Philippines goalkeeper Neil Etheridge blazing a trail for South East Asia in the Premier League
When Cardiff City kick off their return to the Premier League at Bournemouth's Dean Court on Saturday afternoon, Neil Etheridge will be making history when he takes his position between the posts for Neil Warnock's side.
The 28-year-old Philippines goalkeeper will become the first player from South East Asia -- a region fanatical about English football -- to feature in the Premier League as England's top flight adds another nationality to its ever-growing list of international participants.
"Well I've got to step on the field first, but if that happens then I'll be the first Filipino and the first South East Asian to play in the Premier League and that will be a massive thing for myself, my family and the people around me," Etheridge told ESPN FC.
"But also, hopefully, it will serve as a good platform for people to see that if I can do it then hopefully we can push other South East Asian players to see that there's a big world out there outside of Asia. It's very exciting."
Born in London, Etheridge qualifies for the Philippines through his mother and, after playing for England at under 16 level, the imposing goalkeeper pledged his international future to the Azkals a decade ago.
In that period Etheridge has played more than 50 times for the Philippines, with the highlight coming earlier this year when he helped the country qualify for the finals of the Asian Cup -- the quadrennial continental championship -- for the first time.
Now, after a journey that has taken him from Chelsea and Fulham, where he started his career at academy level, through the likes of Oldham and Charlton, Etheridge is ready for another first as he prepares for his Premier League debut.
Etheridge was a key component for Warnock's promotion winners and he's hopeful his climb to the summit of the English game will play a role in boosting the popularity of football in the Philippines, where basketball is the sport of choice.
"The Philippines is not a footballing country, and that is what it is unfortunately, but there have been a lot of people there who have done a lot of work to help me and support me and there has been a great response," he said of the reaction to his impending Premier League debut.
"The Premier League is a massive league to play in and so it's obviously going to have a positive effect and hopefully I can help improve the game's status in the Philippines. What I hope is that we'll see more young kids wanting to play for the national team."
Survival will be the order of the day for Cardiff this season after they secured promotion on the final day of last season with a second place finish in the Championship behind Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Saturday's opponents Bournemouth serve as the perfect example of what can be achieved by teams who are able to establish themselves in the division after promotion.
"The Premier League is the Premier League," said Etheridge. "I had my first season in the Championship last year and you look around and you think: 'There's no easy games here.' But you get to the Premier League and you think: 'There's definitely no easy games here!'
"Bournemouth's a nice game to start with. They've been in the Premier League for a few years now and are a good example to follow, but we're looking to get points on the board, of course.
"There's no doubt about it, our objective this season is survival and staying in the Premier League to secure ourselves for next season and for any team that's come up from the Championship, every single team will be looking to do the same.
"It will be a good game, we're away from home and then we're back to face Newcastle United at the Cardiff City Stadium so it's very interesting times ahead."
The meeting with Rafael Benitez's side on the second Saturday of the campaign could see Etheridge face off against two fellow Asian players Yoshinori Muto, of Japan, and South Korea's Ki Sung-Yueng.
"The Premier League has so many different nationalities in it," he said. "It's crazy and it's fantastic for football all around the world to be honest. It's a great level to be playing at. It's the most watched league in the world, so to have the opportunity to play and be involved at this level is fantastic for me and I'm looking forward to the season."