Kuopio, I'm All In!
This piece was written by Jamal Clay, a frequent contributor of Globally Ballin and the founder of "The Athletes Forum"
This off-season has been a rollercoaster. I really underestimated the impact of the virus at first: I thought that it wasn’t going to last nor impact our season. But then, as the pandemic spread, you could see it closing on you: every day reports would increase, countries would shut down and go into quarantines, and always getting closer to home. I could see the window closing but I kept hope that I’d make it to Germany, I was 4 days away from my flight to Potsdam and France was still not quarantined. Of course, the next day, France entered quarantine, followed by many other European countries and everything just froze.
Self-isolation was hard for multiple reasons, but as a pro athlete, it became a real challenge to keep up a good level of fitness. Home workouts and short outside runs can only do so much, and without a known starting date to the season, it’s impossible to prepare accordingly. It felt like advancing through a pitch-black tunnel towards a flickering light, with no way of telling how far it is. And every two weeks, we’d get told that the season would get delayed, moving the light even further. The waiting was unbearable, I just wanted to know so I can figure out what I’d be doing.
As soon as self-isolation was lifted in France, I reached out to young, NCAA hopeful athletes in Paris area and offered daily training camps. It was a sense of regaining a sense of purpose, and to get back to football. It was such a great experience to work with these guys, and that’s definitely something I’ll be doing again. I thought it was also a great way to keep ready for the GFL, but as weeks passed, I grew less and less hopeful of a season happening. Then we heard about teams dropping out, restrictions being added… it was hard to find motivation to play a season in these circumstances.
After another delay announced to the GFL start, and the announcement of the Maple League start, I figured I might be able to do both seasons. After I checked the timeline, and with Potsdam’s approval, I started contacting teams in Finland. There were only 2 teams that I was interested in: the Crocodiles, because I knew so many people there, and I had a very positive experience my first time around, and the Kuopio Steelers, that impressed me back in 2018 by how good of a structure they were. Coach Pekka actually contacted me back in January with the intention of bringing me in, but my eyes were still set on playing in the GFL.
In the following days, everything happened at the speed of light: I got signed, the travel plans were arranged, I was leaving in 5 days. It was hard to believe at first that I was going back to football and it only really hit me when I got to the airport. Right after I landed, I met up with the Steelers to watch the game against the Roosters. I didn’t know what kind of team I’d meet, as I didn’t keep up with the Maple League news and signed so recently. I was very impressed by the team spirit the Steelers showed and how they rallied in adversity to edge the Roosters. Beside a slow start, it was a tremendous performance on all levels. I’m very excited to get to work with these guys, discover Kuopio and get back to football. I also can’t wait to meet the fans in our first home game!
I am all-in and I intend to leave a mark on and off the field in Kuopio!