Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Ethan Pinnock: From Non-League To The Premier League

Posted on 20 May 2022 by Luke Collins

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Ethan Pinnock has been at the heart of Brentford’s defence ever since he joined the club. And it has been no different in his side’s debut season in the Premier League.

It has been an impressive season for the Bees, who are in 11th place going into the final game of the season. For Pinnock, it is the most impressive achievement in an extraordinary career.

The 28-year old’s story is remarkable, beginning his career playing non-league football and progressing through nearly every division to the top of the English game.

It is a rise that has impressed everyone who has watched him play for their club. This is his story, told through their eyes.

Standing Out At Dulwich

Pinnock began his career playing for Dulwich Hamlet in the Isthmian League, the seventh tier of English football. In his early days though, there were issues.

“Very early on he was someone who played in a lot of different positions,” explains Alex Crane, who was chair of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust for three years. “They weren’t quite sure where he fitted in. He was this long-legged, rangy utility man.

“Eventually they settled on him being in defence. And as each season progressed, you just saw him get better and better.”

Hamlet fans soon realised just how talented Pinnock was. He was excellent positionally and a calm presence at the back.

He was a talented passer of the ball as well, with his ability to hit long passes allowing Dulwich to launch attacks.

He is still regarded as one of the most talented players to play for Dulwich by fans.

“I think without question Ethan is by far the best product of the academy that we’ve managed to sell on in the last 15 years,” says Crane. “There have been others, but Ethan is at the very top of that list.”

Pinnock still visits Champion Hill when he can. He was in attendance for their game against Tonbridge Angels on Easter Bank Holiday Monday.

“I think he by his own admission would say he owes Gavin [Rose], Junior [Kadi] and others a fair amount of credit for helping him to get to where he is now,” says Crane. “And he won’t forget that.”

Pinnock at Champion Hill for Dulwich Hamlet vs Tonbridge Angels
Pinnock at Champion Hill for Dulwich Hamlet vs Tonbridge Angels. Credit: @LouiseLFC81

Making History With Forest Green Rovers

Pinnock’s performances led to Forest Green Rovers taking a chance with him, and he signed his first pro contract with the National League side in 2016.

“I think in the early games, you could see his quality straight away,” says Chelsey Downing, a Forest Green fan who has followed her local team for nearly 30 years. “We finally had a defender that was reliable and prepared to put himself in harms way for the club.”

Pinnock made 37 appearances that season and helped Forest Green get promoted to League Two for the first time in the club’s history.

And although he was just 23 at the time, he was also a player who showed he had the capacity to lead the team.

“You knew if he was in the starting line-up, you had a good chance of winning,” says Downing. “Because even if we conceded one goal, he was going to do everything he could to make sure that we didn’t concede another.

“He was a good leader on the pitch. We stopped playing people onside, we weren’t dropping back as far. His vision and his awareness for a defender in that league was fantastic.”

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Downing describes Pinnock as a modest guy who always made time for fans. It is why he remains a fan favourite to this day.

“He’d talk to the granddads, he’d talk to the women, he’d talk to the kids. There was nobody that he wouldn’t interact with,” Downing says.

“When Forest Green drew Brentford in the League Cup, everybody straightaway was like, it’s a reunion with Ethan Pinnock. It wasn’t even that it was a Premier League team.

“It was like a family reunion. Even if we had been thumped six nil, the fact that he was there I think was enough to make Forest Green fans want to make the three and a half hour journey to London.”

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Stepping Up At Barnsley

Despite the desire of Rovers fans to keep a hold of him, Pinnock’s talent was spotted by Barnsley. He signed for the Tykes the next season, and many fans were subsequently surprised by his performances.

“I don’t think initially many supporters were aware of how good he was for Forest Green,” says Ben Lockwood, a Barnsley fan for 30 years. “But the second he slotted in he looked like he was made for Championship football.

“Supporters use the term Rolls Royce of a player far too often, but he really was one. He was calmness personified, he won all the aerial battles, and he was so comfortable on the ball.”

Even though Barnsley were relegated to League One in Pinnock’s first season with the club, he shone in his second season.

“He was just a class above in League One, and he was a leader,” says Lockwood. “We had him at the back and Alex Mowatt in midfield. Those two between them ran the show.”

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Pinnock played an important part in getting Barnsley promoted that season. They had the best defence in the division, with Pinnock playing every game.

He also won Barnsley’s player of the year award and earned a place in League One’s team of the year.

Once again though, his success meant clubs began to circle, eager to pinch this talent for themselves.

A £3 million transfer to Brentford was agreed, leaving Barnsley fans concerned for the following season.

“He was the player supporters were the most sad to see leave,” says Lockwood.

“I think his value in the Championship for those 12 months would have outweighed the three million that Brentford paid for him. He was that good a player.”

Championship And Premier League Success At Brentford

At Brentford, Pinnock found himself in a side challenging for promotion to the Premier League. He formed a successful partnership with fellow new recruit Pontus Jansson.

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With the pair at the back, Brentford made it to the play-off final for two consecutive years, losing to Fulham in 2020 before beating Swansea the following season.

They were going to play in the Premier League for the first time in their history. And Pinnock played a critical role in both seasons, making 75 appearances in the Championship.

However, upon achieving promotion, fans were unsure he could make the jump to the Premier League.

“I think we always thought of him very much as a championship player,” says Stewart Purvis, who has supported Brentford since the late 1950s. “I think most people were surprised at how well he’s adapted to the Premier League.”

This uncertainty was dispelled after the first few games. Pinnock has gone on to make 27 appearances for Brentford this season.

Compared to all players in the league this season, he ranks in the top five for clearances and in the top three for aerials won. And he scored his first Premier League goal against potential champions Liverpool.

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He has stepped up when needed and has caught the eye of other teams.

“When I’ve gone to away games, I’m privileged to go into the boardrooms of clubs and they often ask about him,” says Purvis.

“Somebody asked me about him at Manchester United. They’d noticed him and asked why he wasn’t playing that day.

“You don’t see him mentioned in newspapers. But I think those who follow the game in detail have spotted him and his potential.”

“That’s Our Ethan Pinnock”

Pinnock’s first season in the Premier League is the result of years of hard work.

He has left lasting impressions at every club he has played for, and coaches and fans alike have been fascinated with his career so far.

“I think it’s very impressive,” said Brentford manager Thomas Frank. “The journey he’s been on is unique. I think we all love those stories about players that go on a different pathway.”

“I think it’s a phenomenal rise,” Lockwood remarks. “And I think it gives hope to other players, especially young players. That you can make that jump and achieve something in football.”

“You almost feel like a proud family member every time you see his name go up on Sky Sports,” says Downing. “You think that’s our Ethan Pinnock! The one that got us to the play-off final that got us to League Two.”

“It’s not like he accidentally ended up at a small non-league club and suddenly he was plucked,” says Purvis. “League by league he’s worked his way up, been very popular at every level, and been successful at every level.

“Sounds like a model journey to me for a footballer.”

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