Junior Mendes

October 17, 2013

Full name: Albert Junior Hillyard Andrew Mendes

DOB: 15/09/76

POB: Balham, England

Position: Striker, Winger

Clubs: Chelsea, St Mirren, Carlisle Utd, Dunfermline Ath, St Mirren, Mansfield, Huddersfield, Northampton, Grimsby, Notts County, Lincoln City, Stevenage, Aldershot, Ayr United.

International Caps: 9 (Montserrat)

The archetypal cult hero: neither his talent nor his application were particularly noteworthy, but he had a tendency to produce the extraordinary and it was these fleeting moments that lived long in the memory of any supporter that followed his career. An entertaining blend of pace and trickery, even his critics conceded that he could be a joy to watch.

Mendes arrived in Scottish football after St
Mirren received a tip from international striker John Spencer who was playing for Chelsea at the time. They had this 19-year old who had come through the youth ranks and was now in the reserve side waiting on a first team chance that wouldn’t come. He was not likely to get such a chance at Chelsea but he should definitely add something to the Scottish First Division.

Tony Fitzpatrick took the player on trial and was immediately intrigued by the prospect. There was little doubt he was a incredibly raw talent. If somehow he could sharpen those skills then he would certainly a star in Paisley. Playing for half the 1995/96 season, Fitzpatrick flitted back and forth between playing him on the wing and then up front. Out wide he lacked the final ball to succeed, while up front he didn’t quite possess the awareness to do much more than run in behind with his blistering pace. Every
now and then he would show a little class that confirmed he was well worth
persevering with as he chipped in with a few goals and a couple of assists before the season’s end.

He could scarcely
have started the following campaign any better when he bagged a hat-trick in an
away match at Airdrieonians. After being anonymous for long periods with his
team a goal down he reacted to a short back-pass and coolly lifted it over the advancing
keeper. He then put his side in front eleven minutes later after being set up
by Chris Iwelumo (yes, the same one) before completing the stunning 20 minute
hat-trick after once again intercepting a short back-pass and rounding the
goalkeeper. It was enough to keep him in the side and he continued to impress
with a tremendous 20-yard volley in a 2-1 away defeat to Raith Rovers. But
while the player was developing the club was stagnating. The Buddies had come
within two points of reaching the playoffs the previous season but had not
started the following campaign in the same vein. The form of Mendes mirrored
the team in its inconsistency; they were great to watch but it didn’t always
produce the desired results.

The bright start to the 1996/97 season soon
fizzled out and by the time the end of the following campaign came around he was out of the side more often than not. Fitzpatrick had clearly run out of patience with the player who
delighted fans but drove the manager crazy, and within a couple of
months of the new campaign he was shipped out to Carlisle
on loan. The pressure, however, had started to heat up on Fitzpatrick and he
was sacked by St Mirren in December 1998. Tom Hendrie was his successor and he
wasted no time in recalling Mendes. The striker immediately repaid the faith
shown by the new boss with the opener in a 1-1 draw against Hamilton before he
netted the only goal in Hendrie’s first win as The Buddies defeated Ayr. The
Edinburgh based boss was impressed enough to offer his goalscorer a new one
year deal as the team looked forward to the 1999/00 season.

This was to be a tremendous year for
Tom Hendrie and St Mirren. Among the favourites to be relegated at the season’s
start, they stormed to the First Divison title playing an exciting brand of
football based around Hendrie’s 3-4-3 system. At the head of the system was the
front three of Barry Lavety, Mark Yardley and Mendes. Lavety provided the guile,
Yardly was the burly old fashioned centre forward and Mendes stretched and
scared defences with his pace and trickery.

A struggling 1-1 home draw with Ayr in the opener did little to indicate an explosive upturn in fortunes. Lavety was missing from that match and he returned
the next week to face Raith Rovers at Starks Park.
The former Hibs striker opened the scoring and the floodgates; St Mirren would
go on to record a 6-0 victory that launched
their season. Back to back 3-2 wins over Inverness and Clydebank
demonstrated their seriousness before they underlined their credentials with a
storming 5-0 victory over Airdrie at Love Street. Mendes opened the scoring with a shot from
20 yards after dribbling from the halfway line and laid on the third for
Lavety. It was clear that both player and team had left their inconsistencies
behind and that this was going to be a memorable season.

Never the
most prolific of scorers, Mendes’s goal rate reduced further. For Hendrie, however,
this wasn’t a problem. With Lavety and Yardley in the side and goals coming
from midfield, Mendes job was that of a facilitator who often doubled as a
decoy against teams particularly wary of his speed. He still chipped in with
the odd goal, including a double in a 3-1 win over Airdrie that ended a three
game winless streak and put the title hunt firmly back on track shortly into
the New Year. A month later his winner in a 2-1 come-from-behind win at Raith
Rovers sparked joyous celebrations among the travelling support who chanted “Junior,
Junior!” after the full time whistle.

After a 2-0
home defeat to Dunfermline, that allowed their promotion rivals to go top, they
bounced back in style by hammering Clydebank
8-0. Curiously, they failed to net against the same side when they met two weeks later.
Perhaps the players had been distracted by the Morton strips each other were
wearing after St Mirren had forgotten to take their kits with them to Cappielow
(where Clydebank were playing at the time).
Regardless, it was to be the last point dropped for five weeks where The Buddies swept past everyone in their path. This included a 2-1 win over Ayr United at Somerset
where Mendes opened the scoring and Paul McKnight flashed in an injury time
winner. Dunfermline’s 2-1 victory the same day
delayed title celebrations but the goal did ensure passage into the SPL. The league
was won the following week. On the same day a new stand was opened at Love Street, St
Mirren survived a shaky first half to run out eventual 3-0 winners and take the

The fortunes
of player and club were both at a high but just when the relationship was entering
its peak it abruptly ended. The player was offered a new contract to stick
around but he declined the offer and decided instead to sign for the club that
had finished as runner-up to The Buddies in the title race: Dunfermline.
Over ten years later, teams like Dunfermline
are still living with the implications of their carefree player spending back at the turn of the millennium. St
Mirren fans can comfort themselves with this knowledge in the present day, but back then it was little consolidation when the side
who they’d bettered in the First Division was able to steal one of
their better players by offering an increased wage. In a year where two teams
gained entry into the SPL, St Mirren made an immediate return to the second
tier while Dunfermline comfortably avoided the
drop. Not that Mendes had much to do with it. The player was a dud at East End Park, displaying his Love Street form in a few fleeting
moments. He scarcely entered the field throughout two seasons before returning
to Paisley with his tail between his legs.

In the
meantime all the momentum had disappeared out of the St Mirren side and the
career of Tom Hendrie. Instead of fighting for an immediate return in the
2001/02 campaign they had been worrying about matters at the other end of the
table. Mendes was brought back by his old boss to try and recreate some of the
old magic. He did net a hat-trick shortly into his second spell but results
were not improving and Hendrie paid the price with his job. Mendes flitted in
and out the side with injury before being sold by new boss John Coughlin.

Having spent
eight years outside of England
he returned to the country of his birth with the move to Mansfield. His debut season didn’t offer much
hope in terms of career trajectory, but he was much improved the following year
as The Stags finished fifth in the league table and reached the playoff final
where the lost to Huddersfield. An ineffective Mendes was subbed after 70 minutes
in the penalty shoot-out loss. While he hadn’t done enough to convince his own
manager that day he had certainly gained admirers in the opposition ranks and
made the switch to Huddersfield that summer.
The striker who had found goals hard to come by in the fourth tier unsurprisingly
struggled in the third. The Terriers easily stayed up but boss Peter Jackson
had saw enough from his summer recruit and made him available for loan the
following season. Both Grimsby and Northampton took them up
on the offer but neither was too enamoured with the player’s lack of work-rate
and no permanent offer was forthcoming. One mediocre year was spent at Notts County
back in the Third Division before a move down to the Conference with Aldershot.

When the deal
with Aldershot expired he was given a
surprising call to return north of the border. Ayr United had been promoted to
the First Division the previous campaign via the playoffs and Brian Reid was
scrambling around looking for players with a second tier pedigree. Mendes’s
career history made him an ideal target but unfortunately the six years spent
away from Scottish football had saw a diminish in his skills. In 21 matches he
failed to score and Ayr United were relegated back to the Second Division. At
the end of the campaign he decided to call it quits on his career.

Where is he
With a possible move into the league structure on the horizon, Nairn County
began spending big this summer. Mendes was one player who was enticed to make a return to semi-professional football.

Articles: Tom Hendrie

Show: Oh aye,
The Scotland Game!