WALLINGFORD — Many a soccer fan probably dreams of it. Wallingford native J.J. Comeau and wife Janelle made it happen.
The two 29-year olds quit their jobs last year and embarked to the United Kingdom to visit each of the English Premier League stadiums.
Soccer has always been a big part of their lives. In fact, J.J. and Janelle were introduced to each other six years ago through a mutual soccer friend.
Janelle grew up in Orchard Park, N.Y. and was a striker at Arcadia College in Glenside, Penn. Her younger brother Jason one was of her biggest supporters growing up.
Janelle and Jason spent a lot of time watching Premier League soccer together. They talked about taking a trip to the UK and visiting each of the Premier League stadiums.
“He was six years younger than me,” Janelle said. “He was always forced to come watch me play soccer. He got dragged around every where.
“At a young age, we started watching soccer together. It was our favorite thing to do together. We were always the two watching games that no one else cared about. On vacation, we were watching the World Cup or other soccer tournaments while everyone else was in the pool.”
Jason went on to the U.S. Naval Academy, yet was not destined to live long. He passed away in late 2016 from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
In his honor, Janelle and J.J. ditched the days jobs and made the trip Jason had dreamed about. The couple went on a 78-day journey around the UK and visited all 20 Premier League stadiums.
There was one exception: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. During the Comeaus’ trip, Tottenham Hotspur’s home pitch was under construction. Tottenham was Jason and Janelle’s favorite team growing up.
However, while telling their story on NBCSN during English Premier League coverage on March 31, the Comeaus learned that Tottenham Hotspur was providing tickets and airfare to the second-ever game at the new-and-improved stadium on April 13.
“I means so much,” Janelle said. “Every stadium brought different feelings. As we got closer to completing our trip at all of the Premier stadiums, our feelings just grew and grew. My brother was at the Naval Academy and was going to be a pilot and I saw so many airplanes. I saw so many signs that this was where I should be.”
J.J. and Janelle were living in Boston before taking off on their journey in November. The couple returned for the U.S. in March and stayed with J.J.’s parents, Jim and Sandy, in Wallingford for a month before hitting the road again.
Following the April 13 game at Tottenham, the Comeaus went to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Norway.
They will return to Wallingford a few more times this summer, but will continue to travel abroad for much of the year.
”We were living in Boston for the last four and a half years,” J.J. said. “We started saving and planning for a trip around the world, and then everything happened with Janelle’s brother.
“Last summer, we just decided to do it. Why wait longer? I quit my job. Janelle did shortly after and we left.”
Janelle holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Arcadia College.
J.J., an All-State goalkeeper at Sheehan who went on to play at the University of New Haven, holds an MBA. Early in 2018, he launched a sports product company called Assist Sports. He invented the Instructional Soccer Ball, which helps young players learn to kick and improve technique.
“I got the idea back in college,” Comeau said. “I pondered the idea for years and years, and about two years ago I put drawings together and got it made and patented. It launched at the end of last year. That was pretty cool. I do a lot of private coaching and players asked me how to kick better, and this tool really helps parents because the kids learn in the backyard.”
Comeau was also a fan of Premier League soccer, but never had a favorite team. Like his wife, he now cheers the hardest for Tottenham.
The Comeaus loved their their three-month trek through the United Kingdom. Many of their stories are chronicled in their blog at extratimeabroad.com.
“I woudn’t trade it for anything,” J.J. said of traveling to each stadium. “There are things we learned every day. We are more streamlined at it now. At the beginning, it was hard. Certain times we had to wait for tickets because they were hard to get. We learned it’s easier to stay in one place for a three or four days. Then we dont have to pack up and repack every day.
“We were always on the go. We would get an Airbnb and check out after barely unpacking.”
Getting tickets proved to be the biggest challenge. For some games, it took months to procure admission into the stadiums, in particular for the smaller clubs and big games.
“All of the stadiums were amazing,” J.J. said. “All were so different. Some were old and rustic. There is so much history. Some stadiums, no matter where you were sitting, you felt like you were right on the field.
“Crystal Palace was phenomenal. That was one of my favor stadiums. You are walking down a line of homes and you turn around and, all of a sudden, you are in the stadium.”
Fan passion was unlike anything he’d seen anywhere else. J.J. said Premier League fans sing and scream for the entire match.
“They live and breath it and are super-loyal. Depending on how their team did, that’s their mood until the next match,” J.J. reported. “At an NFL game, opposing fans can sit next to each other with their jerseys. In the Premier League, everything is segregated, and if you are wearing the opposing team’s jersey in that section of the stadium, you will be kicked out. When you exit the stadium, the fans walk out in different areas, especially in big games.”
The Comeaus got attention in Premier League circles. They were featured in articles and videos. They’re using the exposure to raise research money for leukemia. A GoFundMe page has been set up in Jason’s honor at gofundme.com/f/wr3z6y-TheJasonJablonskiFoundation.
Janelle said her brother was always very humble.
“He was not a super-showy person,” Janelle said. “He never wanted to be in the center of attention. There were over 1,000 people at his funeral. He would have never expected this.”
What would he say about Janelle and J.J.’s Premier League tour? Janelle grew emotional. “I think he would actually say, ‘Wow. I can’t believe you guys just did that.”