Over 170 players were released this summer by Premier League teams from the 2020/21 season.
Some of these players were older and had established themselves over a few seasons at the top level, but the vast majority were youngsters. Without a first team appearance or even a loan spell in the football league, a lot of these young players were pushed into the wilderness of unemployed life.
Importantly, mental health in football has come more into focus in recent times. With this, awareness has been raised for the sometimes brutal realities that await players released by Premier League clubs. Often these are players who have been at their clubs since they were in early secondary school, so nothing can prepare you for finding yourself out on your own.
Naturally the new free agents filter down through the Football League. The massive number of players released by not only Premier League teams but Championship clubs too, means that players are also forced to look into non-league football as an alternative.
This was the situation Blair Turgott found himself in after being released by West Ham in 2015.
Non-League Poster Boy
Turgott is the best example of the increasingly popular route from non-league football in England to league football in Scandinavia. Having played for five different clubs in little over four years, Turgott was playing for Maidstone United in the National League South in the 18/19 season.
Despite a dire season for Maidstone United in the sixth tier of English football, Turgott chipped in with a handy 15 goals in 32 games. Maidstone were eventually relegated, having finished last in a difficult season for the Kent-based club. But bigger things beckoned for Blair Turgott.
Swedish side Ostersunds would come calling in the summer and by July 15th 2019, Turgott had signed and relocated to Sweden. From the verge of playing in the seventh tier of English football to the top division of Swedish football in the space of a few months. It’s also key to stress that Turgott, who can play in any of the three positions behind the striker, was not signed to play a backup role. In fact, the midfielder would play 31 games in his first season in Sweden, scoring 7 times.
Current Brighton manager, Graham Potter, was the man behind Ostersunds meteoric rise up the leagues and it was likely a hangover from his era that meant the club were willing to gamble on non-league English football. It has been a decision that looks to be an incredible piece of business from Ostersunds.
In the current 2020/21 season (Swedish domestic football is played between April and December) Turgott has already notched 8 goals in 15 games, including two hat-tricks. Now playing slightly further forward, Blair Turgott also looks set to be a staple for the Jamaica national team in the coming years. The 27 year-old has trailblazed a path to success via Scandinavia for others, and it’s clear plenty have been taking notes.
Others Taking the Plunge
It’s not just top First Division clubs willing to take a gamble on players from non-league. Leeds-born striker Ashley Coffey was playing for Whitby Town in the Northern Premier League, a league where even if a player is scoring bags of goals bigger teams are reluctant to enquire. Mainly due to issues with the league being so far down the tier system, quality of opposition, condition of pitches and lack of coaching are all factors.
Coffey signed for Swedish third tier side Huddinge IF in time for the 19/20 season. The striker quickly proved himself too good for that level, bagging 27 goals in 29 games for his new club. Coffey has since earned a move to Swedish second tier side AFC Eskilstuna where he plays his football at the moment.
Elsewhere Luqman Kassim enjoyed a staggeringly good spell in the Finnish fifth division scoring a ridiculous 41 goals in 18 games. He has since returned to England with non-league side Ascot and then gone back to Finland again, this time with the exciting opportunity of playing in the Finish second tier with VPS.
The list of players following this fruitful path is now a long one. Anywhere you look across Scandinavia, you will likely see former Non-League players turning out in an effort to get their careers on track. Former Stratford youngster Kian Williams is one of few to brave the move to Iceland with Keflavik. Which begs the question; why Scandinavia?
There are certain traits about Northern Europe that are the envy of the rest of the Continent. Generally speaking there is good pay, freedom of speech, quality of life etc. But what these well funded nations don’t have are big populations.
Hence the first reason this unlikely marriage works so well; Scandinavian clubs are always on the lookout for talent from abroad. Although it may seem obvious if you look down the tiers at some of Europe’s bigger nations, the players are almost exclusively home-grown.
Secondly, and importantly is the lack of cultural differences. There are of course differences, but the fact that English is widely spoken across Scandinavia, surely goes someway to shortening the period of adaptation for English players. Which is also partly the reason companies decide to place their player placement and erasmus schemes in the region.
Style of football is a big factor too. It has been said that football in the Scandinavian lower divisions is a young man’s game. The clubs train well and often, the journey’s to away games can exceed the 10 hour mark and the style of football tends to be less physical and more technical, possibly a result of the artificial pitches.
It’s also fair to say that, unlike plenty of other parts of Europe, Scandinavian clubs are more than willing to gamble on Non-League players.
The standard on paper may look unappealing to clubs outside England, but one really has to take into account the astronomical funding that has poured into the English game over the last decade. Even if there is little trickle down effect of the money from Premier League clubs, there is with players. The massive volume of players being signed into the English game means some talented youngsters are forced to seek opportunity much further down the football pyramid, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Northern Europe.
There is no immediate reason for this unlikely new trading route to close abruptly. Ultimately all parties come out well, even if the player turns out not to be up to standard, the club makes little financial loss and the player returns with a more impressive football CV.
Let’s not forget the likes of Michail Antonio and famously Jamie Vardy were once Non-League players, waiting for a bigger club to take a risk on them. So, with that in mind, long may Scandinavian clubs continue giving players a chance to discover their potential.