After 102 appearances across three seasons and two divisions for Welsh club Cardiff City Football Club, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is starting a new journey with Birmingham City Football Club.
In an exclusive interview with the Crossover Podcast, presented by LGR Sportswear, the 30-year-old shed light on his transfer to his new club.
“I joined Cardiff three years ago. I had fantastic, great success. The first season getting promoted to the Premier League, the second season playing in the Premier League… But on a club sport on the year we finished off in the playoffs at Cardiff, unfortunately, we didn’t get in the final, didn’t get promoted,” said Etheridge.
The recently-concluded 2019-2020 EFL Championship season was a disappointing one for the Filipino-English stopper.
Two years after the 6-foot-2 stopper’s fine form helped propel Cardiff City into the bright lights of the Premier League, he found himself benched for English keeper Alex Smithies. The campaign ended dismally, with a loss to eventual playoff winners Fulham over two legs.
“So I enjoyed my time in Cardiff. I really enjoyed it, and I was prepared to stay if I needed to. Of course, as any professional, you want to move and play. I was happy there, but you know when the chance came to come to a club like Birmingham, I play football and sign a contract which gives me the stability with a club. Some bumps we needed to get over, but it was yeah, a bit of relief to be honest.”
Of course, player transfers are not simple endeavors. “It’s not as easy as clicking on a mouse sometimes, that I’m gonna go here and play. Those decisions, family decisions — at the moment myself and Alex (his fiancee) don’t have kids, but some players have to take that into consideration as well,” explained the former Walsall player.
“There are a lot of moving parts and they all have to click together for it to happen. It was a little bit strange [that] this happens. I think the ongoing talks between the media from what I saw […] happening for six weeks prior to it actually happening, but when it got to the meet and greet, it happened very, very quickly.”
As one of the biggest stars of Philippine football, wherever Etheridge goes means a spike in Filipino fans for the team.
Now, it is Birmingham’s chance to feel the love from Pinoys, just as Cardiff once did.
“I was very surprised. I mean, I haven’t met the Filipino community here yet, I’m sure that I will, but it’s good for everyone, I just saw my Twitter feed… I didn’t check my phone for about 24 hours, and then I just spent like two hours in bed at my hotel room and just replying and taking it all in because it’s quite overwhelming, the reaction from the Filipinos and from the Birmingham supporters… Even from the Cardiff supporters,” he shared.
“I think sometimes in football, you get caught up in that moment of, ‘You’re not playing, you’re not good enough. Oh! You’re good enough!’ And to have the (positive feeling) that I had when I signed my contract, it’s a fantastic reaction. But once again that’s being done now, doing my part and proving myself on the field.”
Etheridge has yet to make an appearance with his new team, but he knows he needs to be in top condition to compete in a difficult league like the Championship.
“It’s all about the consistency over the season I think there are gonna be bumps on the road. The Championship can change so quickly.
“Even I’m not sure if people know, but for example the last season — before we went into lockdown at Cardiff — the team was like 10th in the league and we ended up finishing fourth with six games to go. And [then] a team like Nottingham Forest that, for the majority of the season they’re top six, they fell out at the end of the season. So it’s a battle right through the end,” said the former Fulham youth player.
With a four-year contract signed, Etheridge is focusing on the task at hand. Last season, Birmingham narrowly avoided relegation, finishing 20th on the table.
Now, with new coach Aitor Karanka at the helm, the club will fight to improve its standing and push for promotion to the Premier League, where it last played in the 2010-2011 season.
“It’s a new adventure for me. It’s like another fresh beginning. Birmingham being a massive club, a massive city here in England… So yeah, it’s a fresh beginning for me. And I just wanna prove everyone once again when I start playing what I’m capable of.”
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