IIt’s been three years since Jojo Wollacott lined up for Gloucester City at East Thurrock United in the National League South in front of a crowd of 242 supporters. That game came a month after the eighth career loan move that has taken him on a remarkable journey from Truro to Norway’s fourth tier and now to the Africa Cup of Nations, where he will become Ghana’s number one.
No one can accuse the Swindon Town keeper of failing to put in the hard yard when he starts against Morocco on Monday. “It was always my ambition and I told myself that one day it was going to happen,” he says. “Playing for your country in a big tournament is every kid’s dream … I have to pinch myself again.”
Wollacott, who was born in Bristol, qualifies to play for Ghana through his mother, who grew up in Accra. He remembers watching Richard Kingson, now Ghana’s goalkeeping coach, at the 2010 World Cup and savoring the nation’s obsession with the game, and in October he made his Ghana debut in a World Cup qualifying match. against Zimbabwe.
They beat South Africa a month later to reach the Qatar 2022 play-offs, which will be played in March. “I was a little excited after the game because it just hit me,” says Wollacott. “It was then that I realized: ‘I am playing international football with Ghana.’ It’s going to be a busy few months, but I’m looking forward to it. “
Wollacott has developed as a goalkeeper this season, becoming more comfortable with possession and improving his distribution, but possibly his most attractive trait is his humility. He’s laser-focused and after an hour discussing everything from his Ghana debut jersey that takes pride of place in his hallway to the possibility of facing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though now in doubt as the Arsenal star has to Covid, when they face Gabon. In Group C and their love of jollof rice, it is clear that they will not get carried away anytime soon. “I am pretty grounded. I am quite aware of my situation. I had a good education, that’s because of my mom. She keeps me in check from time to time, but not as much as when I was a little kid! “
No one was prouder to see Wollacott win his first international match than his mother, who brought him to the games as a child. He had tryouts at Bristol Rovers and Bristol City, who accepted him for the third time, and spent 10 years at the club without making a first-team appearance before joining Swindon last summer. His advisor, Eric Anyan of the JIA Sports Agency, and Anyan’s son Elijah, a scout, previously alerted the Ghana Football Association about Wollacott’s eligibility. “My mom told me that her phone was ringing because everyone was texting her,” she says. “She sacrificed a lot for me when I was younger.”
It has been a slow race for Wollacott in many ways, but now he is determined to seize his last chance. Playing alongside brothers Ayew and Thomas Partey in a major tournament was a distant dream when he was on loan at Weymouth and Woking. Ghanaian players and staff converse in English and Twi, a dialect that Wollacott is learning. “I need to get better at that, but I can get away with it,” he says.
He appreciates the importance of those loans, including one in which he settled in an archipelago in Norway and spent three months in Bergsoy IL. “I don’t think there was anything else on the table in England, so I thought I might as well take a chance and go abroad, see how he is.
“Norway was another really good life experience. At that moment it opened the doors to other things when I returned. You need to go out there and experience earning three points and being in high pressure situations. There comes a time when you are on the reservation or under 23 years of age when it is no longer relevant. It’s not realistic. “
The initial backdrop when he arrived in Swindon was far from ideal: Two weeks before the start of the season, the League Two club had just eight players signed and no managers, but a takeover raised the sadness. Goalkeeping coach Steve Mildenhall, who has had a profound impact on Wollacott, was the de facto coach.
“I signed for John McGreal and a week later he left due to circumstances. It was a great risk to sign but it was one of the best decisions I made because I needed to play. I’m 25 now. Hopefully in the coming months we can keep pushing, climb the chart and move up. “
He acknowledges that it has been an incredible climb from Gloucester to Ghana. “I know, I know,” says Wollacott. “To be honest, it hasn’t assimilated yet. But it is simply the nature of football. It is a game of opinions. You have to believe in yourself, trust the process, and understand that if you keep doing the right things and the opportunity presents itself, you just have to be prepared to seize it. “
Wollacott hasn’t had much time to stop and reflect, but he’s convinced his life hasn’t changed much in recent months, other than that he no longer passes the airport terminal upon arrival in Accra. “The first time nobody really knew who I was,” he laughs. “The second time I think people started to recognize me a little more.
“I don’t think anything has really changed. I’m not getting ahead of myself. I’m just going to be consistent with what I’m doing. I am not a superstar. I’m the same person. I’m not going to change. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism