Keeping his goals: Neil Etheridge’s long road to English Premier League

October 1, 2018 - 3:15 PM
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Philippine Azkals and Cardiff City Neil Etheridge (Photo from Premier League official website)

The Philippine Azkals’ goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has won fans over for his commendable performance for newly-promoted club Cardiff City in the English Premier League, the world’s most competitive domestic football league.

The 28-year-old was born to a Filipino mother in London and has been named one of the eight best newcomers in the Premiere League by various media outlets after making two consecutive penalty saves in his first two appearances in the league.

The last keeper to perform such a feat was Thomas Sorensen while playing for Stoke City in 2009.

With two clean sheets so far in Cardiff City’s seven matches in the league, he is tied for sixth with keepers from bigger clubs such as Manchester City’s Joe Hart and ranked higher than Arsenal’s Peter Cech and Manchester United’s David de Gea, both of whom have won accolades for being among the world’s best-performing goalies.

Cardiff’s match against Burnley FC on Sunday was aired in the Philippines, but the match resulted in a 2-1 loss by Cardiff.

His impressive debut in what has been dubbed the world’s most competitive football league has won him fans in England and renewed the faith placed in him by fans in the Philippines.

Foreign sports outlets have also taken note of Etheridge’s unlikely rise to being a first-string goalkeeper in a Premier League.

Originally with the youth squad of top London club Chelsea, Etheridge struggled to rise as the first-string goalie for clubs such as Fulham and Oldham Athletic while juggling national team duties for the Philippines.

Etheridge, whose mother is from Tarlac, recounted in media interviews the difficulties he faced trying to keep his career afloat, such as having to sell his house and car. He also revealed he considered moving permanently to the Philippines.

“I’m a guy from London who went to Manchester to stay at my friend’s house in order to continue with my career. I slept on the couch,” he said in an interview.

Etheridge landed a spot in the roster of Cardiff in 2017, who were then playing in The Championships, the second-tier football league in the English football system where the bottom three teams in the Premiere League are relegated to.

From being a substitute, Etheridge’s performance made him the first-option goalie for manager Neil Warnock. He helped the club notch 19 clean sheets in 37 matches and allow just 39 goals against them throughout the season to finish second in the Championships and secure an automatic promotion to the Premiere League.

Etheridge is the first Filipino and first Southeast Asian player to play in the Premiere League.

In July 2018, third-string French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, the son of Filipino immigrants, became the first player of Filipino descent to hold up the coveted World Cup trophy after France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium in the final match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.