Alloa to Spain and back again

AS THE Alloa Athletic team bus winds its way down the A1 to Berwick-upon-Tweed today, Jamie Stevenson would be forgiven for pining for the glorious Mediterranean as he glances out at the grim North Sea.

The teenage midfielder, however, has no regrets at giving up what appeared to be the footballing equivalent of a Club 18-30 holiday to resume his career in the bleaker outposts of the Scottish Second Division.

Shielfield Park this afternoon will be a million miles removed from the San Moix Stadium in Palma, where Stevenson, for one fairytale year, was on the books of a Primera Liga club.

The 19-year-old Glaswegian’s remarkable tale, spotted by a Real Mallorca scout during an impromptu kickabout while he was on holiday on the island last year, has already earned him a collection of press cuttings most Scottish lower division players would struggle to accrue in a whole career.

Having made just two first-team appearances for Alloa, the player who had earlier been released by Aberdeen because he was "too small" was signed on a three-year contract by Real Mallorca.

Suddenly, Stevenson had swapped midweek evening training sessions at Recreation Park and his job as an apprentice mechanic for full-time employment in arguably the best league in world football, and sharing a state-of-the-art training centre with international luminaries such as Samuel Eto’o, Miguel Nadal, Finidi George and Arnold Bruggink.

Two weeks ago, however, he brought his adventure to an abrupt end, re-signing for Alloa. Stevenson made his second ‘debut’ for the club as a substitute last Saturday, scoring the final goal in the 4-0 home win over Arbroath.

"A lot of people are maybe surprised at me coming home now," admits Stevenson, "but I know I have done the right thing for me. I was over there for a year and the simple truth is I was missing my parents and my friends.

"I was staying with my uncle, who lives on the island, and my dad used to try and come out every six weeks or so, but the longer I was there, the harder it got for me.

"It was getting to the stage where, although I wouldn’t say I was suffering from depression, I just wasn’t handling the situation and I decided I had to come home.

"Everyone thinks it was a party for me out there, a young guy having a great time in Majorca, but it wasn’t like that at all. The squad used to go out to restaurants occasionally, but I was there to work.

"It was a fabulous opportunity for me, and I don’t regret going, but I think it came too early in my career."

Stevenson was a regular in the Mallorca B team, scoring on his debut, and has no doubts the 12 months spent at the club have vastly improved him as a footballer.

"It was just so professional and organised, a real eye-opener," he says. "We had one day off a week, usually Monday, but the rest of the time you would work really hard. They do double sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday and on a Thursday we usually had a bounce game with the first team.

"At first, I was in awe of guys like Eto’o and Nadal, but eventually I got used to it and felt like another one of the squad. Everyone was very friendly with me, although there are some cliques in the squad.

"The South American players, for instance, all stuck together. I used to hang around a lot with Daniel Mohen, a young Norwegian striker who spoke good English and was in a similar situation to myself.

"The football itself was brilliant. I feel I’m a much better player now, both technically and physically, and I’ve also grown up a lot over the past year.

"I was playing regularly in the B team until October, but then the coach Antonio Cazovla dropped me onto the bench. I felt I was playing well and he didn’t give me a reason at first. He eventually said it was an interpretation problem. I never fell out with him, but I didn’t agree.

"My contract said that I could only come back to Scotland to Alloa, so when the chance came up I was happy to take it. The rest of the boys have been winding me up, calling me ‘wonderkid’ and saying I’m too good for Alloa, but I’m delighted to be back.

"My ambition now is to get full-time football, either in Scotland or England, and I feel the past year has proved to me I’m capable of achieving it.

"I also haven’t ruled out going back to Spain one day. Mallorca have said I will always be welcome there, so you never know."