EXCLUSIVE: Spurs defender Ashleigh Neville speaks ahead of north London derby about her journey from primary school teacher to playing at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in front of 38,000 fans

Neville was a part of the Spurs side who were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in front of a record WSL crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (PA Images)
Neville was a part of the Spurs side who were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in front of a record WSL crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (PA Images)
9:48am, Sat 08 Feb 2020
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Ahead of the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham this weekend, NewsChain has spoken with Spurs defender Ashleigh Neville about the journey her club have been on and her own personal route to the top.

Tottenham currently sit 17 points behind their city rivals Arsenal and head into the game having been comfortably beaten 2-0 in the reverse fixture earlier on in the season at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - a match which broke the Women's Super League attendance record with a crowd of 38,262 fans.

And while Neville realises it is an uphill task for her side, she is well aware the positive impact of facing the best in the country will have on improving Spurs as a team.

She said: "We know it's going to be a tough one. Playing against them at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and it being a 2-0 defeat for us, I think we know what we need to do to try and stop the goals they scored last time."

This season is Spurs' first campaign in the WSL and as a result the gulf between them and the top three is something Neville is aware will take time to bridge.

"It is good to win a lot of the games like we did last season, but it is good to come up against teams that have got world class players and can give us a challenge and for us to become better as players individually," she added.

"It being our first season in the WSL we know we're not going to be competing for the top two, three, four spaces. 

"Obviously, we'd like to be up there and that's where we aspire to be, but we have to take our hats off to people like Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea that have been in the full-time game a lot longer than us. They are well-established and experienced.

"That's what we're going to get in a few seasons time but for our first year we're pretty happy with how we're doing. We're hoping there's no chance of relegation so we just keep pushing and get the points that we can get and we build from that season on season."

When Neville joined the club in 2017, Tottenham had only just been promoted to the second tier of English football.

The steep rise has been something the players have welcomed with open arms, but Neville admits the heavier workload was an adjustment to begin with.

"It's been quite difficult to start off with. We've gone from training three evenings for a couple of hours to training practically five days a week.

"But I think once we got those first few months out of the way and it's become our day-to-day job it's not an issue anymore. We're all fit and ready, that's how it is.

"For me it's a positive. I feel like I'm much fitter, less injury-prone and I've got more time to look after myself outside of training, not having to worry about my job that I had last year, it's just football and that's a positive for me to just focus on football and not have to worry about anything else."

Neville has been an integral part of the Spurs defence for more than two years now (PA Images)

Neville has come from an era of players who up until just last season were still holding down a full-time job while balancing the demanding training schedule.

The West Brom-born footballer was a primary school teacher for much of her career and managed to cope with the work/life strain both mentally and physically.

And despite the fact that she is now a full-time player, she says she still goes back to see the kids every now and again.

"I've just been working in primary schools," she added. "I've gone from teaching PE, teaching lunchtime clubs, after school clubs, working with children with behavioural problems and autistic children. Since I finished college I've always been within schools.

"I still keep in contact with a few of the kids at the school that I used to work at through parents permission and teachers that are still there. 

"I pop back and visit every now and again and I get a few emails about scores and if they've watched the highlights or the game on the red button so it's really nice to know they still take an interest even though I'm not there anymore."

Heading into the north London derby this weekend, Spurs sit seventh in the WSL, but are just three points off Manchester United in fourth.

But Neville is looking beyond this campaign towards the very top of the division.

And the defender feels as if the rest of the league are also looking at breaking up the big three in the near future.

She said: "I think that's everyone's aim. We know we can compete with the teams around us and in the bottom half of the table. But to compete with the likes of Everton, Man United and Reading, that's where we aim to be and we build on that ahead of next season.

"That has to be the aim for everyone in the league, even the teams in and around the bottom. We need to make sure that gap isn't always just the top three and all the rest of the teams fighting for fourth, fifth, sixth and relegation.

"Every team needs to bring in players, train players to get up to fight with that top three so it's not always the same top three teams that are always up there."

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