Image: TD Place - Atletico Ottawa / Freestyle Photography
Image: TD Place - Atletico Ottawa / Freestyle Photography

Vashon Neufville on life with Atletico Ottawa in the CanPL

It has been a long time since Vashon Neufville turned out for his local club, Edmonton All Stars, as a young player making his first strides in football. Since starting his journey in North London thirteen years ago, Neufville has since graduated from West Ham’s ‘Academy of Football’, featured in an FA Cup giant-killing and completed a trans-Atlantic transfer to the Canadian Premier League.

A tricky left back who looked up to Marcelo during his formative years, Neufville spoke to The Boar about his time at West Ham, his experiences as a youth international, and his transfer to Atletico Ottawa.

Neufville began his youth career at Chelsea, before making the long switch across London to join West Ham’s Chadwell Heath youth academy in 2012. Despite never making an appearance in the Hammers’ first team, Neufville looks back upon his time with West Ham fondly:

It was good, as a young player. I just had a few injuries when I was younger, so it was hard. It was always like a stop-start process, but I just kept going and I appreciate everything West Ham did for me, sure.”

It was one of the biggest things because to be called up for England

– Vashon Neufville

While an academy prospect in east London, Neufville represented England at youth level on nine occasions, playing an integral role in the Under 17’s qualification for the 2016 European Championships. Selected in a squad that also included Jonathan Leko and Reis Nelson among its ranks, Neufville’s time with the national team is unsurprisingly a source of pride for the Ottawa youngster:

It was one of the biggest things because to be called up for England, it just puts in perspective that other people appreciate you, and that you’re seen as one of the best in the country. To be seen as one of the best in your country, for England especially, is very hard; so that was something good.”

England’s U17s faced a daunting task to reach the European Championships in 2016, drawn in the same group as a Portugal squad that had beaten the Young Lions 7-3 in their previous meeting. Along with his debut for England, Neufville’s involvement in a 1-1 draw against Portugal away in Coimbra was a highlight of his time with England: “That was a big game… so, it was good to win in their hometown.”

To win the penalty in that game was something big for me

– Vashon Neufville

With just six months remaining on his contract with West Ham, an opportunity arose for the Londoner to take part in the most famous giant killing of 2019: Newport County’s shock FA Cup victory of Leicester City at Rodney Parade. In the space of a couple of days, Neufville’s life had changed drastically.

Yeh, it was crazy,” Neufville told The Boar, “I think it was a Wednesday, I got the call to say that [Newport’s] manager [Michael Flynn] wanted me to come up. I decided within the day, I said: ‘yeh, I’m gonna go.’

“Then I literally went home, packed and shot-up. They weren’t even expecting me to train on Friday, but I came up because I wanted to get to know the boys and train, then the game was on the Saturday.

“I got pushed straight into the deep end, but it was nice that the manager had faith in me to play me straightaway in such a big game. To win the penalty in that game was something big for me, too.”

Following the expiration of his West Ham contract, Neufville was without a club for the first time in his career last summer. During a period in which some players fall by the wayside, the former England youth international told The Boar how he spent the summer rediscovering his fitness and mulling-over his next move:

“I was released at the end of May, the summer transfer window, so I was looking at other clubs. Then I took a while to myself to make sure that I was fit, because I didn’t think I was as fit as I could be. Then, in February, Atletico Ottawa reached out to me and my family; it just came along, I said: ‘yeh, why not?’ It’s a good chance, I’ve always wanted to travel.”

I just game them a call and asked them what the league was like

– Vashon Neufville

It was in February this year that Neufville’s career became truly unique: after spending a lifetime in English football, it was time to try something new. There are few clubs newer than Atletico Ottawa. Founded earlier this year, Ottleti are the Canadian Premier League’s eighth club, and the newest part of the Atletico Madrid family.

“I have a few friends that are here as well, Jordan Brown [Cavalry FC], Nathan Mavila [Cavalry FC], and then one of my teammates, Malyk Hamilton,” Neufville told The Boar, as he explained his decision to seek pastures new in Canada. “We were all at West Ham together, so when I got the call, I just gave them a call and asked them what the league was like. It was all positive feedback, so it just made everything easier for me.”

A transfer to the Canadian Premier League is eye-catching – the league is in just its second year of existence as Canada prepares for the 2026 World Cup. Regardless, a family feel has already emerged in Canada’s capital:

“It’s a good felling because you get to feel that you’re a part of the Atletico family. Unfortunately, it got cut-short, but we trained at the training ground in Madrid, it was nice!

“And then, even now, just being here in Ottawa without friends, family or anything, the coaches and all of the staff, it’s like we’re just one big family. They check up on me all the time, it’s basically a family.”

We have gym classes with our sports scientists and our gym instructor

– Vashon Neufville

Ottawa’s time preparing for their inaugural season under the Spanish sun was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic. With the world of sport on hold, athletes around the world have been forced into isolation. Life in Ottawa has been no different for the club’s first international recruit.

“It’s been okay, it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be,” Neufville told The Boar, before adding: “I’ve just been staying fit by running, we have gym classes with our sports scientists and our gym instructor, and we just do circuits and he gives us running to do.

“That’s the main thing, staying fit during this time and not getting too bored of doing it. It’s repetitive, as we’re used to running with a football or whatever. Not having a ball at our feet for so long is something different, but we’ve just got to stay active, and hopefully this will be finished soon.”

Some of my old teammates play there, so it’d be good to play against them

– Vashon Neufville

Albeit slowly, lockdown conditions around the world are starting to ease. The Bundesliga became the first major competition to return to the field last weekend, sparking hope that sport could soon return in North America, too.

With the clock approaching 10:00 AM in Ottawa, The Boar had time for just one final question: “Who are you looking forward to playing against this season?” we asked tentatively.

“Forge,” rolled-off the Atletico full back’s tongue instantly. “They won the Canadian Premier League [Regular Season in 2019] and Cavalry, because some of my old teammates play there. It’d be good to play against them and see how they’ve been doing.”

And with that, we parted company. Ahead of their debut season, Atletico Ottawa made a wise decision in recruiting a young Englishman, with FA Cup credentials and a hunger to improve. Neufville, an ambitious defender with plenty left in his tank, might just have found his home in Ottawa. Atletico, we’ll be watching.

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