In March, Ria Percival made her 150th appearance for the Football Ferns, making her the most capped international player in New Zealand football's history. Michael Burgess details her journey from Lynn Avon to Tottenham Hotspur.
Ria Percival had so many shirts laid out they covered the large dining table, and half of her living room floor.
Clubs from Canada, United States, Switzerland, Germany and England, as well as Football Ferns' tops across 15 years and various international opponents.
Sitting in her North Shore family home, during a rare extended period in this country, Percival reflected on a remarkable career.
The kaleidoscope of colours and crests represented that journey, from a nervous 16-year-old making her Ferns debut in 2006 to the celebrated 150th cap in March.
Her club career now encompasses more than 13 years overseas, from her first semi-professional deal at F.C. Indiana (USA) to her current spot at Tottenham Hotspur Women.
"It was a big reflection for me," Percival tells the Herald. "I do a collection of all my club shirts, or the World Cups I have been to. Having them all out on the table I could reflect on where I started to where I am now."
"Football has allowed me to visit so many countries around the world but to also build as a player and a professional. You need to make the most of it because once you finish and don't play anymore it's not the same."
Whether by circumstances, or uncanny timing, Percival has had the knack of being in the right place at the right moment.
As a precocious youngster who had emigrated from England with her family, Percival became eligible for the Ferns in 2006, the same year that Australia joined the Asia Football Confederation, offering New Zealand women's teams a golden ticket to major tournaments.
Percival later spent five seasons in Germany, at a time when the women's Bundesliga was the strongest female league in Europe and was part of the Frankfurt team that reached the women's Champion's League final in 2012.
After two years in Switzerland, Percival linked with West Ham ahead of the 2018-19 season, with the Women's Super League on the crest of a wave, and played in a women's FA Cup final at Wembley.
Percival is now at Spurs, a club on the rise that has recently concluded a loan deal with Alex Morgan, one of the biggest names in the United States team. And to sweeten the deal, Percival, who grew up in east London, is a lifelong Tottenham fan.
"It's brilliant for me," says Percival. "A lot of my family support the club; I've supported the club since I don't know how old, so I jumped at the chance to come here and I am so happy that I did. It made my family proud and it's great to be able to represent such a massive club."
The women's team is steadily gaining in profile, and Percival hopes they can build on the relationship with the men's side of the club, where the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli are global household names.
'We train on the same grounds once a week, so we see them around and see their managers. They always wave out and say hi so that's nice," says Percival.
"Now with the women's game growing they will look to do more with both teams together. We are going the right way as a club to kind of be both the same and have more of an interaction."
For her part, Percival would welcome the chance to pick the brains of Kane, a Spurs icon as a local boy made good.
"You look at them as players and Kane especially brings so much, on and off the pitch and leaderships skills," says Percival. "For me now, being older, I'm looking to be more of a leader on the pitch so to interact and get their knowledge would be a cool experience."
There is a long way to go, but significant steps have been made. The recent release of Spurs' alternative third strip reflected this, with Percival chosen as one of five females (along with a group of male players) to model the yellow uniform.
There is increasing coverage of the WSL on the BBC and in newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph and more television time.
There were some impressive attendances last season, with a WSL record crowd of 38, 262 attracted to the North London derby last November. Clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have invested heavily, while Spurs are not far behind.
Notwithstanding the Covid-19 inflicted turmoil on the sporting world, it is hoped that the growth of the league (now 12 teams) leads to more financial stability.
The emerging women's game has often struggled in comparison with their male counterparts, though there has been encouraging signs, especially with the success of the 2019 FIFA Women's' World Cup in France.
"It's getting there, and they have really pushed money in this league and that is why you have so many of the top female players coming over here," says Percival. "It will gain more, with the more quality football that we show that can get seen."
"There's now an app to watch all the games on, which will get many more followers into the league. That will grow the numbers and hopefully the financial stability in the future."
The precarious nature of the women's game was illustrated in late May, when the WSL's 2019-20 season was cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was bizarre," recalls Percival. "I had been with the national team right before that and we were meant to play an FA Cup game at Arsenal.
It all happened within the space of two days and the unknown was the worst part. We had a meeting at training and then everything was shut down. It was a pretty tough one to take really."
But the silver lining was an unexpected trip home.
After spending the quarantine period living in a 'granny flat' in the front garden of her parents place - "that was the hardest part – not being able to hug my family" - Percival then enjoyed the novelty of more than two months at home.
"I haven't been back there for more than a few weeks since I was at school," says Percival.
"The time was what I needed, and it helped me to come back in and really focus on my football."
It was also a chance to contemplate her remarkable journey. After emigrating to New Zealand at the age of 14, Percival soon found himself in the Lynn Avon senior team.
"I started off with boys but I kind of got kicked out of there," says Percival. "They said that I was too good. I went straight into the women's team. Looking back now that has helped me mature so quickly."
She made her Ferns debut against China in November 2006, before being picked for the following year's World Cup.
"It's quite emotional for me," says Percival. "If I look back to when I moved to New Zealand, having citizenship by the age of 16 and playing in my first World Cup in 2007 in front of 50,000 people, I still see it as if it happened yesterday because the memories are so clear."
Thirteen years on Percival remains one of the first picked, and in March became the first Kiwi to reach 150 internationals.
"It's been tough at times," says Percival. "When I first joined the national team and we would play America, Japan and other top teams and it used to be a battering if I am honest."
"So it has been a struggle but I also look where we started compared to where we are now, we are pushing more on the world stage to prove ourselves."
New Zealand achieved some notable results during the last decade but consistently underachieved at major tournaments.
"If you look back at World Cups and Olympics it's a frustration that we have never been able to get the points or get as far as we needed to go through groups," admits Percival.
"Obviously being at four World Cups and it's always the same disappointment…you look at how much more can you take I suppose."
"But with the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand I am already excited. It will be great to see where it will take the game and hopefully it will help us build our leagues in New Zealand and Australia.
Ferns coach Tom Sermanni says the WSL is the ideal environment for one of his most important players.
"The best in the world are heading there and the profile of the league is as high as it's ever been," says Sermanni. "It's probably the best league in Europe. And Spurs are a good fit, as a competitive mid-level team."
The rapid growth of the WSL has meant an obvious disparity between certain squads and some one-sided score lines.
"You don't want to be with the have nots," says Sermanni. "And if you are with the really big clubs it might be harder to get 90 minutes every week."
Sermanni, who has coached Percival for the last two years in his Ferns role, identifies three key attributes of the New Zealand veteran.
"She is the consummate professional in terms of how she approaches things on and off the field," says Sermanni. "She is also a consistent performer – she knows her role and does it well. And Ria is a great role model for players who are coming through."
Sermanni expects Percival to remain a key player over the next few years, as long as she can still compete physically.
For her part Percival already has some post-football ideas; she is hoping to start coaching at the Spurs academy this season, while working with children with disabilities has "always been a passion".
But for now, there is still more to achieve with club and country. Spurs started the season with a draw with West Ham, before a 0-1 loss at Everton and next face an FA Cup quarter final with Arsenal (September 27 NZT). The Ferns' schedule is less certain, though the Olympics next year are an obvious goal.
"I haven't really put a time on my career," says Percival. "I see it personally as however long my body will last. Right now I'm probably feeling in the best shape I have felt in a long time, which is kinda weird considering I recently hit the 30 mark."
"As long as I am enjoying it, getting as much out of it and embracing it, then I will keep going and see what my future brings."