Everyone loves a rags to riches story. English football has seen plenty of them before, but there are some Englishmen playing their part to help emulate this type of narrative in Sweden. As recently as 2011, Ostersunds FK were in the fourth tier of Swedish football but now find themselves in the top half of Allsvenskan and the Europa League group stages.
One man who has been key to the club’s transition from lower league obscurity to Europa League contention is their chairman, Daniel Kindberg. He took over in 2010 when they were still in the fourth tier, but he always believed this rise was possible: “The vision that we put out was that we should play in the Swedish top tiers and that we should play in Europe. “
It didn’t take him long to get the successful run going, as they won the fourth tier in 2011, won the third tier the following year, before spending three seasons in the second tier and then reaching the Allsvenskan. They went on to qualify for the Europa League and win the Svenska Cupen in the club’s first year at Sweden’s top table.
Another who has been vital to this rise is former West Bromwich Albion and York City full back Graham Potter who arrived in 2011. Although it took a lot of work for Daniel Kindberg to get the Englishman to Sweden after hearing about him through Graeme Jones and Roberto Martinez: “I needed something special and they knew me very well at that time and suggested for me to talk to Graham Potter. It took about one and a half to two years of convincing him that the future of football was in Ostersund before I finally managed to convince him. He came over in February 2011 and the rest is history. He was voted best manager in Sweden last year and I already stated six years ago that he’s the most promising manager in the whole of Scandinavia and probably the northern part of Europe.”
Potter is still at the Ostersunds helm and helped the club navigate through some testing qualification fixtures to get through to the group stage in their first ever Europa League venture. They entered the tournament in the second qualifying round, facing Galatasaray. They impressed during the tie as they won 2-0 at home before drawing 1-1 away. They then faced off with Fola Esch, winning both legs in that tie, before scraping past PAOK on away goals with a 3-3 score line having lost the first leg 3-1.
The ties had differing levels of expectations and were overcome in different ways, but Kindberg feels the club have gained something from all of them going into the group stages: “When you’re in Europe you have to take the experience from wins, losses or draws with the teams like Galatasaray and PAOK and also we learned a lot from Fola Esch who are from Luxembourg. There are different angles in different games, but you always have to be open minded to learn from others. It doesn’t matter where you are from but of course to get through in Istanbul isn’t the easiest thing in the world. We haven’t conceded a goal yet at home against any team from Europe so we learn from that and also that scoring goals away is very important and we’ve done that.”
Ostersunds have a testing Europa League group as they were drawn into Group J with Hertha Berlin, Zorya Luhansk and Athletic Bilbao. This is something that clearly excites the club and its chairman: “We’re looking forward to it massively. We’ll go to Ukraine on Thursday and we’re focusing on beating Zorya Luhansk, then we take Hertha Berlin on at home. That will be a fantastic occasion, especially for people around. We’re a very small town and county and to give the opportunity for the kids and everybody else here to see the games here and the braveness of the football we play is extraordinary. We look forward to taking the points from them.”
One player who they will be looking to is Jamie Hopcutt, who joined the club from Tadcaster Albion in 2012 after coming through York City’s academy and Kindberg had glowing words about the 25-year-old: “He’s a fantastic boy and together we’ve grown through the years. He had a bad injury in his first year in the top tier but he’s come back now and shown that he’s a fantastic asset for us and he will smash the Europa League very hard. He’s an extremely talented football player.”
When speaking to Kindberg there is a clear confidence in his club and how far they can continue to go. When asked about his aims for Ostersunds he said: “The aim is to be number one. To be champions in the Swedish league and when we get that there is qualification for the Champions League. That is the number one, but also on the way to that we want to play regularly in Europe and in the Europa League to get experience and win games and learn to win games at this level, but the overall aim for us is to be champions and get into the Champions League.” With the rate that they’ve been growing it’s difficult to put that past them.