Tottenham full-back Ashleigh Neville will forever be proud of fulfilling one lifelong goal but has not yet given up hope of achieving a dream England call-up.
It was only four years ago that Neville quit her teaching job in Birmingham to concentrate fully on football after Spurs’ promotion to the Women’s Super League.
Fast forward to the present and Neville has become one of the division’s most consistent performers, despite playing across numerous positions and amid a rollercoaster period for Tottenham.
Neville played a key role in Spurs’ fifth-place finish in 2022 but still missed out on Sarina Wiegman’s England squad for the Euros and, while her club battled relegation last season, the 30-year-old’s performances remained excellent.
Wiegman acknowledged 12 months ago that Neville was doing a “really good job”, but the emergence of Chelsea’s Niamh Charles alongside system tweaks and forward Rachel Daly being used as a makeshift left-back has meant she remains uncapped.
Nevertheless, Neville is full of pride at being in her fifth season as a full-time professional and relishing life under new Tottenham boss Robert Vilahamn.
“I always wanted to play for England,” Neville told the PA news agency ahead of next week’s north London derby with Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“That was kind of my dream when I was a kid, but I never thought I would play professional football when I was a young girl because it wasn’t possible back then.
“I am obviously proud of where I have come from and where I’m at.
“Since Robert’s come in, it has probably been the most consistent I have been as a player looking back at stats and games.
“If that call-up comes, it comes, and it would be nice to play for my country, but we have a great team so I can’t really fault the (England) girls for what they do.
“I am just happy at Spurs and that’s where my head and focus is at, but if that call comes then great.”
Neville impressed during Tottenham’s battle to stay in the WSL last season, scoring three times and providing two assists while playing in both full-back positions or further forward under ex-boss Rehanne Skinner.
Vilahamn’s arrival this summer has resulted in a shift of philosophy, with Spurs eager to dominate possession and attack at every opportunity.
It helped Vilahamn make a flying start, but sixth-placed Tottenham suffered a chastening second defeat of the season before the international break when they went down 7-0 at Manchester City.
Neville said: “We spoke at the end of the game and a few people were disheartened, which I understand because no one likes losing and especially not when it’s 7-0, but I said in the huddle this won’t define our season.
“It is one game out of the eight we’ve played and we’ve had a really good start. We can’t sit on it. We have to park it and move on and that’s what the girls are ready to do.”
Life does not get any easier for Spurs with Manchester United coming up at home on Sunday before two fixtures with Arsenal next week.
The second date with Arsenal on Saturday, December 16 will take place at the men’s 62,850-seater Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“When I first came here, this match wasn’t necessarily a big thing for the women’s team,” Neville reflected.
“I think we have come a long way since then.
“I can remember the first game we played with Arsenal (in 2019), we lost 10-0 and then the season before last we got a draw and had a close game.
“So it will be a really good game and I love the north London derby. They are a battle, but I am all about putting in a big tackle and playing in front of a big crowd so it’s great for the game.
“All the girls believe. People say we’re the underdogs, but I don’t look at us like that. We are just as good as Arsenal.”
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