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First team

Another feather in the cap for Mepham

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Chris Mepham has learned to enjoy the ups, knowing the downs are never too far away.

Released by Chelsea at 14 and rejected by Watford and QPR, he dropped into non-league in a bid to resurrect his career.

Spotted by Brentford playing for North Greenford United, Mepham experienced the full gamut of emotions during his early days with the Bees.

The highs and lows continued after he had joined the Cherries in January 2019, his Premier League debut against Chelsea particularly memorable.

However, after 25 appearances in the top flight and a maiden goal against Sheffield United on the opening day of the 2019/20 season, Mepham suffered the bitter taste of relegation for the first time.

It coincided with a second operation to rectify a knee problem, an injury which dogged Mepham for eight months and restricted him to one brief substitute appearance during the second half of the campaign.

Despite hitting the ground running with a series of eye-catching displays at the start of 2020/21, lady luck again deserted Mepham when a calf injury robbed him of his place.

Arguably the lowest point of his career came when Mepham was sent off for pulling down Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo in the second leg of the Championship play-off semi-final, the Bees going on to triumph 3-2 on aggregate.

But with promotion to the Premier League sealed just 12 months later, Mepham took a giant step on the road to redemption as he exorcised the ghosts from the Brentford Community Stadium.

“I shouldn’t still have that in my head,” said Mepham, in an interview with afcb.co.uk. “But I carried a lot of responsibility for that game.

“To contribute to the team getting back to the Premier League, it kind of makes everything in the past irrelevant so it was important on a personal level.

“It was a difficult season for me personally but the celebrations made it all worth it and promotion is something I will have on my CV for the rest of my life.

“It’s an amazing achievement. Over the course of the season, we showed we deserved it and it was great to finally get it over the line.

“People tend to forget we had a lot of young lads playing their first full season as professionals, players like Mark Travers, Jordan Zemura and Jaidon Anthony.

“When you look at the experience and squad depth at Fulham, it makes you realise how well we have done and how well those young players have done.

“We’ve got a lot of people to thank. I could go through the whole team because everyone has contributed and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Mepham’s Wales team-mate Kieffer Moore netted four crucial goals, including the promotion clincher against Nottingham Forest, to put the icing on the cake.

“He’s such a handful,” said Mepham. “He’s an amazing lad and deserves everything he’s got. It was a memorable couple of weeks for him.

“Being injured is quite a dark place. I’ve been there and you can feel really isolated from the rest of the lads. He put in the hard work and got his rewards.

“He’s a very good footballer. He’s technically very good, he looks after the ball and he’s got great pace – I’m making him sound like he’s Erling Haaland!

“Everyone saw in the last few games what he can bring to the team. With his size, people assume he is just a threat in the air but he’s got a lot more to his game than that.

“We all saw that with some of his finishes. I’m delighted for him and, hopefully, he can take it into next season.”

Mepham was also delighted to see David Brooks, another Wales team-mate, join in the celebrations after being given his all-clear from cancer.

“We were all devastated when he first got the news of his illness,” said Mepham. “It hit me hard because I’ve got a great relationship with him.

“From that moment on, it was a case of supporting him along the way and being there for him in whatever way you could. We don’t know the half of what him and his family have been through.

“It gave everyone a massive lift when the news went out on the day of the Forest game and I was absolutely delighted for him.

“He’s shown amazing strength, he’s a top guy and a hard worker. I can’t wait to see him back playing and training.”

Following a short break, Mepham will next month be hoping to help Wales reach their first World Cup finals since 1958.

The defender came off the bench to win his 28th cap as Wales saw off Austria in their play-off semi-final in March.

It set up the possibility of Mepham’s Wales facing Ryan Christie’s Scotland in the play-off final with the Scots hosting Ukraine at Hampden Park on 1 June before the victors travel to the Cardiff City Stadium four days later.

“It’s been a topic of conversation,” joked Mepham. “If Scotland beat Ukraine then either me or Ryan will be going to the World Cup finals and the other one will be gutted.

“If it happens, I hope it’s him who will be disappointed. Not selfishly, but I hope we qualify because it would be an amazing achievement in front of our home crowd.

“I’ve got a great relationship with Ryan away from football and I’m sure we will have a lot of banter between now and we are both really looking to the games.”

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