As we sit down and take a breath after what has been a defining 2018/19 campaign both domestically and for Sparta Goalkeeping, we turn our attention to the transfer window and the excitement it conjures prior to a new season.
Sparta have wasted no time in securing their first signing of the post-season and have welcomed Whitehawk’s twenty four year-old ‘stopper, Melvin Minter on board. Our resident journo, Stephen Linsley, caught up with the new recruit on representing his country, his time in the professional game and his starring role in an innovative footballing talent platform.
Q: Welcome to Team Sparta, Melvin. There seems to be a myriad of reasons why many choose goalkeeping, more than anywhere else on the pitch. What’s your story?
A: Since I started playing football at the age of six or seven when my Gran introduced it to me, I was always a goalkeeper, for me it was never anything else. From there I played junior football and 11-a-side for Interwood in Walthamstow, North East London, a club where quite a few players have gone onto the professional game. Where we played was just a stone’s throw away from Arsenal’s training ground and you’re sort of in awe at that. It really made me want to focus on becoming a professional footballer.
Q: It wasn’t too long before you were signed by a professional club, was it?
A: No, when I was doing my GSCEs at fifteen I was scouted by Oxford United, who at the time were in League Two. I got an extended schoolboy scholarship and I did pretty well for the under 18’s before training with the first team for a while. Obviously being a London boy, I wasn’t quite used to the travel and being away from my family and friends for a long period of time. I got released a year after but it was a fantastic experience for me and I learned a lot. I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason, even difficult moments like this.
Q: How did you bounce back from that?
A: I bounced back straight away. A lot of people I knew in the professional game said it would be really beneficial for me to learn my trade in non-league. I went straight from Oxford to Hayes and Yeading in the Conference. I was doing really well for the reserves and I actually represented England Schoolboys at Under 19 level and played three games in a tournament in Italy. That was incredible to represent my country and it opened doors for a lot of lads there to get trials at Football League Clubs, although pretty much all of them are playing non-league now. I myself got signed by Brentford after that to join up with the Under 21’s.
Q: Brentford at the time had a coveted youth set up, tell me about your experience there?
A: At the time it was a big step up for me, as you say the youth set up was great and a different world to non-league. I thought I coped with it well and got invited to train with the first team who were going for promotion to The Championship. David Button, Richard Lee and Jack Bonham were all there and I was always keen to learn from them. After the club got promoted they told me that I wasn’t ready for the first team, which was mentally really hard to take. They restructured the youth set up straight after that and got rid of all the youth teams, replacing them with a B-team. In hindsight maybe that was a factor.
Q: Again, how do you deal with that and still pursue a career in football after that disappointment?
A: That one for me was a big shock. I think at the time I was immature and just assumed that I would get another club. I had trials at AFC Wimbledon, Barnet but they didn’t work out. I signed for Canvey Island initially but for six months I was still in that bubble of thinking I was going to easily find a club. A couple of agents gave me false promises about this club and that club wanting to take you on but nothing ever materialising. They were just out to take advantage. Eventually, I had to face up to things, try to find a balance with football and life. I had a friend who was teaching so I had the opportunity to go and assist with some PE lessons, which gave me the flexibility to keep my body fresh and the time to train. Things have gone well for me in since non-league. Last season I won Player of the Year for Harrow Borough and have enjoyed a decent season on a personal level with Whitehawk.
Q: You are playing quite an important role in ‘Rising Ballers’, a platform for young players to showcase their skills. How does the organisation work and the role you play?
Rising Ballers (https://www.risingballers.co.uk) is a project for unsigned footballers based in London by utilising social media and building networks with scouts and give young talent the opportunity to move forward who may have otherwise slipped through the net. We have an academy for youth players, a woman’s team and an 11 aside team called Rising Ballers FC for unsigned talent from 18 upwards. I’m the captain of the team and we play 11-aside games against non-league teams. The clips of games and personal profiles are uploaded to social media. It’s a completely new way of giving them exposure to people in the professional game. We’ve had some great success; we’ve had a young guy Darren Johnson who has signed a youth contract with Chelsea and a few have successfully moved onto to clubs like Preston and Colchester. We have signed a deal with Nike, which is great and gives us that authenticity and professional feel. There are some exciting plans going forward which I can’t really reveal, so you’ll have to wait and see.
Q: Lastly (and most importantly) how did you get involved with Sparta and what’s your glove of choice?
Chris Stygal got in touch with me at the start of last season and that was where the contact started. I knew a couple of people who wore the gloves and through the season they were getting great feedback. A lot of ‘keepers I know, particularly in the women’s game (from Rising Ballers). I continued getting recommendations for the gloves and it seemed like they wanted to achieve big things, something I wanted to be a part of. So I got back in contact with the team towards the end of the season and ever since I’ve been wearing the all-white Taugetus. The fit, comfort and flexibility to them give a different dynamic to other gloves.
Melvin has not given up on a return to the professional game and at the age of twenty-four there is still time for the Whitehawk ‘keeper to climb up the footballing ladder. Who knows, in the not-to-distant future, we may see him sporting a pair of Sparta GK gloves at an EFL ground near you.
Irrespective of his career as a footballer, one thing is for certain, Melvin Minter is playing an important role in the future of English-based talent and giving youngsters a second chance at a life in the professional game, through innovative means. This could change the face of scouting for years to come and we are excited to have partnered with Melvin to see what this and his own future in football will bring.