PH’s Etheridge braces for historic Premier League debut
When Neil Etheridge steps into the field for Cardiff City at Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth on Saturday night, the Filipino-British goalkeeper will not only make history as the first Southeast Asian to play in the English Premier League but also live his dream of seeing action in one of the world’s most prestigious and lucrative leagues.
That Etheridge is making his debut just four years after he was out of contract and entertaining thoughts of early retirement has made the occasion even more meaningful for him and his family who has seen him rise from the depths in his career.
“There are many ways of getting to the top,” Etheridge told the Inquirer over the phone last Thursday. “There’s no same blueprint. Obviously, I did it in my own way. It was a tough road like I’ve spoken before, but one thing that was important for me was I believed and those close to me believed in my ability and talent.”
The early part of Etheridge’s career saw him go through some ups and downs at Fulham where he rarely played after rising through the academy with his play with the Azkals serving as a sanctuary when things got difficult.
But after falling out of favor briefly with former Azkals coach Thomas Dooley in 2014, Etheridge’s career has been on a remarkable surge for club and country as he used a stint in Walsall in League One as a stepping stone, before impressing in Cardiff last season in the Championship.
Etheridge was also part of Fulham’s squad in the EPL for a couple of seasons, but he is expected to play a bigger role for Cardiff after a stellar debut season with a Welsh side last year.
“I helped get Cardiff promoted and I hope and I think I’ll play a larger part in our Premier League campaign,” said Etheridge. “It’s going to be great, interesting and every single match, I am looking forward to the task.”
But Etheridge remains realistic as far as Cardiff’s goals for the season are concerned. Getting promoted to the EPL is a different story, but staying there is a tougher challenge altogether. Cardiff needs to avoid ending the season at the bottom three of the EPL to stay there.
“This is a longer season for us with the games coming thick and fast and there’s just no place to hide because there are no easy games,” he said.
“Every game is going to be a battle. It’s not even the Top 6 now. Every single team now is looking to improve and I’ll play as best as I can.”
Asked which teams and stadiums he was looking forward to playing in this season, Etheridge said he would relish a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
” Manchester United is one of the biggest teams in the world and their success is not as big recently, there is still a lot of history in their home ground,” he said. Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground is also a special place. Playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will also be incredible.”
Etheridge hopes him being in the Premier League inspires a new generation of Filipino players.
“I hope me being in the Premier League being a part can help inspire younger generations,” he said. “It’s tough especially in the Philippines where our program needs a lot of support, time and financial backing.”