MANILA, Philippines – Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has the same passion for football similar to what his kababayans in the Philippines have for basketball.
Like most of his countrymen in England, the Filipino-British football player started his interest in football early on.
“In England, football is the biggest sport without a doubt. I started playing football at quite a young age as well… I used to play for local teams and I got picked up for Chelsea at the age of 12,” he told abs-cbnNEWS.com.
Etheridge initially regarded the sport only as a “fun game” until he reached 15.
Around that time, he began started taking football seriously. “It started to come more of a job,” he said.
At 18, he received an invitation to join the Philippine national team. As others would say, the rest was history.
Now at 21, Etheridge couldn’t ask for more being one of the most esteemed, not to mention the most swooned-upon, members of the Azkals.
He is currently a reserve goalie in English Premiere League's Fulham Football Club.
“My life has adapted and changed because of it in different ways. I’m happy, very happy with how’s it going recently,” he said.
Name: Neil Leonard Etheridge
Birthday: February 7, 1990
Position in the Azkals team: Goalkeeper
Played for: Fulham FC
Charlton Athletic (loan)
What do you love most about football?
I guess the fans, that passion about the game, glory—there are ups and downs and everything. For me, football is a job and you go to work every day and enjoy your job. Not too many people get to do that. I’m quite fortunate in that respect.
What’s your most memorable game so far?
If I could pinpoint one, I think coming home to Bacolod, playing for the Philippines (against Mongolia) last March. It’s obviously a big game for everyone. You know, playing in front of the home crowd. There was so much expectation around us.
And of course, playing in the (ASEAN Football Federation Cup) semifinals against Indonesia in front of such a big crowd in such a widely-watched (event). We beat Vietnam, the host of the competition. We did so well, it was so unexpected for us to even get that far… That was very great for us.
What can you say about the Azkals’ popularity now?
“We came from, two years ago, not being known, always playing away from home and never having support, never having funds, with no endorsements. Now, we’re getting everything at once. At first, it was hard for us to adapt but now, we have adapted and settled down.”