Goalkeeper Raymond Jellema returns to the green, green artificial grass of Alloa Athletic’s Recreation Park home for the first time in over two years this weekend with Third Division rivals Peterhead although the big shot-stopper got a feel of the Clackmannanshire ground again when he was some 4,500 miles away.
Jellema ended his playing stint at the Wasps in the summer of 2009 after two seasons as he was heading for Africa to start his career in the oil and gas industry and he ended up playing on an artificial pitch in the Stade Municipal in Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo.
“I never played for an official side in the Congo but I did play in a good number of games,” said Jellema before adding, “For some of them, we would use a ground that the national team played at and can hold 25,000 spectators. The surface on it was the exact same as Alloa’s so it was a bit of a home comfort for me.”
Whilst that surface enabled Jellema to be reminded of his footballing career back in Scotland very little else did as he explained, “I had gone to the Congo as the offer from the French Oil Company, Total, was just too good to turn down. I thought that my football career would be put very much on a hold but I found a team to play with.”
“To be more honest it was a team of guys that played football but we did not bother with a name or anything like that. We trained twice a week when we could, but there was no floodlights so it was all very different from my two nights a week at Alloa.”
“There was no set league for us to play in and we would play on a variety of surfaces including sand and hard baked grass. It was a very different style of football but basically it was just great fun.”
One things that Jellema did learn is that goalkeepers tend to have a universal language as he explained, “Congo is a French speaking country and I would live my daily life in French but I found out that running out and shouting ‘Goalies Ball’ is understood well anywhere. “
Jellema added, “There were professional players in the capital of Brazzaville but that was over 400 miles away and I was there to work with Total, and not as a footballer, so I never pursued anything more serious than the level I was playing at.”
Whilst he did not travel to Brazzaville for football Jellema did see some of the Congo as he said, “We took a 4 hour trip into the jungle and it was pretty wild as you can see in the picture. We would play football all weekend with the young kids from an orphanage. There were some great young players out there, but unfortunately they will never get a chance in the game.”
Jellema’s employment in Africa was a far cry from his first job as a YTS player under Chris Hillcoat at Hamilton Accies with the shot-stopper saying, “Chris signed me in 2002 and then I worked under Allan Maitland and Billy Reid. Ironically my debut came against Alloa when I was 18. I was a full time player to begin with, however when Accies went part time when Ronnie MacDonald fist came in I decided to go back to Education.”
“I opted for Maths and Physics as that is what I had been good at when I was at school. I also gained part-time employment with Ronnie’s Cullen Packaging company in Glasgow and I worked with big Mark McLaughlin in the maintenance department there. There were a few of us who combined football and working there as Brian Carrigan, Darren Gribben and my goalkeeping rival Dave McEwan were all there at times as well.”
When Hamilton moved back to a full time environment Jellema continued with his University work, however he also kept his footballing career going by opting for a loan move to Alloa.
Jellema said, “In the summer of 2007 I got the chance to move to Recreation Park and it was a great decision to go there as I was getting regular first team football after a few seasons of being in and out at Hamilton.”
“It helped me as a goalkeeper as I went in and trained with Hamilton during the day when I could and then trained with Alloa on a part-time basis at night and that benefitted my game. During that loan period I had the choice to remain full time at Hamilton or do a Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering in the Oil and Gas industry and sign for Alloa.”
After much contemplation Jellema opted to continue his studies saying, “When I thought about it the difference in wages between being full time and part time did not justify not doing the studying. The wages would only have been a factor if a really big move had been on the cards.”
Jellema’s first season ended in disappointment as Alloa lost out to Clyde in an epic Play-off Final that ended 6-5 to the Bully Wee on aggregate with the second season bringing success in the Scottish Cup against Raith Rovers before Aberdeen sneaked away from Alloa with a 2-1 win.
“I really enjoyed my two seasons at Alloa and they were a great club, a very family orientated club. The chairman Mike Mulraney is a very ambitious guy and I will need to ask him at the weekend how his squash is as we used to play each other.”
During Jellema’s time in Congo Alloa, like Peterhead, slipped from being a Second Division side into the Third Division and the ‘keeper said, “I had kept in touch with Brown Ferguson and was able to see what was happening via the BBC so it was a not a total surprise when I came back in May 2011 to see both sides relegated.”
It did not take long before Jellema’s return to Scotland started to gain attention from managers as he explained, “I have moved up to Aberdeen and have an Office based job now where I have to go offshore on the very odd occasion. The office has a squash court and a gym which I was using to keep fit but I was getting phone calls about playing again and it was John McGlashan who put me in touch with John Sheran at Peterhead.”
The former Arbroath boss, who is now in charge of Tayport Juniors, had asked Jellema to play for him however, Jellema advised: “I told John that I wanted to play senior again and he said he would pass my details on to John at Peterhead.
“John Sheran is another ambitious guy and it was an easy decision to sign for them.”
Jellema was one of a number of summer recruits made by the Blue Toon and they are showing signs of clicking together after achieving their first League win of the season at East Stirlingshire last Saturday.
“There was a lot of talk about the squad we had built going out and winning the League,” said Jellema before adding, “but that is just paper talk. We need to get points on board and seeing where that takes us in the first quarter before you can say we will do this or do that.
“The win against East Stirlingshire was excellent as not only was it the first League win of the season, it was achieved away from home. The club had gone over a season without winning away from home and whilst very few of the players here now had been through that run, it does attach itself to the club.”
It will be a case of familiar surroundings but not familiar faces for Jellema at kick-off this weekend as he said: “I am looking forward to going back although it is only Fraser Forrest that remains from my time. The Manager, the Assistant Manager and all the players have moved on and Fraser was the only person I knew apart from the Directors when we met in The Ramsdens Cup on the first day of the season.”
No doubt Jellema will have a rub of the artificial grass at Recreation Park on Saturday and think of his team with no name in Africa although there is one legacy that remains as he finished the interview by joking: “Finally, I have had a chat about the Congo and not been asked about Um Bongo!”