Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri made his Premier League debut at the age of 15 against Brentford at the Gtech Community Stadium earlier this season.
Ethan Pinnock was four years older than that when he became a centre-back at Non-League Dulwich Hamlet, which makes the defender’s rise to the top tier so impressive.
"I became a centre-back quite late on, probably when I was about 19,” Pinnock reveals.
“It was actually accidental! I had a pre-season game at Dulwich and one of the centre-backs was injured. For that game, I ended up playing as a centre-back, I did well there, and then I just carried on playing in that position.
“It was difficult to transition because, initially, you're not really sure where you're meant to be positioned on the pitch when the ball is in certain areas.
“But, luckily, one of my centre-back partners at Dulwich had played about 500 league games. They were older, experienced guys, and they would always help and talk me through games.”
Pinnock continues: “I had a growth spurt when I was about 16, just over the summer - it was good few inches over a few months. It took me a while to figure out my body through that.
“I started off as a left-winger, then got moved to left-back, then played as a centre-midfielder, and then eventually dropped to centre-back.
"Now I look back and think that it probably helps knowing and being aware of what's required of players in other positions - I think that has helped my game.”
His journey to becoming Dulwich Hamlet captain and eventually their defensive rock wasn’t an easy one.
Pinnock joined Millwall at the age of nine and was released when he was 15. He was told he lacked physicality by the now-Championship side, something which, for a player nicknamed ‘the Mountain’, is surprising, to say the least.
Pinnock explains: “Millwall wanted a meeting, so my dad went for a talk with some of the coaches - I was coming back from school so I didn’t go.
“He got home and said that they felt like they wanted me to improve my aggression, my physicality, and things like that. They said that I had until the end of the season to improve.
“To be honest, I wasn't really enjoying my last season there. I wasn't really involved in the games at the weekend, I wasn't really enjoying my time, so we kind of agreed to just knock it on the head.
“Obviously it was difficult, but I kind of knew it was coming, it wasn't like it came out of nowhere. I just wanted to start enjoying my football again.
“After getting released I then joined Fisher Athletic at under-16s. They were a Non-League club but I knew a couple of the boys that played there, I was familiar with them, and I then really started enjoyed my football again.
“After there, I joined AFC Wimbledon. I was there for a year in the youth team and then, after a season, I joined Dulwich Hamlet.”
Pinnock was quickly involved in the Dulwich first team, making 15 appearances for the Isthmian League Division One South in 2010/11 as a 17-year-old.
After struggling with the physical side of the game as a youngster, the defender admits it was playing in Non-League that helped him become the solid central defender that Brentford fans know and love today.
“I was quite tall, but I wasn’t a physical kind of player, I hadn't fully grown into my body. Playing at that level was an eye opener,” Pinnock says.
“Initially, I joined Dulwich as a second-year scholar, a youth-team player, but I was training with the first team and getting more involved with them.
“The transition was quite a big one. In Non-League, it's a lot more physical contact. You have a lot less time on the ball and you need to protect yourself.”
When asked what he learnt from Non-League that he might not have got from coming through a Premier League academy, he adds: “Players aren’t getting paid loads; they’re playing for their families.
“It meant a lot to the players I was playing with and against, so everyone had that tenacity and that physical edge - every game meant something. I had to match that physicality.
“Whereas, coming through an academy, you're playing in an academy league where the points don’t really mean much. Playing in Non-League really means something.
"Things like time keeping, too, giving yourself enough time to prepare before training, making sure you've got everything you need - they’re all things I still do now.
“That all came from the management team that were there at the time. [Former Dulwich manager] Gavin Rose wanted to run the club in a really professional manner and make sure that the players were doing things that players would be doing at professional clubs.”
One thing that players at professional clubs wouldn’t have necessarily been doing is a university degree alongside their football career, which is something that Pinnock was focusing on throughout his time at Dulwich.
He was studying physical education and sport at Greenwich University as a back-up career if things as a footballer didn’t work out.
Pinnock says: "I literally finished my degree the summer before I joined Forest Green. I was working at a sports coaching company as well, going into different schools coaching.
“I was juggling everything because, in football, you never know what can happen, it was always important to have another route if things didn't work out.”
When asked if he still lived the stereotypical university lifestyle, he adds: “Not really. I was still at Dulwich so I didn’t really let loose like a lot of uni students do.
“There were obviously certain events that people were hosting but I was never really a party animal, I've always been more laid back and chilled out, so I didn’t have to worry about any bad influences.
“I still had a good time, maybe a few bits of work were handed in just before the deadline! But I still managed to get everything done and ended up with a good degree.”
An eventful couple of summers followed for Pinnock. He graduated from university with a 2:1 in 2015, before making his move up the Non-League ladder, signing for National League side Forest Green a year later.
After six years at Dulwich, the then-23-year-old felt it was a good time to leave the Hamlet and make the next step in his career, which saw him sign his first professional contract.
Pinnock explains: "I was at Dulwich a long time. I was playing regularly, I was their captain and I had reached a really consistent level for a couple of years. I wanted a new challenge, I wanted to progress, and I wanted to test myself at a higher level.
“I think I coped with it [the move to Forest Green] quite well. Obviously the first few weeks of full-time training was different for my body because I wasn’t used to the everyday sessions - I was sore for the first couple of weeks of pre-season!
“But once I kind of got into the rhythm of it and got used to it, I think I adapted well. I had a really good manager there, Mark Cooper, who trusted me from the beginning and, from the first game, I just kept up that level of consistency.
“We had a really good side there and managed to do really well.”
Pinnock helped the Gloucestershire-based side to promotion to the EFL for the first time in their history during his one and only season at the club.
Continuing to impress, the centre-back was quickly linked with a transfer higher up the pyramid after a successful campaign in Nailsworth.
Pinnock put pen to paper on a three-year contract with Championship side Barnsley ahead of the 2017/18 season - a move which saw him go up five leagues in just two seasons.
"The main reason why I moved was the league,” he says, “I got promoted into League Two with Forest Green but Barnsley were in the Championship at the time.
“I felt like that would be a really good chance to try and show what I could do at that level. I spoke to the manager there, I liked what he had to say, and I felt like it would be a good move for me.”
Having relocated 170 miles from his home in Gloucestershire and 180 miles from where he grew up in Lambeth to move up to Yorkshire, Pinnock didn’t enjoy the best of starts to life in the EFL.
Barnsley suffered relegation to League One, which was compounded by the fact he only played 15 times for the Tykes in all competitions.
“Difficult” is the word Pinnock uses to describe that campaign, but emotions couldn’t have been much different 12 months later.
Pinnock was awarded the club's Player of the Year award and was named in the PFA and EFL League One Team of the Year, having helped Barnsley to automatic promotion back to the second tier.
“That was an amazing feeling. Obviously, after the disappointment of relegation, as a player you always want to have that bounce-back mentality,” he recalls.
“As soon as we got relegated, I think the goal as a club was always to try and bounce back straight away. It was a really good feeling playing every game in the league and being able to show that I could play at a higher level.
“The season we went down, there were a lot of new faces, so it was kind of a gelling period. Then, when we were in League One, everyone started to know each other’s games a lot better and we blossomed from there.
“[Daniel Stendel] came in and had a style of play that he wanted to play. It was really aggressive and, with the players that we had, I think it worked really well.”
Stendel, Rose and Cooper, along with Bees boss Thomas Frank, are four managers that Pinnock is keen to highlight as key figures in his rise to the Premier League, as they helped to add various different parts to his game.
Before Pinnock had even kicked a ball for Brentford, Frank insisted: "His path in the game has been unusual, and every time he has made the next step he has not only proved himself, but has reached the top at that level.
“We are sure he will step up again in the Championship and do very well."
And it’s safe to say that the Bees head coach has been proved right, with Pinnock now a fully fledged Premier League defender.
When asked why he has consistently impressed at every level he has played at, the 29-year-old pauses to think, before humbly stating: “I just try and take things on board at each level that I play at.
“I try to remember everything that I've learnt at that level and then, each time I have a new manager, I always try and take new things on board.
“When I take new things on board, it’s important not to forget the old and just remember the new - it’s about trying to add layers to my game.
“I've been in some really good teams and, at whatever level I've been at, things have kind of just clicked. It's hard to explain, but it kind of just always works out.”
He adds: “If you're an open book as a player, at any age, you can still learn new things. I've had different learning experience from different managers because of things they’ve learnt as a manager, so you're just trying to take things from everyone.
“You can never reach a level where you say, ‘Alright, that's all I need to know’. I think you always need to be open to learning new things.”
Frank clearly had faith that Pinnock would have the ability to make the difference for the Bees, which was highlighted by the three-year contract offered to him in the summer of 2019. The defender signed a five-year deal just over a year later.
When asked about how he found out about the interest from Brentford, Pinnock recalls: “I was on my summer holiday with the family in Mexico. My agent called me, heard the international dial tone, hung up, and then called me on WhatsApp because he didn’t want to be charged extra!
"He told me about the interest. Obviously I knew about Brentford from when I’d played against them when I was at Barnsley in the Championship. I knew how much of a good side they were on the ball.
“But, defensively, I think that they had areas to improve and I felt like, as a player, I could help the team. I knew that they were a club that had the ingredients to make that next step.
“I wanted to be a part of that project and it meant I could come back to London, close to our families again, so that was another plus as well. To me, it seemed like a really appealing option.”
His first campaign in west London ended with a play-off final defeat to Fulham, but it was a season that saw Pinnock start every league game for the Bees from the end of November onwards, which included 120 minutes at Wembley.
A year later, he was back on the hallowed turf and, as well as celebrating the Bees’ maiden promotion to the Premier League after a 2-0 win over Swansea, Pinnock had another reason to party that day.
He smiles and says: “It was actually my birthday that day, but I didn’t even really celebrate it because it was obviously just a promotion celebration! I had to celebrate it a week or so after.
“But that was an unbelievable feeling: to get promoted to the Premier League on your birthday. Not many players can say that.”
The following term saw Pinnock make his Premier League debut - just eight years after he was playing in the eighth tier of English football.
His first goal in the top flight came soon after, as he scored the opener in Brentford’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the Gtech, which was a moment that really made Pinnock reflect on how far he had come.
He says: “Starting where I started, if you told me when I was at Dulwich at 19/20 years old that I'd be scoring against Liverpool in the Premier League, I wouldn't have believed you - it was a quite surreal feeling.
“All my family were there at the game as well, so it was pretty special.”
From the highs of that goal against Liverpool, as well as wins against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Pinnock during his time with the club.
He missed the final five games of last season with a hamstring problem, before a knee injury picked up in pre-season saw him sidelined for the first nine matches of this campaign.
When asked about how those injuries affected him, Pinnock replies: "No player ever wants to get injured, but there are times that it is going to happen - it's part of being a footballer.
“It was difficult because, as I was coming back from my first injury, I literally got injured in my first session back again. So that was a difficult time.
“But, touch wood, I haven't had too many injuries, so hopefully I can just keep preparing my body to stay in a good place and try and prevent any more”
One person Pinnock leant on during those tough months is his cousin, Nyron Nosworthy - someone who knows exactly what it’s like to be in that position.
Nosworthy, who also played as a centre-back, made 85 appearances in the Premier League for Sunderland between 2005 and 2010, and Pinnock shares that it was great to have a footballing role model so close to home as he was growing up.
"There's quite a big age gap but I’d always see him at family functions and we’d always have a chat about football,” says Pinnock.
“Football's really big in our family and he's one of the oldest cousins, so all of the younger ones saw him play in the Premier League and Championship and it was someone to aspire to be like.
“I always looked up to Nyron and obviously, the fact I became a centre-back as well, I could always pick his brain and learn a few things from him as well.”
Just like his cousin, who made 14 appearances for Jamaica between 2012 and 2014, Pinnock, himself, has represented the Reggae Boyz on five occasions.
This is despite turning out for England C - a side that represents England at Non-League level - during his time at Forest Green.
The game he played for England C (a 2–1 win over Estonia under-23 in November 2016) was alongside now Premier League colleagues Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe.
Lowe is also one of a number of British-based players who are now representing Jamaica alongside Pinnock, who have their sights set on the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted in North America.
Asked how the process which saw him represent Jamaica at international level worked, Pinnock explains: "There was a focus on trying to utilise the talent pool in Jamaica.
“They knew there were a lot of players that were playing in the English leagues that had Jamaican heritage, and they felt like they weren't doing to enough to get in contact with players and talk to them about the possibility of representing the national team.
“They really focused on trying to increase the pool of players, they spoke to a lot of people, and some of us thought it would be a really good opportunity.”
He adds: "Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup didn't go as we'd hoped. Obviously with Covid and stuff, there were a lot of inconsistencies in the squads, so it was difficult to find a rhythm.
“But, hopefully, that's all behind us now and, over the next couple of years, we can consistently pick similar squads and keep getting the top players that are available to play.
“If that happens, I don't see why we can't get a lot more team cohesion and do a lot better heading into the next tournament.
“1998 was the last time Jamaica were at a World Cup and my dad still has the shirt, so it would be incredible to be at the next one.”
That could see Pinnock go from Isthmian League Division One South semi-professional to World Cup player which, just like his significant growth spurt when he was 16, would be one hell of a rise.