A born-and-bred Londoner, he celebrates the cultural diversity of the city and enjoys keeping the women of south west London on their toes on the football pitch.
Where were you born and brought up?
‘I lived in Hackney, east London, until I was 16, then signed for Southend United when I left school in 1990. From the age of 11 football was all I could think about and I remember staring out of the window daydreaming, just waiting for the next game or training session.
‘Football took over the academic side. I joined Tottenham Hotspur as a schoolboy when I was 12 and was there for four years. I had two spells at Southend, and played for Leyton Orient from 1996-1999, which meant returning to London. I didn’t necessarily want to be a goalkeeper but after about five minutes in my first game on Hackney Marshes the keeper got injured so I ended up in goal.’
What do you love about London?
‘I love the green spaces and the fact that there are so many nationalities and different cultures, with really nice people. When I played for Blackpool United from 1993-1996, people there weren’t quite as tolerant as people in London, although they were hospitable. I missed the different cuisines – and London girls, who are the best-looking in the country!’
What do you do when you have time off?
‘I love the museums and parks and the fact that whatever you want to do, you can do. I used to go clubbing but am too old now! I enjoy food – my twin brother is a trained chef and we often cook and eat together. There’s also a social side to the football sessions – I go out with the girls for a meal or coffee and cake! Cakeboy in Battersea is a favourite for that.’
Where do you like to eat out?
‘I live in Hackney, close to Stoke Newington, Islington and Highbury, which has a good mix of ethnic restaurants, reflecting the area’s population. Lots of Indian and Vietnamese – I particularly like Vietnamese food. One of my favourite restaurants is Bellevue Rendezvous in Trinity Road, Wandsworth – very good brasserie-style French food at a great price, run by a Frenchwoman and her husband, so very authentic.’
Is it true that you train Yummy Mummies on Wandsworth Common?
‘I had to stop playing football professionally about five years ago, after I had a complex break in my leg. I was helping a couple of friends set up children’s football classes on Wandsworth Common when some of the mums asked if I’d consider training them. It all went from there, and I now do one-hour drop-in sessions, plus personal training for men and women.’
Aren’t the women a bit namby pamby?
‘Not at all! They’re actually very competitive and we have a bit of banter. It has to be fun! There’s quite a wide range of ages and abilities but the best thing is that they notice their body shape and fitness levels changing after a few months. I include different exercises for a whole body workout, although when you coach people you have to gauge each session to how everyone’s feeling – sometimes I push them quite hard, but on other days it’s a bit easier.
‘Individuals can push themselves at different rates, working to their maximum without being self-conscious. There’s lots of running around and passing the ball in pairs or groups. It’s very satisfying for me to see someone improving and becoming much fitter and stronger while enjoying the sessions too. One woman was 39 when she started, turned up in jeans, wasn’t fit at all and has since run Fit for Life twice.’
To find out about Mel’s football training sessions on Wandsworth Common, or personal one-to-one training, contact him on: 07930 272 572.