Etheridge Heads East

Thursday 10 April 2008

Fulham Academy keeper Neil Etheridge will head East this summer to fulfil an international ambition.

After much consideration the highly rated 18-year-old stopper has opted to represent the Philippines after speaking to a current international who plies his trade at the opposite end of the Fulham Road.

"They wanted me to play last season but I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first," Etheridge explained. "I didn’t really know too much about the squad or any of the other players and I don’t know the language that well.

"This season, they have asked me again, the team has a new manager and a new president who invited me over and this time I know some of the players. 

"One of the players is from Chelsea who I know well and he convinced me to go and told me that I would enjoy the experience."

Etheridge will have to contend with a vastly different professional environment from the one he currently enjoys at Fulham's Training Ground but the experience is one that the keeper is very much looking forward too. 

"I have spoken to the manager a few times over the phone and he explained the set up to me and I’m really looking forward to it now.

"The last match the Philippines national team played on home soil attracted a crowd of 33,000. The fans really get behind the team when matches are played at home and there is a lot of interest.

"It will be a completely different style of football to what I am used to playing for Fulham’s Academy due to the heat and I don’t think it will be as fast. I will be there from the 6 to 23 May to train with the team and to play the three matches.

"The standard is good and we have to train a 3 o’clock in the morning because of the heat. It will be a good experience, I can’t wait."

Etheridge's has a strong family connection with the Philipinnes and will be supported in force from the stands as he competes in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. Whilst the youngster's short term ambition is to represent, his ultimate international goal is to put the Philipinnes on the world football map.

"It wasn’t the easiest decision to come to but I made it as I wanted to represent the country. My mother is the eldest of thirteen children and her side of the family live in the Philippines. They will come to watch me play.

"I was 9 years old the last time I went over. I will be playing in the preliminary rounds of the Asian Cup Qualifiers – we will be playing Brunei, Bhutan and Kazakhstan.

"I would like to help raise the profile of the sport in the Philippines as it’s not a massive footballing nation currently and we can help generate more interest not only amongst the fans but for the future development of players.

"Our goal ultimately would be to climb the Fifa world rankings and concentrate on playing well and winning matches."