Non-League FootballSport

AFC Wimbledon release left defender in tears….but it turned out to be a spark for his career leading to England C honours


A lot has changed for Luke Jenkins within the space of a year.

This time last season the Bexley-born defender popped up with the opener for AFC Wimbledon five minutes into his League Two debut in the 2-1 defeat at Barrow.

Jenkins, 21, featured two more times in the rest of the campaign and sat on the bench on several occasions as the Dons limped home to a disappointing 21st-placed finish.

At the end of the season – much to the surprise of many of the Wimbledon fanbase – the academy graduate was released, along with a handful of other youngsters on the periphery of the first team.

“I wasn’t expecting to get let go,” Jenkins told the South London Press. “You prepare yourself for the worst, just in case, but I thought I had done enough to earn another year at least, especially with my age and what my progression could be.

“It was a tough moment. I just remember crying afterwards.

“It was actually Rob Tuvey, one of the first-team coaches, who had been with me throughout my scholar years, who sat me down and told me.

“I remember calling my mum and dad afterwards.

“It was a sense of shock and disappointment. I wanted to know why.

“It didn’t work out, but I thought I played well when I did play.”

Jenkins – without a club for the first time in his senior career – headed down the pyramid to National League South, where he was offered an initial period with Chelmsford, who had finished inside the play-off spots in the season before.

The former Crystal Palace and Sutton academy youngster said: “My time at Wimbledon was very up and down. Before joining Wimbledon, I had never really had a broken-up season—I was playing week in and week out.

“I was hit with injuries at Wimbledon and was out for ages – in my time there, I never played more than 15 games in a season.

“At the beginning of last year, I just started to feel myself again.

“When I was released, I hadn’t played that many games to put my name out there and establish myself as such.

“Going into this off-season was tough – nobody was willing to take a punt.

“I had to go on trials. Going into the trial [with Chelmsford] I had just one thing on my mind, which was to enjoy my football.

“When I put too much pressure on myself, I take my eye off the ball a little bit. I went in there as a free run and wanted to show everyone there how good I could be.

“Everyone else I spoke to before said they didn’t need my position, so I didn’t get an opportunity.

“Chelmsford was the only club where I got a trial. It was an extra bit of motivation when you have multiple teams in this division turning around and saying: ‘You’re not what we’re looking for. We don’t need that position’.

“It added fuel to the fire. I had a chip on my shoulder anyway about being released from Wimbledon because I always knew I could play at that level.

“My aim was to show everyone how I can really play the game. Thankfully I have been given that platform at Chelmsford.”

Jenkins is a key member of a Clarets’ side gunning for promotion to the National League.

He has featured 34 times so far – the longest first-team run he has had in senior football – and been one of the standout performers in the National League South this season.

The centre-back also became the first Chelmsford player since ex-Charlton midfielder Ricky Holmes in 2008 to be included in the England C squad after being called up for the recent international clash against Wales.

He was brought on in the second half as the Three Lions lost 1-0.

Jenkins said: “Even getting the training kit on the Sunday, I thought: ‘Wow, I have got the England kit on. To put the shirt on is the stuff kid’s dream of.

“Looking back now being released was the best thing that could have happened to me.

“It has allowed me to go out there to play a full season of men’s football and really find my enjoyment for the game again.

“At the end of last season, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was down and deflated – I had no club.

“I was thinking about what was next? Whether I got a normal job or continued playing football.

“Being in the position we are in and getting the England C call-up has been nothing short of unbelievable.”

Chelmsford and Jenkins are second in the National League South heading into the final five games.

Table toppers Yeovil are five points clear and have a game in hand – with just the league winners gaining automatic promotion and second to seventh battling it out via the play-offs. Jenkins said: “It would mean everything to me to get Chelmsford promoted.

“Everyone has made me so welcome from the start. The least I want to do is help the club reach the National League for the first time in their history.

“We have got a good chance – our form has been incredible since the turn of the year.

“We have put ourselves in a good position. I know we’re still a few points off the top, but there is always a chance until the last day of the season.

“Hopefully we can do it for everyone at the club and get promoted.”


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