In the opening weeks of the new BetVictor Isthmian League Premier Division season, Merstham have sampled a touch of everything, results-wise. You can find the Moatsiders in 13th after their opening half-dozen league fixtures, but looking up with optimism.
Back in June, the club appointed former Tooting & Mitcham United boss Frank Wilson as their new manager, with the former Kingstonian coach earmarked as someone to maximise the potential of their youth programme. His faith in summer signing EJ Mensah’s credentials has seen the 19-year-old central defender become a mainstay so far in 2019/20. Here’s the lowdown on the one-time Barnet and Braintree Town youngster, from the man himself…
You’ve been at other clubs before but is this season the first sustained run of senior football you’ve had?
I had it at Hitchin last year for a couple of games but this has been quite a few; I think it’s been seven games. So this has been the first proper run of games.
How has your body adapted so far, has it been easy to take to?
Yeah, that’s been a major thing, I’ve had to do stuff like yoga outside of it, just to make sure I’m fine, because I don’t want any injuries. I’m trying to play as many games as I can.
How did signing for Merstham come about?
Renaldo (Sutherland), my agent, called me and asked if I wanted to go down. I trained, I played a match, and I spoke to Frank and he said he wanted me to stay on for longer. I then played a friendly before the first game of the season against Staines. I played well and then basically I started the first game of the season.
What’s Frank been like to work with, is he a calm kind of coach? Will he have a go sometimes when it’s needed?
Frank’s a good coach. He gives young players a chance, which is good. He trusts in us. He’s more of a calm coach, he doesn’t scream or shout, he gets his point across in a calmer way.
When it came to signing, in training etc. has he said what he specifically sees in you, or how he thinks he can develop you?
He’s told me what he thinks my qualities are and what he thinks I’m going to bring to the team. He told me if I play games I can go higher, and I agreed obviously, because the more games you play at a decent level, especially at a younger age, you can always move on to a higher level.
With (former Fulham forward) Barry Hayles at the club (as assistant), even though he’s been an attacking player through the years, does he work a lot with you as defenders as well?
Yeah, you can tell his experience tactically when it comes to stuff. He’s always seeing stuff before we do.
Does he join in with sessions as an extra player? Will he still try and knock it past you lot and beat you for pace?!
He’s always joining in, and he hasn’t lost it; he’s still better than most of us. He doesn’t rely on his pace, but his technical ability’s there, so he doesn’t need it.
For characters in the dressing room, has anyone stood out so far? Any jokers?
The dressing room’s good. It’s quite a young team so the chemistry’s good in the dressing room. It’s a new team as well, so everyone bonded quicker than I thought. It’s looking good going forward. I feel like everyone’s got some banter and everyone knows when it’s time to be serious and get everyone going. I feel as well like that’s why we’re going to do well, because it’s a good mix, and everyone knows when it’s time to get the job done.
Have you had to sing as a new player, or did you dodge that one?
No, I dodged that one, because everyone was quite new at the time, but I reckon anyone else now that’s new is gonna have to do it!
Which track or artist would you have done, if you had to step up?
I was thinking about that, but I’ve never had to do it, so I’m not sure. I might sing Ed Sheeran or Adele; that kind of artist.
How would you describe your personality, for anyone who doesn’t know you?
I’d say I’m lively. I’d say I know when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to joke. I’d say I’m very laid-back, I’m friendly with anyone, easy to talk to. I’ll always talk to new players, because I know what it’s like to be a new player, so I try and make everyone feel welcome.
Whereabouts have you grown up and what sort of background have you had?
I grew up in Bow, Tower Hamlets. I’ve had a good background, my mum had me playing football early, so I’ve been playing since I was five. My mum took me to the local team in Victoria Park, Westward Boys, and I’ve never stopped playing since.
When you’re not playing or at training, what fills your time? Any other interests?
I’d say gym, because I’m trying to get bigger! Because I’m a centre-back, I wanna get bigger, so I’m in the gym a lot recently. Other than that, just relaxing, PlayStation maybe.
Finally, back to Merstham, in terms of ambitions as a team this season, what feels achievable?
I think we’re gonna take it each game at a time. We know we can do well, we know we’re good enough, and we’ve shown we’re good enough so far. I think we’re gonna take it each game at a time and see what happens really. The sky’s the limit, so we’re just gonna try and win as many games as we can.
Interview by @chris_brookes