Old biding his time in far-flung Sweden

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:00 10/06/2014

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Steven Old has had to trek to far-flung reaches of the world to nail professional football contracts.

The former New Zealand player was at Shijiazhuang in the north of China last year, now he answers the phone in Sweden.

"I have to go wherever I can get a club at a decent level," he said.

Before that the Palmerston North man was playing in Scotland and England and now nine-month to one-year contracts seem to be his norm.

He is with Swedish second-division club Ljungskile SK in the city of Uddevalle on the west coast of the Scandinavian country.

The bonus this time is he can take a two-hour commuter flight to Heathrow at a cost of only $300. He has done that twice to be reunited with wife Kim, who has to stay there to work in London.

Old said the football is of a decent standard, more physical than in China, with a few renowned teams who have been relegated and can't get back up.

His team has more foreign players than any other in division two with six, mainly Americans or Englishmen.

There is one big advantage over China. "Everyone speaks English so you don't need to speak Swedish. They are all accommodating to us foreign players."

The weather is warm, in the high 20s, but it doesn't get dark until midnight which disrupts sleeping patterns.

There are only four hours of darkness and 20 hours of daylight.

Old lives in Udaville, a city of about 50,000 people and a popular city for retired people from Gothenburg which lies an hour north.

"It is an interesting place, very relaxed with a lot of similarities to New Zealand. The Swedish people are very neutral."

The team travel everywhere by bus and there are two clubs a 10-hour drive away up north near Finland.

A toe infection meant Old missed the first three games. He played two games against the top two teams. Both were lost, another player came in and they had three clean sheets which meant he has been on the bench since.

"I'm hoping to play a bigger part soon enough. I'm not playing as much as I'd like to; football's like that.

"It seems to be the story of my career the last few years. In professional football you've got to take it.

"We have three centre-halves here and I've just got to wait my time."

He can play in the reserves team each week, but said it's not the same.

Aside from one year, Ljungskile have always been in the second division and attract small crowds of about 1200. Other clubs have 20,000-seat stadiums.

The big name in Sweden is Paris St Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "He has got the world on a string," Old said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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