Nesta Guinness-Walker's rise to the professional football ranks has been far from a straightforward journey and he spoke to us recently about the ups and downs of his path to AFC Wimbledon.
For those supporters that missed the interview in our home programme for the match versus Shrewsbury, it's published in full below.
Though he was brought up locally, in Twickenham, Nesta Guinness-Walker has come a long way in football terms: just four years ago, he was playing Sunday League for Esher Wizards. His path to AFC Wimbledon has not been a smooth one, after toiling his way through non-league football to get here, but Nesta is already showing plenty of signs that he can more than handle the step up. Dons supporters will certainly welcome a bit more of the magic that he produced at Ipswich earlier this season!
Nesta’s rise to the professional ranks from Esher Wizards, via BetVictor Southern League Premier Division South side Metropolitan Police, is a journey he is proud of, but he knows that the hard work starts here as he seeks to make the most of his dream opportunity.
“I was on the scholarship programme at Met Police, so I was training every day, but it’s obviously much more intense here, and harder work,” Nesta told us earlier this week. “The quality is much better too. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed about, so every day I can’t wait to come in and get started.
“The travelling around the country is a new thing for me, but for my whole life being a pro footballer is all I’ve ever wanted to do. You have to take everything that it entails in your stride and adapt the best way you can.
“Although as pro footballers we have a job to do and we are here to work, you need to have that love for the game and still be that little kid with a dream. When you’re loving what you’re doing, it brings out your best performances. When you’re happy, you can push on and strive to improve as a player. Everyone here wants to do that, and I think we have a good group.
“I think I need to get that consistency and perhaps be more direct to get goals and assists. I know we’re only a few games into the season, but I’d love to get more assists and supply the strikers so that I can really help the team to push on.”
As a boy, Nesta spent time at both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but he left Spurs before his teenage years. That led to football with Esher Wizards and Met Police, and it was at Imber Court that he had an opportunity to get involved in coaching, thanks to a friendship with former professional footballer John Nurse, who played for Dagenham & Redbridge and Barnet.
“I had my heart set on being a professional footballer. I just had to keep focused on that and work hard. But I took a coaching role on the side to get some money coming in. It was with a local coaching company called Love the Ball, run by John Nurse, who was my coach at Met Police. I did it for a year before I signed for AFC Wimbledon.
“John Nurse and Donovan Chislett, my U18 coach at Met Police, helped me a lot. Donovan developed me as a player during my scholarship period. Between the ages of 16 and 18 I feel I made a lot of progress, and John and Donovan really helped to improve my game. I was playing in central midfield then, but my knowledge of the game developed during that time. My time at Met Police was a turning point.
“I’m still in contact with people at Met Police – they regularly check on how I’m getting on. That’s good because they put a lot of time and effort into me during the last two and a half years. It’s good for them to have someone take that next step into the pro game, and there may be a few more players coming through there. It was a great experience when we reached the first round of the FA Cup and played Newport County. Everyone got involved, all the staff and volunteers. It was a great achievement for the club.”
Though Nesta’s talent was spotted at a very early age by Premier League clubs, he had to reignite his footballing dreams at a much lower level as a teenager. His spell in Sunday League with Esher Wizards, where he played in a very successful young team, brought him to the attention of Met Police.
“I’ve been playing football since I could walk! I always had a ball at my feet. My brother is four years older than me, and that meant I got involved in football at a very young age. I went to Chelsea U7s and was there for a season or two, but I got released, and then I was at Tottenham for a season at U11 level. I started with Met Police when I was 16, but before then I’d been playing Sunday League for Esher Wizards. We had a really good team, and a few players have kicked on from there to play professional football. David Titov, who is with Brentford’s B team, and Louie Annesley, who is at Blackburn, are two of them. We had a very strong team, winning the league and county cups.”
Scoring his first league goal against Ipswich Town has been the highlight of Nesta’s time here so far. As an ever-present for Wimbledon in league games this season, it’s vindicated his decision to come here with the aim of playing regular football. At the end of last season he was courted by higher-level clubs, but decided that Wimbledon was his number-one choice.
“I came here for a week towards the end of last season, and I got on well with the boys, It’s a tight-knit group here. I had a meeting with the manager, and when he told me what his goals and aspirations were for me, I could see that we were on the same page. This club also has a great history. I’m a local boy – I was brought up in Twickenham – so I know all about Wimbledon. It was a great opportunity for me to come here, and I couldn’t turn it down.”
That cracker of a goal at Ipswich last month was watched by his father Andy, who has been a regular traveller on the supporters’ coach this season. “Ever since I was seven, my dad has always come to watch my games, and he says he’s not going to stop now! It meant a lot to me that he was up at Ipswich when I scored my first league goal. It was great for him to be in the crowd and to experience that with me.”
Nesta has certainly shown plenty of ability to help Wimbledon’s attack, and it’s something he is eager to build on. “When I was younger I used to score quite a lot, but as I went further back, playing as a holding central midfielder or at left-back, the goals dropped off. It’s something I want to get back on top of and I want to start scoring more goals.
“I didn’t watch too much other football when I was at Met Police because I was concentrating on what I was doing, which was playing and coaching. I had tunnel vision, concentrating on what I wanted to do. Now that I’m here, it’s good to watch football at the highest level and see how players with more experience and better quality do things. It’s good to try and learn from them, even if it’s off the TV. Andy Robertson at Liverpool is a left-back who everyone is looking at, and I’ve always liked Danny Rose as a player.”
It’s been well documented since his arrival at AFC Wimbledon that Nesta has a famous relative: his great-grandfather was Sir Alec Guinness, one of whose many acting roles was Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films. It’s certainly something that Nesta is proud of. “Before I even knew about the family link, I’d watched Star Wars as it’s obviously very popular with kids. It was nice to understand when I was a bit older that I had a link and a connection with one of the main actors.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi was a legendary Jedi Master in the famous fantasy films, but there’s been a dose of reality to the start of Nesta’s journey here as Wimbledon are still looking for a first win this season. Nesta is determined to help get that elusive victory as soon as possible.
“Everyone at this club knows that we should be achieving more. As a group we are striving for that and working every day to get it. We’re confident that it will come soon and we’ll get that change of luck. We’re putting in the hard work and good performances. We’ve been in every game, competing, and it’s just a few errors that have let us down. It’s time to kick on now and start climbing the table.”