to make, but one that Plumptre believes helped shape who is she today.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

"I can only say good things about my experience [in America] and I think I have come back more confident as a player and as a person as well." - Ashleigh Plumptre.

"It was a really tough decision deciding to go over there because I was at Notts County at the time and doing my A-Levels," she said.

"It was convenient because it was close to me and they were a Super League team, so I had the opportunity to play with international players when I was 16.

"Going to America, I wanted to make sure that was the right thing for me, because I'd already played with really top players, so to decide to go and put my education first, I think it was difficult. Not only am I away from my family, but I was on a trajectory here and obviously had to leave that and take a risk.

"It was the best decision for me at the time because I can only say good things about my experience there and I think I have come back more confident as a player and as a person as well.

"I've definitely learned different things. I think the game is played completely differently out there so it was good for me to experience a different kind of coaching, a different style of play and to be able to bring that back here."

The lifestyle in Los Angeles was also a huge change and nothing like what Plumptre had previously experienced, or expected. 

"Taking away football, it was just good to learn a different culture. I was probably ignorant at the time thinking that it was going to be just like England because they talk the same as us," said Ashleigh.

"It was a big culture shock so having to adapt so that was good for me as a person in order to grow. It's definitely not like the movies!

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

Plumptre says her move from Leicestershire countryside to live in downtown LA was a big culture shock.

"I went out there thinking it would be all like Beverly Hills with palm trees and beaches, but USC is in downtown LA.

"My first few weeks I was there, I was trying to get my driving licence and it was less than a mile to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). I went on my bike under the freeway and it was the scariest bike ride I've ever been on. I was like 'I'm not going anywhere again without a friend'!

It marked a time in her life when she had to decide whether to try and make a career out of football, or opt to follow the more traditional, academic route.

A determination not to let her years of hard work go to waste meant there was only one path she could take in the end, and it is a decision she is not looking back on with regret.

"It's set up really well out there, collegiate sports are really big, you live as a professional. I would have the same regime throughout the week, training in the morning and classes from then onwards. That helped me coming back here, because I was already used to a professional setup and lifestyle.

"I actually missed my first two training sessions because I was trying to adapt to school out there and I put as much pressure on myself to do well, as I do with football.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

She graduated with a degree in human biology which was completed alongside playing football at the University.

"I was very much a concentrated student. When I was younger, I didn't actually think I was going to be a professional footballer. Not that I didn't think it was possible, I was just so engrossed in school and I really enjoyed it. My plan was always to go to medical school and it's still something I can pick up on when my football career is done.

"It wasn't until I was really enjoying my football again at USC that I thought it would be a shame for how much and how long I've worked to be at the level I'm at now in football, to not take the opportunity to play pro.

"I don't like the word sacrifice, it's my decision to not live a normal life like other kids did. It wasn't really hard for me to not go out and have a social life, because I really wanted to be the best in my team and always challenge myself.

"If I don't have a challenge and I don't have a purpose, or a goal in mind, I struggle. I always want to be trying to work towards something. When I started at Leicester it was always for fun, but I wanted to get something out of it in the long run.

"I've put a lot into this and my family have done a lot taking me [places] and doing extra training with me. I wasn't one of those people who was naturally really talented, I'm someone who just had to work.

"I always used to describe myself as an athlete rather than a natural footballer. It would have been a shame if I didn't put everything into football, because for so long it's all I've known, and if I did something else with my career, right now I think I would have regretted not taking up this opportunity, because I'm loving every second of it."

The driven mentality and will to work that Plumptre possesses is clear to see as she described her football memories from USC, which included winning the coveted NCAA Division 1 Women's Soccer Tournament with the Trojans in 2016, and the added bonus of a trip to one of the most recognisable landmarks in the United States.

"Everywhere I go, I feel like I have to win something," she beamed. "It's pointless for me trying to aim for something that's not tangible.

"USC has always been a really good football programme, but we were an underdog team. There were bigger teams out there who were expected to win.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

After winning the National Championship with the Trojans, Plumptre and her team were invited to the White House.

"I knew I was going to be there for four seasons and I wanted to win at least in one of them. I can't say I expected it in the first year, but we did have a really good team when I came in.

"We actually lost a few games at the start and that could have knocked us off, but before the final there was a poll on Twitter and 71 per cent of people voted that we were going to lose.

"For me, I've never been on a star studded team, like when Leicester won the Premier League, we were obviously not the favourites to win and that's what I like.

"It kind of takes the pressure off a little bit and lets you do your thing, without the added pressure of anyone else having expectations of you.

"When I relive that and look back on the journey, I'm actually not surprised that we managed to get the results we did and win. We had a set goal and we stuck to that throughout.

"If you win the National Championships, in any sport, you get invited to the White House, so that was a good experience. We got a tour and met some people that I probably should know the names of!"

Her infectious and bubbly personality comes across from as soon as she greets LCFC TV for the interview on the bank of the River Soar, adjacent to King Power Stadium.

The 22-year-old takes it all in her stride as if she is a seasoned professional, when in reality, Plumptre is less than a year into her career at LCFC Women, having joined the senior setup in December 2019.

Her return to City was not all plain sailing, however, but another new chapter that she met head on. It was a personal life decision as well as being football based, and she believes it has worked out even better than she could have hoped.

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Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre

She returned to the UK and then signed for Leicester in December 2019, after graduating from the University of Southern California.

"When I first joined Leicester, it was probably a little bit difficult to adapt," she admitted. "I'd obviously played here before, but to have to move from the American style of play, was different, and the way girls play here.

"In my head I always wanted to come back to where I grew up and I hadn't been around my family for a long time. I have younger siblings that I missed out on growing up so I wanted to be somewhere that meant more to me, where I felt valued and I valued the team that I was playing for. And somewhere that ultimately challenged me, so that I could still be pushed on an individual level. 

"Honestly, I've got the best of both worlds. I'm somewhere that's helping me to push on personally, because I'm still only young so I have a lot of learning and growth to do, but also, and I know actions speak louder than words, but I play for a badge rather than my name.

"To be able to go out and represent the team that I've grown up supporting and my family support, I think that subconsciously gives me a boost every time I go on the pitch.

"I like to see myself as someone who is quite hard working and I'll put everything into it, but especially because I get to wear the badge of Leicester City, it means that little bit extra."

Overcoming an injury which kept her sidelined after joining the team, it was a proud moment for Plumptre to look back on when she finally stepped out onto the field in Leicester blue for the first time in January 2020.

"My knee issues had flared up, I blame the cold weather, I wasn't used to it," she joked. "So I didn't play and then it was away at Crystal Palace. I didn't really have a lot of emotion going into the game, I was desperate to play anyway just because I'd missed the first game.

"It wasn't until I'd got home that I realised that was my first game. I remember putting a post on Instagram for my first home game, I was looking at old pictures and I literally look the same as when I was eight-years-old!

"The same pictures that I had taken at King Power Stadium, in the same position, just the kit is different. I was fast forwarded and it felt like I hadn't been away for that long.

"To come back and put the same shirt on, but this time with my name and number, I still have the same pride that I had when I got that letter at eight-years-old to say I'd been accepted into the team."

Women

Plumptre's Leicester Roots

LCFC Women defender Ashleigh Plumptre sits down with LCFC TV on the banks of the River Soar to discuss her football journey - which took her from Leicester to the United States and back again.

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