Check out my interview with 36-year-old Montserrat international Junior Mendes about his younger days, retirement, the national team and much more…
1) It’s fair to say you’ve enjoyed quite a nomadic career having played for 16 sides, all of which British. What has been your favourite club to work with and why?
I’ve enjoyed playing for every single one. Each club has there own unique history and heritage. When I was a youngster the thought of playing for any of these clubs would have been a dream come true. I just wanted to be a footballer and thankfully I got the chance. I also met a lot of great people along the way so I feel very lucky.
2) You were based at Chelsea for one season back in 1995/96. What was that experience like?
I was at Chelsea from the age of 13 to 20. I came up through the ranks and got my pro contract under Glenn Hoddle. I had the privilege to play with some fine players which I earned as I worked very hard to be a part of a club like that for 6-7 years. I got great coaching there and I believe this paved the way for a 15-16 year career in professional football.
3) You appeared to enjoy a fruitful four-year spell at St Mirren (see below) where you clocked up 120 appearances and clinched the Scottish First Division in the 1999/2000 season. That was your first piece of silverware as a player. How good a feeling was that?
There was highs and lows at St Mirren. When I first went there I was in and out until a new manager came in called Tom Hendrie who played me all the time which gave me stability along with a few other players. That season we didn’t look back and won the league. We were also worthy winners in my opinion. We scored a lot of goals and played attractive and entertaining football.
4) And you’re still playing now at the age of 36, for Nairn County in the Highland Football League. How long do you think you’ll continue playing the game before you contemplate hanging up your boots?
I’ll play for as long as I can. I’m now a qualified personal trainer and I’m also studying sport science. I know exactly how to look after my body from knowing exactly how it works and what it needs. You’d be surprised, even after 20 years in football there was a lot I didn’t know. I could have been playing at a higher level in the UK over the last few years if I knew then what I know now.
5) You’ve endured five loan spells in your career at Carlisle, Northampton, Grimsby, Lincoln and Stevenage (see below). How was it mentally for you being shipped out to all these different places and were any of them useful in your development?
Going out on loan is a god send to players most of the time. They either had dispute with the management or they’re just not playing at their parent clubs. So going out on loan is great because you get to play in competitive games instead of playing reserve team football. It suits all parties. I enjoyed it and I got to meet new people and encounter different management styles and how fans differ from club to club.
6) You’re a striker. What do you feel is the most important asset to have to play in this position?
Confidence! If your confidence levels are low you might as well forget it. As a striker you need as much support from colleagues and management as you can get to get you through the bad times. If you’ve never been a striker you’ll never really understand just how much of a help that extra support has on confidence levels.
7) Now, you were born in England but qualify for Montserrat through your heritage. Was it a difficult decision to opt for the Emerald Boys?
No not at all. England never came knocking. There was a chance when I was younger while I was at Chelsea and I came very close to playing for them. I am very proud to play for Montserrat. The reason is because I’m very close to my dad and I know how proud he is that I play and captain them. That will do for me.
8) What’s your view on players being eligible to feature for countries not because they were born there but because of their heritage, like in your case? Some say it prevents youth development and home-grown talent? But others say it’s a positive route to go down?
I think it is important that any nation should play their best players. It creates competition for places and raises standards. While I was at Chelsea I was a better player than I’ve ever been as I was around world class players. There is no other option than to learn from them and improve.
9) 2004 was when you made your international debut when Ruel Fox (see below) and Scott Cooper were in charge. How important were the duo in trying to get the sport in Montserrat on the map?
I’m not sure what they did in respects to this. but they did draft me and Tes Bramble in. I know they had aspirations of getting more prestigious names to the squad too. But that never materialised. This is something I dream of because we have good players out there. They just need to know what could be achieved if they joined the squad.
10) In December last year, BBC World Service released an episode on the state of the Montserrat FA and talked to Fox and Cooper about how they had been paid nothing for their efforts. How do you think this is affecting things?
Well one thing I do know is that it will put off potentially good football people coming over and having dealings with the region. But other than that I don’t really know the ins and outs of the situation so I wouldn’t like to comment any further.
11) The island was hit with a huge volcanic eruption in the 1990s (see below) in which 19 people were killed. This understandably had a sufficient impact on Montserrat (including the sport), do you think this has stagnated or revitalised football on the island?
Well a lot of families moved over to the UK. So in a way it might have helped the standard of football in the long run. The reason is because the youngsters that are now in the UK will get a higher level of coaching and also face a higher level of competition every day and week which they wouldn’t get back in Montserrat.
12) You were called up to the national team’s squad for the 2012 Caribbean Cup qualification round (see below) but unfortunately Montserrat finished 3rd in Group C and therefore didn’t progress to the tournament. What went wrong?
We just didn’t have a strong enough squad. The squad lacked depth. Especially in the goal keeping department. We had our keeper sent off in two matches and didn’t have replacements. So we struggled from that point of view.
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13) Despite that disappointment, Montserrat achieved their highest ever FIFA Ranking (174) in December 2012, 10 players from the current squad are 25 or under and the island’s supporters are right behind the team. Is there is some hope for the future?
There is definitely hope for the future. There are some good players coming through and our last tournament gave me a real sense of optimism for the future. With a few more additions coupled with the players that are already happy to be on board marks exciting times ahead.
14) Obviously the World Cup is a very ambitious but not impossible target. But what would you say is Montserrat’s next aim? What are the management staff and players working towards?
We are working towards climbing the FIFA world rankings, taking each game as it comes. It is a cliche but we’re just trying to take small steps. We can do well no doubt. Once we start climbing the rankings then the guys in the higher leagues in the UK will hopefully want to be a part of what we’re trying to achieve.
15) How does international football compare to club football? Does the intensity, tactics or structure differ?
There isn’t much difference. Internationally, they are all good players and all very organised. In my club football I win a lot more. But this will change I’m sure.
16) What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself going into management or even contributing to football in Montserrat in any way?
I would love to help Montserrat progress. I have plans of exactly what I’d do and how we could achieve this. I have no doubt that I can make a big contribution. I’m just helping now and I’m very proud to help too.
17) And finally, where do you think the game in the Caribbean is heading? What improvements are there to make to ensure a sustainable and beneficial future?
Well I think a sound structure from grass roots all the up to 1st team level. There needs to be a higher level of coaches on the islands teaching the kids; which I know they are addressing now.
Thanks for your time, Junior.
By Nathan Carr