Sussex born & bred: Mickey Demetriou
In the latest of our Sussex born & bred series we spoke to Durrington born, and current Newport County defender, Mickey Demetriou.
“That (Glenn Hoddle Academy) was a real eye-opener because once again I'm surrounded by players all from professional clubs. 18/19-year-old lads that had been released after their scholarships after being at professional clubs for all their career at that point, then there's me who is just coming from non-league!”
That has been the story for Mickey throughout his career. Every time he’s made a step up or progressed his career, he has been surrounded by players more experienced than him, or that have come from more elite environments than him.
Growing up in Durrington, a neighbourhood to Worthing, Mickey’s idea of playing football, for a long time, didn’t go beyond a kick around with his friends on a Sunday morning.
“My first club was Worthing Dynamos, my older brother Rob, played for them as well. Growing up, my dad, Paul, was actually my manager and coach, when we started out at under-6s. I stayed there until I was 16.
“It was basically just a kick around at the start with a load of friends on a Saturday morning training session and then we played our matches on Sundays, but obviously once it got to 11-a-side it was taken a bit more seriously! I played for my school teams all the way through at Durrington High School and also played county football as well.”
There’s no doubt that Mickey excelled as a player but wasn’t picked up by Brighton or any other local team growing up. He recalls that time fondly and is happy that playing in the park with his mates is what football was for him then.
When he left school, the chance to go to Worthing came calling, the first real eye-opener for Mickey.
“When I stopped at Dynamos I wasn't sure where I would go and then I got invited to Worthing youth team trials in the Summer.
“I thankfully got into that and it then opened doors to me playing county under-18s football and played for England Colleges at that time as well.
“That was a great experience with a lot of travelling; we did a tournament over in Rome which was really good, and they still do it now. My old college manager is now manager of England Colleges as well which is nice to see and I’ve gone over to watch a couple of games when they’ve been local to me where ever i was playing at that point in my career.
“Going into Worthing as a 16-year-old, there were doubts as to whether I should be there. I was surrounded by boys who had been released by academies and Centre of Excellences, Brighton, Portsmouth, and there's me who has come from Sunday football.
“So, for me to go in there, it was obviously a step up and thankfully I managed to play a lot of games in the first year which gave me a lot of confidence going into the following season. We had a good team at under-18s, we did well, and a few of the older lads were getting call ups to the first team as well.
“I didn't make an appearance in my first year but second year I made quite a few for the first team whether that was off the bench or starting.
“I had far less pressure on my shoulders than the other boys. For me it was just another two years of football, if I do well then great, if not then I'll go play somewhere else. I wasn't expected to go in and do well straight away because of where I had come from, but there were boys similar to me as well, however a big chunk came from the more elite environment.
“Our youth team had a lot of lads that came from Brighton academy in it and it definitely was nice not to have that pressure. It was a different second year when those lads had left because I was one of the older lads and there's younger players coming in looking up to you and after having a successful season in my first year then the pressure was there to try and go again and do well and try and get a few appearances for the first team which like i mentioned before i was able to do so.
“We were managed in the youth team by Bob Bantock and Ian Hutchinson, and at the time they were the county schools’ coaches as well. So that was helpful in regard to playing for the county schools. We did well both seasons, making the final in the first year which was played at Stoke City’s stadium which unfortunately lost but then we made up for it in the following year when we made the final once again and thankfully we won it this time which was played at Birmingham City, so all in all a great experience.”
It's also worth noting that at this point Mickey was very much an attacker and had yet to make the conversion to centre-back where he plays now.
“I was always a forward growing up!” Mickey says, smiling at the thought of younger days.
“I've only been a defender for about 10 years now. I was a winger, played up-front, centre-mid. I was left-wing for Worthing when I broke into the first-team and then the manager put me left-back for a game.
“I didn't mind it but at the time would have rather been playing further forward. When I went to Bognor after Worthing, Dabba (Darin Kilpatrick), my college manager who was also at Bognor, put me centre-back for a bit.
“We needed someone to fill in for one game due to injuries and I ended up staying there for the whole season. But I mean I was playing centre-half for Bognor and then playing up front for the college team at the same time which I didn’t mind to much as i was just enjoying playing football.
“Getting into the England Colleges was a big thing for me, I trialled as a centre-half the first year and didn't manage get in and then I trialled as a centre-forward the second year and I did get in. So, they knew I could play both positions which happened a few times in different games we played!”
Mickey played under Alan Pook and Danny Bloor at Worthing, two guys he will always be grateful for having giving him his first experience of 1st team football in his career but the move to Bognor the following season made sense and one that matured him as a player.
“Jamie Howell was the manager at Bognor with Dabba and he said to come over and train. They were playing a higher league at the time. Worthing were what was then called the Ryman South and Bognor were Ryman Premier.
“The progression for me was the chance to make another step up and I really enjoyed my football there. Obviously with Dabba being my manager at college I was able to talk to him a lot more, I saw him every day.
“I had progressed physically in that time; in men's football it's very much sink or swim. I've definitely done it the hard way going from non-league into the pro game.
“As a young man, I had to get to grips with it quite quickly and I feel like I did. In my first season at Bognor, I played every game, and at 19 I think that was a really good achievement.”
No matter the experience or pedigree of other players, Mickey always fitted in despite the Sunday League background he came from. He had to prove himself at Worthing, he matured at Bognor, his next move however, was his biggest test to date.
“What was looking like my 2nd season at Bognor we played a pre-season game against Worthing and Glen Hoddle Academy scouts were there to watch Ben Williamson who was playing up front for Worthing at the time.”
“I had a good game and a couple of weeks later I received a phone call saying they wanted to take a look at me in a a few trial games in the summer along with Ben. I didn't even know at the time they were there to watch Ben so as you can imagine the phone call came at a surprise.”
“I trialled over that summer for four or five weeks with them over at Bisham Abbey where I'd go up there for a couple of days at a time.
“That was a real eye-opener because once again I was surrounded by players all from professional clubs. Where as before at Worthing Under -18’s it was 16/17 year old lads being released from Brighton/Portsmouth youth teams, This time it was 18/19/20 -year-old lads that had been released after their scholarships from top level clubs all around the country, then there's me and Ben at the time who is just coming from non-league pyramid!”
“I was successful in the trial and went over to Spain for seven months, being coached by Glenn himself, Graham Rix, Nigel Spackman, Dave Beasant, coaches from the top level, so that was a privilege.”
“It helped me massively, especially as a centre-half, going in and being taught by those coaches, you could sit there and listen to them all day.
“We played against top level teams while we were over there, whether it was Spanish teams or other teams on tour over in Spain at the time. We were also linked with a Spanish third tier team at the time called Jerez Industrial which was a great experience to be around.”
“It was a hard decision at the time to go there, but also an easy one as well, the hard part was I was moving away from home, my family, my girlfriend which I should probably say is my Wife now and all my friends but i also knew If I'd turned that opportunity down at the time who knows what I'd be doing now.”
Mickey’s link up with the Glenn Hoddle academy wasn’t just about finding a professional or higher up club but also, just to improve him as a player. Especially given the calibre of coaches he was working with.
It definitely opened doors for him though as he was able to make another big step up upon his return.
“When I came back from the Glenn Hoddle Academy I went to Lewes FC for a little bit to train with them and then randomly I got a phone call from Eastbourne Borough. I went up on a Tuesday to train, which, living in Worthing, was a bit of a trek! They offered me the chance to play the rest of the season.
“They had a couple of boys from Brighton-way, Rikki Banks, and Gary Elphick, so I used to jump in with them. It was good to be fair, it obviously didn't end well that season, we were relegated but the jump up in levels was still a learning curve for me.
“I was still only 21, still learning as a footballer and to go and then play in the Conference Premier was a big step for me. I didn't play much at the start, it's always hard to go to a team mid-season because they're mostly always settled.
“So, it wasn't until March-time that I'd made an appearance which was obviously frustrating for me, but I didn't expect it. They had very experienced players and I was a young lad coming through. Fortunately, I got a chance towards the end of the season when relegation was all but confirmed, so he just played me to see if they had a player for the future.”
Mickey takes a lot from the short experience at Borough, and it enabled him to work with and learn from some very experienced players. He was ready to sign for the following season until an incredible offer came in for him.
“One of my first games at Borough was against Kidderminster Harriers, and shortly after the season they invited me up for a trial. They wanted to sign me straight away, so I'd obviously done well!
“It was my first, full-time professional club at 21, and for this it meant it was the first time I'd need to permanently move away from home.
“Similarly, as going to Spain, it was a hard decision but easy, because it's something I love doing, and I had to take the chance of going full-time.
“I was under Steve Burr and Gary Whild, both of whom I still speak to now. They moulded me into a left-back at the time, I really enjoyed playing under them. I aspired of course to play full-time, and they gave me that opportunity so I will be forever thankful.
“It was still a case of biding my time at first; the left back there at the time was the captain and an older pro, Mike Williams his name. He'd been made captain that season, so I knew I was going to have to prove myself.
“The opportunity came in the October of my first season when Mike got injured and I didn't really come out of the team after that for three years. For me, I was quite happy with how my time went there, we did some incredible things on the pitch despite not getting promoted, played some great football.
“The Second Year we came close to getting promoted, one of the many teams in the Conference Premier that have struggled to get out, we finished second on 95 points! I'm not sure how you don't get promoted on 95 points, I've always said it has to be one of the hardest leagues to get out of because only one goes up automatically. We then lost in the Play-Off semi final to Wrexham who then lost to Newport County in the Final that year which at the time I didn’t realise would be very useful for me.”
“The third year we had a few cup runs that were quite nice, went up to Sunderland in The FA Cup Fifth Round, the furthest the club had ever got.
“We went through three managers in that final year, so it was a bit of a whirlwind, but we still did well and finished just outside the play-offs.
Going into that first, full-time environment, must have been a joyous experience for Mickey who quickly started gaining interest.
“After my first six months, I must have done something right because they gave me a new contract, so I reckon someone was sniffing around! I would have had no idea, but I was happy to sign a new deal at Kidderminster and after my second year I was approached by a couple of agencies to be one of their players.
“So, I signed with one of them and I still talk to that agent now, then after my third year at Kidderminster he mentioned that football league clubs were interested.
“I remember going away with England C, which I was lucky to do a few times, and I came back from my final one with my agent ringing saying Shrewsbury are interested.
“I had just landed at Gatwick, planned on going to see the family for a couple of weeks as it was the off season but literally got one day there and had to shoot up to Kidderminster to then drive to Shrewsbury and sign a contract.
“Going into the Football League was something i had always wanted to do and it was a big moment for me at 24, a bit more experienced and to a team that had just been relegated from League One.
“It was a complete rebuild, I think Mickey Mellon brought about 18 players in that year, so for me to be one of those he wanted was a big thing for me.”
Before we go on to Shrewsbury, Mickey’s time with England C is worth mentioning as it is definitely something that can be overlooked in a player’s career. For non-league players it can really open doors and some big names have come through it.
“I loved England C. I was lucky enough to go to Bermuda with them as my first trip for a week. Went to Jordan, Slovakia, Czech Republic, so it was an incredible experience.
“People take to mick out of it a little bit but it's such an amazing opportunity to represent your country, and you only have to look at the players that have come out of it.
“From the team I went to Bermuda with, I think 10 or 11 ended up in the Football League. You had Nors (James Norwood), Sam Clucas, Andre Gray, I was very lucky to play with these lads.
“When we played Czech Republic Under-23s you had Tomas Kalas there who was Chelsea youth team captain at the time, so to play against that calibre of player as well was only going to make you better."
But then came the time for Mickey to make that big decision on his future, and the one to go to Shrewsbury was the natural progression.
“If I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, I could've stayed at Kidderminster for another two years and I did love my time there.
“The people at the club, the fans, it was tough to leave them. The only thing that took me away was the chance to play in the Football League, I would never have left for another Conference team.
“It was tough to adapt to start off with because they were an established side that had just been playing League One football. It was another progression and another step up that I had to adapt to. 18 players were brought in, but these were all League One, League Two even Championship players so I wasn't going to last long if I didn't step up.
“I missed the first game against Wimbledon, but a centre-half got injured in the first round of the cup which allowed me to step in and I think I took my chance well because I played 49 games in all comps that season. I will always remember my Shrewsbury debut. We played Tranmere Rovers and were losing 1-0 going into the last 5 minutes and then everything changed, I managed to get an assist for the equaliser in the 90th minute and then in added time i found my self in the right place at the back post to head in the winner to get us the 3 points.”
It couldn’t have gone any better for Mickey in his first season with Shrewsbury winning promotion from League Two and playing almost every game in the process. The success, however, was about to come crashing down.
“We'd had a great season and I obviously wasn't looking to leave. We'd gone to Marbella for the promotion party, and my phone rang from the Northampton Director of Football, they're in League Two at the time, saying he wanted to sign me.
“I respectfully said I was happy to stay here at Shrewsbury, we’ve just been promoted. He then told me that he'd been told I wasn't going to play. I was thinking well unless I hear that from the club themselves, I'm not going anywhere.
“Shrewsbury then turned down three bids for me from them, so I was thinking well that's great they obviously don't want me to leave. I go back for pre-season then the third day of pre-season, the manager pulls me into the office and says I'm allowed to leave, and I wasn't going to play.
“I didn’t really know what to think and the first thing I said is well why didn't you let me leave earlier in the summer when there were three bids turned down? He just told me they didn't want to sell me then at that point and it killed me really because teams had already settled by this point.
“I was very annoyed at the time but i suppose that's football. I turned down the chance to go on loan at Cambridge initially. I wasn't allowed to play in the friendlies because they wanted me to stay fit.
“I really didn't want to leave, I wanted to fight for my place and test myself at that level. It got to a point where I just gave in because I needed to go and play.
“I then did end up going to Cambridge on loan just before the summer window shut. I spoke to the manager, Richard Money who wanted me to sign permanently but I pushed for the loan to see how I got on first.
“I enjoyed my time there in the end, but it was still frustrating that it was necessary. I played about 20 games, but there was a change of manager who then brought his own loan players in. We had too many loan players to fill a matchday squad and I'm not sure he even realised I was a loan player.
“I was missing out on matchday squads by that point, so I was becoming frustrated. I just thought well I could be doing this back home in Shrewsbury. Thankfully it didn't go on for too long and my loan stint was up. After that I went back to Shrewsbury for the rest of the season because I could at least go and play reserve games.
“Shrewsbury weren't doing very well either so in hindsight I wish I'd stayed in the first place. They got injuries as well so I probably would have got a chance.”
Upon his return, Mickey did eventually get his chance, but a bad injury was to cost him.
“I stayed from January though and literally just trained and played reserve games then eventually I did get a chance against Millwall away.
“Probably one of the hardest fixtures I could have come into! I got an injury in the game, an early one, but played through it as I didn’t realise how bad it was at the time and ended up in goal because Mark Halstead was sent off. I faced a penalty against Lee Gregory, went the right way but didn't save it.
“It put me out for the rest of the season in the end that injury and if I'd stayed fit, I probably would have played the rest of the season. I was unsurprisingly released from Shrewsbury at the end of that season. I felt hard-done-by because I felt a strong connection to the club, I didn't want it to end that way.
“During the summer, I was going in with the physio Chris Skitt still and Mickey Mellon to be fair, told me he wouldn't cut ties and I could stay for pre-season to continue my rehab and to get fit.
“I was thankful for that at the time and after everything that happened we still speak now and have a good relationship on and off the football pitch.’
"The time came where I was coming to the end of my rehab and I needed a new club, and I didn't want to get in the way. I went on trial for a few clubs, Bristol Rovers, Blackpool, and Blackpool wanted to sign me but couldn't financially offer me a contract.
“Gary Bowyer rung me and said he wanted to sign me, but Blackpool just couldn't really sign anyone at the time. He encouraged me to find a club but said he still wanted me if they worked it out in time.
“I went up to Fleetwood Town just before the start of the new season and it was going well and we were due to have a chat about the possibility of signing a contract with them but the day before that was due to happen, I went over in a training session and ended up breaking my foot which unfortunately put a end to anything happening with them."
A frustrating period for Mickey to say the least. He needed a club where he was going to be valued again, and that opportunity finally came.
“It got to January and then Graham Westley rung me from Newport, he had rung my agent earlier in the season asking if I was fit but I was only two months into rehabbing my broken foot.
“When it got to January, they were in a relegation battle, but I went there to train, and I will always remember the first session was on an astro.
“After coming back from a torn meniscus in my knee and a broken foot, it wasn't ideal! After being out for seven months, I was then put in with three other new signings doing a back four drill and none of us had played with each other!
“That was a real eye-opener because it didn't seem like there was that stability there and I realised we were in a battle at that point. I didn't sign straight away; they'd lost away to Stevenage on a Saturday and then the next day Graham rung me and said look we really think you'll help us.
“I spoke to him for the next week and felt like I was ready to sign, and then the rest is history, I'm in my seventh season now, 257 games later, I'm still here.”
Mickey may have that stability at Newport now, but in that first season, the future of the club was looking bleak, and thankfully a period they have long put past them.
“The club let go of Graham in the March and I thought no one would want to touch this club, we were like 10 or 11 points from safety. Michael Flynn came in who was a coach already at the club, I'd also played with him at the club as well and he ended up as my manager.
“I think anyone else would have got the club relegated but Michael came in and just took all the pressure off the players. Michael knew the club inside out, he understood the players, had a good relationship with us all already which a new manager wouldn't have had and he brought in Wayne Hatswell in as his assistant who had been at the club before which also helped.
“The chairman basically said to us, look if we get relegated, we get relegated, but just try your best and put a smile on the fans faces again and give everything you have got in the remaining games.
“As soon as the chairman said that, the weight was lifted, and we started enjoying it again. The boys that had been there longer than me were used to losing football games Michael just said look we have 13 games left, treat it as a new season and get as many points as we can.
“We all knew if we didn't stay up the club could well go under so in that sense the pressure was always still there. We managed to stay up on the last day of the season and then from then on we only went up.
“The next season we finished eleventh in the league, played Spurs in the 4th round FA Cup, could have beaten them at home but lost in the replay at Wembley. The year after that, we got one step further and played Man City in the 5th round and made the play-offs. So, to go from dead certs to go down to a play-off final in two years, was incredible.
“The hype around the place and the city, it's gone from a rugby place to all of a sudden, football creeping back into it.
“We were getting more fans through the gate, had another play-off final during COVID, should have won that as well. I never want to go to Wembley again! I've been there three times now, we've not scored a goal, should have had two penalties, and lost every time!
“But as I said, we've gone from a relegation-threatened team, to who knows where we can go now. We've secured the clubs future with the cup runs we had, and now we have a new season to finish as high as we can.”
Before Mickey made it to professional football, he worked a lot coaching with Albion in the Community (AITC), and in terms of his future goals, he believes this has shaped his mentality.
“I'm doing my UEFA B Licence at the moment and I've always said if I can stay in football, then it would be nice to be able to do that. Whether that's coaching an academy, first-team coach if I can, and progress into a manager, or maybe even as a football head coach at a school.
“If I can't do that then fine, I wasn't always in football. I coached with AITC but I did other bits with them as well. I'd like to say if I do stay in it and the progression I did, I would like to think I have a different outlook and a different background to most.”
It's incredible really, the journey that Mickey has had. He was able to call himself a professional footballer at the age of 21, a football league player at 24 despite having no elite footballing experience until being picked up by the Glenn Hoddle academy at 19.
Lastly, following our in-depth chat with the Newport Vice captain, he finished with advice for any aspiring Sussex footballers.
“Work as hard as you can, if you really want it then you have got to put the effort in. Listen to your teachers, listen to your coaches, and put in the practice that they tell you to do.
“Listening is the biggest thing; if a manager or coach is trying to help you, you need to listen to them and take their advice on board.
“You may think they’re nagging you or they’re picking on you but it’s just because they care and want you to improve as a player. I have always been told its If they aren’t talking to you, that’s when you worry!”
To find out more about playing opportunities in Sussex please contact:
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