“I KNOW HOW VALUABLE TRUST IS; WHEN I WAS YOUNGER NO CLUB WAS WILLING TO TAKE A GAMBLE ON ME. THEY DIDN’T RECOGNISE MY POTENTIAL. I’LL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY THAT BRENTFORD HAS GIVEN ME. IT’S IMPORTANT THAT I REPAY THE FAITH THE CLUB HAS SHOWN IN ME.”
(Chris Mepham, March 2018)
It's 22 March 2018 and Wales are cruising to victory over their China Cup hosts. The Dragons are six goals to the good and while Gareth Bale's hat-trick will fill the column inches, back in West London all eyes are on another member of Ryan Giggs' squad.
With 70 minutes on the clock the Fourth Official trots to the sideline. Number four off, number 18 on. Enter the fray, Chris Mepham.
It's a crowning moment in what has been a meteoric rise for The Bees defender. Having begun the 2017/18 campaign with just one professional appearance on his footballing CV, Chris has gone from strength to strength since making his league debut last September - his goal against Sheffield United on Good Friday another milestone to tumble in recent weeks.
BEES sat down with the 20-year-old ahead of the Easter Weekend.
In January you told BEES that "it may be too ambitious to target a full Wales cap this year". Having made your international debut last month, are you surprised by your own rate of progression?
I am a little surprised, to be honest. You’ve always got to have confidence in yourself as a player, but I wasn’t expecting my career to go the way that it has. It’s been a whirlwind couple of months; I’ve broken into the First Team at Brentford, had an Under-21 call-up for Wales then been involved with the senior side last month. It’s a nice reward for all the hard work that’s gone in but yes, it’s definitely taken me by surprise. It’s been a roller-coaster ride.
At what point did you find out that you were in the squad to fly to China?
I made the provisional squad, however I knew that the list of players would be trimmed down. I came in from training at Jersey Road one morning and a few of the lads were clapping me off and smiling - I remember Yoann (Barbet) coming over to congratulate me. I quickly realised that I’d got the call-up. It was a surreal moment and one which I’d been looking forward to.
What were your first impressions of Ryan Giggs as a manager?
Before the provisional squad was announced he’d got in contact with my Agent and the Wales Under-21s Manager, Rob Page, to make it clear that he was in London and wanted to catch up with me. Myself and my Agent met him at the Novotel in Brentford and he sat me down and explained his aims, beliefs and philosophies. He made it clear that I’d be part of his plans moving forward which is obviously very good to hear from someone who’s achieved as much as he has.
Everyone knows what Ryan Giggs was about as a player and although I haven’t seen too much of him as a person, he came across very well during the trip to China. He’s very calm and reserved, but still gets his ideas across and makes it abundantly clear what he expects from his players. He wants to promote youth – to bring younger players up to compete with the more experienced players – which is what you want to hear as a 20-year-old. It’s great to know that he’s not afraid to throw younger players in the deep end if the opportunity presents itself.
Gareth Bale became Wales' all-time leading scorer with his hat-trick against China. What was it like to train alongside him? Did he have any words of advice for you?
It was unbelievable to be in the same squad as Gareth Bale; you can learn so much from him alone, never mind the rest of the players in the group. The way he looks after his body and prepares himself for games and training sessions shows that he does everything in his power to make himself the best footballer he can be. It’s no surprise that he’s one of the best players in the world at the moment – he’s a great inspiration for a lot of the younger Wales players.
I roomed with him during the first night of the tour. I don’t remember too much but it was a really good experience; he must be sick of the sight of me after the amount of times I asked him for signatures - I had a lot of family and friends asking for signed shirts! He’s a great person and still very down to earth and humble despite the fact he’s accomplished so much.
Now that you've had a taste of international football, how keen are you to return to the fold?
Playing against China has given me even more desire to get back there. I only played 20 minutes and, with the team being 6-0 up, the scoreline took the pressure off a little bit! Having a taste of it makes you want it more and more. I look forward to hopefully being called up again in the future.
We heard on the grapevine that Dean Smith has had you practicing the Welsh national anthem in the Jersey Road canteen. Do you know all the words yet?
I’m pretty good at it now! I can’t say I was when I first got called up, but I’ve played quite a few games for the Under-20s and the Under-21s. It’s quite familiar – I normally start very well and get worse towards the end of the anthem!
It's a well-known fact that you caught the eye of some Premier League sides last January. Although the decision was ultimately out of your hands, does your Wales call-up confirm that Brentford is the right club for you at present? You're on a good path, aren't you?
Yes, Brentford is the right place for me at the moment. It’s a place where I’m able to express myself as a footballer. The Head Coach has put a massive amount of trust in me and I can’t thank him enough for that - he’s always made it clear that the onus is on the player in possession of the shirt to keep his place and he’s stuck by that philosophy. It’s been good to get a run of games, but I’ve also experienced what it’s a like to spend some time on the bench. There’s no better feeling then walking out at Griffin Park come three o’clock on a Saturday so when you come out of the side that gives you the hunger to get back into the starting XI. The fact that I’m getting international recognition shows that I’m performing well and I’m in the right environment.
You entered January with only nine professional appearances under your belt; did the interest from elsewhere surprise you somewhat?
The interest in January came as a big shock – I hadn’t experienced anything like that before so it was difficult to remain calm. I was aware that Eddie Howe had been watching some Brentford games but I wasn’t expecting him to have a close eye on myself. The bid that came in made it a hectic Deadline Day, but once it had been rejected it was important for me to get my mind back to where it should be and help this club win games of football.
In a way I was pleased that the bid was rejected and the decision was taken out of my hands. I’d got myself worked up that I was going to have to make the final call and, being quite young, it would’ve been a big decision to make and one that could have changed my life dramatically. I received a phone call that night from the Head Coach and then Phil Giles saying that the bids had been rejected and that I’d be a Brentford player by the end of the Window. It was a big relief for me as it meant that I could focus on getting back out to training the following day with a smile on my face.
With Brentford seeking their fourth successive top-ten finish in the Sky Bet Championship and work on the Club's new stadium underway, it must be an exciting time to be a Bees player...
There’s no shortage of ambition here - the new stadium build shows the direction that the Club is moving in. We’ve had a few top-ten finishes and it’s no surprise given the amount of quality we have in the dressing room and amongst the backroom staff. I definitely think we’re capable of even more but it’s a good starting point and one which we can work from. Hopefully either this year or next year we can push closer to the Play-Offs – I’m sure we’ll get there.
60 seconds with Meps…
Ultimate five-a-side team of players you’ve lined up alongside?
Daniel Bentley; Andreas Bjelland; Joe Allen, Ryan Woods; Gareth Bale
Favourite holiday destination?
Ko Samui, Thailand
If you weren’t a footballer what would you be?
I’d probably be a Gardener. My uncle ran his own gardening business and when he died it got passed down. My family all work full-time elsewhere so we’ve handed the day-to-day running to some close friends.
If you could play any other sport professionally which would you choose?
A team you’d like to play for from any era?
The Manchester United side of the early to mid-2000s, featuring Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand.
John Terry. I was at Chelsea when I was younger and he was very much an idol for anyone trying to make it there – he was a real inspiration.
What would your last meal be…
My mum’s lasagne
Describe your perfect day off…
Wake up, go for a coffee, go home and watch TV, go out and see my mates – possibly for a Nandos – then return home and chill with my family.
On the box…
I like Peaky Blinders, that’s probably my all-time favourite show, but if I’m at home I usually end up watching The Only Way is Essex with my mum and sister.
The Godfather – my dad introduced it to me a while ago and I’ve watched it a couple of times since.
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