Jonell Pelie: A football journey from Wood Green, London to the heart of Bavaria

In 2017, Jonell Pelie made the monumental decision to leave his hometown of Wood Green, London, and head to Kempten, Germany, deep in Bavaria, to play linebacker/defensive end for the Allgäu Comets in the German Football League.

It’s a decision he doesn’t regret. Four years later he is still in Kempten as Allgäu’s starting defensive end and today, July 24, he is preparing, together with his teammates, to square off against a winless Frankfurt Universe squad in Frankfurt.

The now 26-year-old Pelie has been a mainstay for the Comets since arriving in 2017. His rare mix of size and athleticism make him one of the team’s most diverse weapons on defense – regularly in the top three for tackles, forced fumbles, sacks, TFL’s and even on occasion, interceptions. But he is just one of the many Brits who have made a life for themselves outside of football in Europe.

His football journey started in 2013 in the junior program of former British football powerhouse London Blitz. Although he would see no playing time in 2013 due to a late arrival to the team, he would make his way to the semi-final in 2014 and eventually win a Junior National Championship in 2015.

The inside backer played his first senior season in 2016 on a squad that saw future collegiate athletes as well as imports Jason Selormey (Dresden Monarchs), Glen Toonga (Dresden Monarchs), Kodjo Davis (Helsinki Roosters) amongst others. The Blitz would reach two consecutive finals, narrowly missing out to the London Warriors in both

Jonelle Pelie wrapping up a London Warriors running back in the 2016 Brit Bowl Photo: London Blitz

It was Pelie’s presence as a sure-tackler and high-motor player that earned him a spot on the 2017 Great Britain National squad with former Comet and London Warrior, Ariel Mafondo. Mafondo, impressed with Pelie’s play and demeanor, made a phone call to the Allgau’s then Head Coach, Brian Caler. Six months later Jonelle leaves England for the first time ever to arrive in Bavaria to begin his long campaign with the Comets.

Mafondo on Pelie: “The thing I like about Jon is his work ethic and willingness to learn and improve his game. He always asked questions and always took onboard the advice I gave him. He never made the same mistake twice”

Year after year, the Brit stayed in Kempten; he learned German, found himself a girlfriend, a job, and settled down in the quiet picturesque region of Bavaria.

“Being from London where something is always happening, always busy, there’s no time for yourself. Here I can be myself and not worry about what other people think. The team is level headed, humble and hard working. There is a community atmosphere on the team and in the town. You can ask for help and people know you play for the Comets.”

But Pelie’s time in Kempten has been marred by team mediocrity as the Comets haven’t escaped the shackles of the numbers six and eight since 2017. An 8 – 6 record in 2018 got them to the playoffs but they were trampled 51 – 19 by the Dresden Monarchs in the first round.

Comets DE Jonelle Pelie leaping to tackle Saarland Hurricanes ball carrier Photo: Sarah Philipp

Pelie reflects on his time at the Comets:

“This team has always been talented and well coached but we have had some tough games against tough teams where we narrowly missed out. If we can just gel a bit more and improve our chemistry we can go above that 500. mark consistently as we have the core group of guys to do it.”

This year, in a shortened season, Pelie feels things can be different. He is now joined by former Blitz teammate and RB Glen Toonga:

“It’s dope being back with Glen. It’s like old Blitz vibes. Training together and cracking jokes. I haven’t been back to London since 2018. Last time I went back to Wood Green there were people wearing suits…It’s changed.”

Two weeks ago the side lost their first game of the season as their offense struggled to produce in a low scoring game. But as the team looks forward to winless a Frankfurt side it is anything but a given:

“We need to build on what we identified were our weaknesses last game. Things we weren’t doing. We saw issues and should have won that game [Saarland]. You should see those changes on Saturday. But they haven’t had a good start either and they will also be changing things. They’ve got things they will be trying to improve on too. Regardless of their record, football still needs to be played.”

Make sure to watch Pelie and the Comets line up against the Universe Saturday, July 24 on AFI.tv.

Feature image: Shakral Photography

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the