David Roberts interview
It’s strange to think that one of the longest serving players in Sweden until recently wasn’t even Swedish, but that was the case with David Roberts. The Englishman moved to Sweden in the late 1980s after spells with Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion.
The man from the English south coast then played for Bodens BK, a club based approximately 68 miles south of the Arctic Circle, almost continuously for the past twenty years, interrupted only by a spell playing in the English lower leagues during the early ’90s and a two year spell at IFK Luleå.
Now firmly settled in Boden, with a local wife and four children, Roberts recently ended his love affair with the local football club when he left ahead of the new season following the appointment of a new manager as the team prepared for life after a campaign that had seen them relegated from the third level of Swedish football. Having played for the club in three divisions, with the pinnacle being a three year spell playing in Superettan, Roberts was part of the coaching team when he eventually parted ways with Bodens BK.
Andy Hudson talked to David Roberts about the past twenty years:
You’ve come off the back of what was quite a disappointing season for Boden with relegation from Division One Norra. How disappointing a campaign for the club, and for you personally, was it?
Last season was obviously very disappointing for the team, club, fans and the whole town in general. It felt so unnecessary as we had a good group of players but we failed to get the best out of those players. Personally the season was very frustrating: I found it harder than I had expected to adapt from the playing side of things to the coaching side of it. As assistant coach you´re looking to change things during games to have a positive effect. Otherwise it is tricky to have much of an effect on the game compared to when you`re a player on the pitch.
With eight draws during the campaign, do you see that as a case of points won or points dropped?
I feel that the four draws at home were points lost, especially as we let in late goals in at least two of those games. Like most teams, we were looking to take maximum points at home and are quite often satisfied with a point away from home.
What was the mood like at the club over the months following the end of the season?
The mood straight after the season was very low, especially as a lot of the players decided to leave the club. The club then worked very hard to get in new coaching staff and a few new players.
The last time Boden were relegated, in 2008, they bounced back up at the first attempt; do you see this happening next season?
I think the club will find it much tougher to bounce back up at the first attempt like we did in 2008. The club will have to sign a few quality players to give themselves a good chance of going back up. The club’s sponsors will be a key factor in whether they will give the same support as they have in the past.
After gaining promotion to the Superettan as Champions in 2002, what are your memories of those three years playing at the second highest level in Sweden?
The high point of my time in Boden was our time in Superettan. The interest in the town was massive; it felt as though everyone was interested. We played against a lot of teams with a great football history and adapted very well to the higher level.
During the Superettan years there were famous victories for the club against Örebro SK (1-0) and AIK (5-1). Given the relative size of the clubs, how great an achievement were these victories?
A couple of famous victories in Superettan include that 1-0 win over ÖSK and a 5-1 against AIK; they stick out a little extra. The truth is that we approached every game in the same way and we played our own style without trying to adapt to the opposition. Many fans still talk about these famous wins with fond memories.
It’s quite a remarkable story about you and Boden. After spells with Southampton and Brighton, you signed for Boden and, apart from a short spell at Luleå, you’ve been there ever since. What are your memories of those early years of your career in England and how did the move to Sweden come about in the first place?
Playing for Southampton and Brighton was a boyhood dream and was a good opportunity to become a professional footballer. This didn`t quite work out as I had hoped so I took the chance to try my luck in Boden in 1989. This was only supposed to be for one season and then I was aiming to get back into the professional game in England. As many other players have found out: once you`ve been released from a professional club it is very difficult to get a new chance. I played semi-pro football during season 1990/91 in England before re-signing for Boden in 1992. I was originally given the chance to play in Sweden by the Bristol Rovers reserve team coach while I was on trial there. He had a friend who played in Sweden called Stuart Gibson, who is now Umeå’s coach, who helped English players find new clubs.
What was your initial reaction to Swedish football during those early years with Boden?
The first thing that struck me was the standard of refereeing. I think I got a yellow card in my first three games without, in my opinon, doing very much wrong. The warm up was very professional compared to England; it felt like we had played half a game before the game had even started. Otherwise, the football was fairly similar to England.
You played two years for Luleå; given the close distance between the two towns, were the fans happy with the move? And given that you had played so long for Boden, how did you end up signing for their neighbours for a spell before moving back to Boden?
I played two seasons for Luleå in 1997/98 and this was obviously not very popular amonst Boden fans, although Luleå played in a higher league so I think most people understood that I took the opportunity to play at a higher level.
Why have you stayed at Boden for so long? Have you had offers to move elsewhere, other than Luleå, during your career?
My stay in Boden has seen me get married to Lena, a Boden girl, and have four children. I have worked in a sport shop for many years and the general standard of living is very good so we decided to live here. I have had a few other offers over the years, although nothing really good enough to seriously consider.
During those early years, were you looking to get back into English football?
During my early playing days here in Sweden I was always looking to get back into English football, but you need a lot of luck and someone that gives you a chance. I never really got that chance so I can`t really say that I have acheived what I wanted to in my playing career.
There aren’t many players who are still playing at the age of 40 – what’s your secret and how many years of playing do you think you have left in you?
I still enjoy playing so much and I think this is the key to why I`m still playing at the age of 40. I have been very lucky to date that I haven`t had any serious injuries during my career. I was playing for division 4 team at the moment so that gives you more time on the ball and the pace of the game isn`t that high.
What are your future plans?
I am looking to take my coaching badges in the future and help my children, Julia who is 16, Kevin who is 15, Jacob who is 13 and William who is 7, to hopefully become football stars.
Given the status of Swedish football and English football when you first moved over compared to where it is now, what are your thoughts on the changes since you signed for Boden?
I believe that teams are trying to play a shorter passing game nowadays compared to when I first came to Sweden. I think the same applies in England, especially in the Premier League but maybe not Stoke. As for Boden: as a club it has become a lot more professional in every way.
Have you kept an interest in English football over the years or have you concentrated on watching and following Swedish football?
My favourite team is Southampton and I hope they can get back into the Premier League. The coverage of the Premier League is fantastic [in Sweden] and we have approximately three games on a Saturday and three on a Sunday that are on television. I don`t really watch any Swedish football.
What do you think of the standard of Swedish football in Division One Norra compared to the third level of English football?
It is very tricky to compare leagues from different countries, but I can amagine that League One in England and the Swedish Division One are fairly similar quality wise, although English football is far more physical. A big difference is the amount of players in England compared to Sweden. This is a big problem for the clubs in the north of Sweden; there`s just a lack of quality players.
Boden have had a few foreign players over the years; have you been integral to helping them settle in, especially those who have moved from where the climate is very different?
I have obviously tried to help many of the new foreign players that have played in Boden to settle in and adapt to the Swedish lifestyle. Working full-time, training and trying to be with my family has restricted the amount of time I can help them. I have tried my hardest to help them as much as possible on the training field and during matches.
England have been grouped with Sweden again in a major tournament. How do you rate the chances of both teams progressing at Euro 2012?
The Swedish national team always seems to surprise me in the way they get the very best out of their players and achieve outstanding results for such a small footballing nation. The worst thing about Swedish football is the way they always seem to play so well against England; that really pisses me off. We`ll see how it goes in the summer! I think England will get through the group stages and I think Sweden may struggle to get out of the group.
Who will you be following during the tournament?
I will be supporting England of course in Euro 2012.
When you first moved to Boden it was a military town and it was only around the mid-nineties when foreigners were really allowed in. As an Englishman, how were you able to move to the town?
Boden is a small military town in the north of Sweden that has a few restrictions for foreigners. There are a few places outside of the town where the military generally train that have restrictions, but the Swedish goverment have cut back on the army so there are not that many solders in the town compared to ten years ago. I have never really found it a problem to go anywhere in the town as a foreigner.
Boden is pretty far in the north of the country and even by southern Swedish standards, has quite harsh winters. How have you adapted? Was it pretty much the complete opposite to the south coast of England?
The winters are long and cold in the north of Sweden with tempertures falling down to -35 c at times. The worst time is between November and February when it is generally cold and very dark.
Luckily enough I work inside so the weather doesn`t really affect me quite so much. I don´t think you ever get used to the cold but you adapt and make sure you`ve got a bloody thick jacket on. The air is very dry in the winter so although the temperature level is very low it doesn`t feel quite as cold as it sounds. A cold, damp, windy day in England can be chilly as well. Suicide is very high in the north of Sweden, probably due to long periods of darkness. If I didn`t work then I think it would do my head in. The summer months are my favourite with the midnight sun when it`s light all night long. But it’s difficult to sleep when you`re not used to it.
How do you get through the winter months? Is it all indoor football or is it riding around the countryside on a snowmobile?
The facilities are fairly good for football during the winter with several different indoor halls and a full size astroturf indoor hall in Luleå. Skiing is a very popular hobby in the winter, both cross-country and slalom skiing along with snowmobiling.
How did you adapt to the language when you first moved over? Obviously you have no problems now; how long did it take you to learn Swedish?
Most people speak very good English in Sweden so that makes things easy to get on to start off with. I found the Swedish language fairly easy to understand when I first came here and after a few months in college I could get by speaking wise. I feel comfortable speaking Swedish now although the letter R is difercult to pronounce, and I can not get rid of my dodgy foreign accent. I normally say that I am still learning and I have my own language something between English and Swedish.
Finally, given that Boden is quite a tourist town now, what’s your insider tip for anyone travelling there: what should they do when in town?
The winter sports facilities are very popular amongst many tourists with both slalom and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and the Ice Hotel, near Kiruna, is only a few hours away. During the summer you can visit the army museum, visit the small islands off the coast of Luleå, visit the Western Farm and relive the cowboy indian era, go go karting, bowling, paintball, or go to Boden Alive, which is a festival held in June every year. We also have indoor and outdoor swimming pools.