The Dutch groundhopper who lives for football
Updated: May 9
As the Raptors head back to training we take some time to speak with Dutch full-back Jelle Damen on his experience with the team so far
Hey Jelle, tell us about where you are from
I am from the Netherlands, a place called Hillegom, it's a town near Haarlem. I used to play football there, my whole life, before I came here to Prague.
Tell us about the teams you have played for
Well so far I have only played for youth teams before here. I played for 2 clubs, SV Concordia and Hillegom. Then when I was 16 the 2 clubs actually merged and I continued to play for them. They are the 6th league in Netherlands. When they merged they moved around a little between the 6th & 7th, actually when I left they got relegated (not because of me, ha), and now they are back up again.
How was the level you played at before?
The level of play is similar to us, I think we could give the teams in the 6th & 7th tier in Netherlands some good games.
How is the style different?
For sure it is different overall, because for example where we play with the Raptors lots of the teams don't really want to play with the ball, they just kick the ball long to the strikers. Actually though how the Raptors play is similar to how teams like to play in Holland - good build up play and lots of passing through the middle.
You do quite a bit of groundhopping, how do the teams higher up compare?
Yeah, I obviously went to Slavia, Sparta & Bohemians but I also like to visit lower league teams. Dukla Prague have a nice stadium, but even lower down too - Meteor Prague, Motorlet, Admira, Aritma - I like to visit all those teams, then you can really enjoy the Czech football culture. The style is way more direct and physical than in the Netherlands. Here there is lots of playing long, winning the second ball and going from there.
Which style do you prefer?
The build up style, that is what I am used to...but at the same time I can appreciate the more direct game. I've watched quite a few matches in the English lower leagues and enjoy that, it is similar to here.
How about you as a player?
At the Raptors I play mostly left back. In Holland I played all across the back, so sometimes right back and center back too. I don't think there is one thing I am particularly good at, just my overall defensive skills. I do like to try going forward when playing at fullback, but need to choose my moments. I'd say I can do a bit of everything.
How did you find the Raptors and what was it like settling in?
I found the club online, just looking for a club in Prague. I really like the atmosphere, I settled in very quickly, it is a cliché but it really is like a family. I love that everyone is coming from somewhere different, it's a cool place to be. We all have different backgrounds but we help each other and respect each other on this journey.
How do you think the Raptors are doing as you joined?
I just joined before the pandemic so only played a couple of friendlies at the start, but since the Summer I really got to know everyone and you can see already we are building and have become a real team. Even the first game of the season, we went 2-0 down early on but we did not stop and we won easily in the end (6-2). Our team chemistry is really strong.
Do you have players in the team you really enjoy playing with?
Of course, when GP & Jan are playing centrally then it is always very nice, because they will always have your back. I am really pleased with their play, you can really see they played at a high level. In the middle I really like Lubos, he is always wanting the ball, never scared to make himself free. At the forward, we have many options but Prince is great, a beast...and also Tim, it is a shame he is leaving in the Summer - he is so quick. Badma too, he can do some real magic sometimes.
Do you think the Raptors would have got promoted had the season carried on?
Definitely, I think we would have. It's a shame as I think we could even do well in the league above. I would really like to play some different teams too.
How about away from the Raptors, do you have players you like to watch now or enjoyed in the past?
Growing up I really liked Urby Emanuelson, he used to play at Ajax - also as a left back, but he can also play midfield. I also bought a shirt of him when he played. Maxwell too, another Ajax leftback, he was a very good player. Right now, I really like Ryan Gravenberch who also plays for Ajax, it all seems so easy for him and he is only 18 years old.
You mentioned Ajax, are you an Ajax fan?
When I was young, maybe 10 or something, my father bought us season tickets, so we would go often to Ajax Arena. We saw great games, against Feyenoord for example, and some Championship winning games too, it was a really great experience. I support Ajax as father also supports Ajax. After a while I started more going to the youth team, I remember when they won the second league in the same year that Ajax won the first league - that was really special. They couldn't get promoted of course.
How did you react to the news about the European Super League?
I think my reaction was the same as most, I was against it. I think as well we need to look at UEFA, I do not like the idea of allowing in some teams each season based on their previous results. It is a good thing though, how the fans in England all came together and stopped it from going ahead.
How about the new planned league in Netherlands and Belgium?
I am not really sure yet if I would like it. I think eventually it would be better but it would take a while. I heard some recommendation of a joint cup to start with, I think that would be the best first step to see how it goes.
What do you do away from football?
I work in finance for a big pharmaceutical company, I started there 9 months ago. I am also doing some voluntary work for a Dutch magazine, Staantribune. I am doing some podcasts for them too.
My hobby though is football. I sometimes watch some films and read books but really I just like watching football. My perfect weekend is playing a game on Saturday and watching a local game Sunday morning. It is a bit early to get up but it's nice to get up and visit a different game. I then follow Premier League and Eredivise closely.