September 28th, 2016

From division four to the Allsvenskan in four seasons, the remarkable story of Graham Potter

From division four to the Allsvenskan in four seasons, the remarkable story of Graham Potter From division four to the Allsvenskan in four seasons, the remarkable story of Graham Potter
Updated: 4:20 pm, Apr 06, 2016

LEICESTER City topping the Premier League and the club’s striker Jamie Vardy rising from factory worker to top goal scorer and an England call-up are undoubtedly the biggest story of the football season this year.

But that fairytale has an equal – an equal in the form of Solihull footballer turned manager Graham Potter.

A relative unknown on the world scene, the 40-year-old is creating his own footballing dream in Sweden.

Born in 1975, Potter made 320 career league appearances for clubs including Birmingham City, Stoke, Southampton and even donned the three lions shirt for two England under 21 international friendlies in 1998.

His appointment as manager of Swedish fourth tier side Ostersund in 2011 went relatively unnoticed.

But the events that have unfolded in the subsequent years have turned into a footballing tale of folklore.

The married father-of-three has taken Ostersund from the anonymity of fourth division football to the Allsvenskan – Sweden’s top flight of football – in just four years.

Instead of 500 people turning out to watch his team play fellow minnows, Graham saw his team kick off their top flight season on Monday night in front of a massive 31,000 fans – holding the experienced Hammarby to a 1-1 away draw.

In the coming months the team will go head-to-head with Champions League regulars Gothenburg, Malmo and Helsingborgs to name just a few.

Speaking to Observer reporter Shaun Reynolds, the former Light Hall School pupil said: “The whole experience has been amazing and I am so proud to be involved with the fairytale story here at Ostersund.

“Playing in the top flight in front of over 31,000 people on Monday night was fantastic in every way – it was a real historic moment for the club, the player and me.”

Everything may be smelling of roses now for Graham and Ostersund.

But it was a very different story when he first took the reins – having been recommended by Everton assistant manager Graham Jones.

The former Knowle FC player added: “Just four years ago we had been relegated to the fourth division, only 500 fans came to see us and they usually wanted us to lose because the atmosphere and spirit was just so low.

“But the chairman had a vision of building a football club and wanted to make a difference – and now here we are, getting ready to play against Champions League teams.”

Moving to Sweden was a big decision for Graham and his wife – their son was just 11 months old at the time (he is now nearly six and the couple have twins who are nearly one) while his Mrs Potter ran a successful business back in the UK.

But it is a decision that proved to be more than worth the effort.

Graham’s success has even seen him be compared to current England manager Roy Hodgson – who began his managerial career in Sweden – and former Malmö FF manager Bob Houghton, who famously lost to Nottingham Forest in 1979 European Cup final.

Potter’s current squad includes Jamal Blackman, a talented young goalkeeper on loan from Premier League giant Chelsea and various players from Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea, Mexico and the United States.

But how did he manage to take the team from zeros to heroes in such a short space of time?

Graham added: “My own career path guided me to this job and I’ve used my footballing experience to help the team progress to where they are now.

“For me it’s been about adapting to the environment I’m in, understanding the culture and recruiting the right players.”

Despite his new life in Sweden, Potter described Solihull as his home and regularly visits his parents who still live at the same home he was brought up in in Shirley.

He added: “All my childhood football was played in Solihull and Shirley is my home.

“I played for Knowle North Star, as it was called back then and that’s where my love of football all started.”

“I have so many happy and special memories of Solihull.”

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