From the supermarket to the Swans

26th March 2019
First team

Bjorn Hamberg looks at the footage of himself, Billy Reid and a number of Ostersunds FK players performing a dance routine at a Swedish football awards gala and chuckles: “It was worth it, because we got to meet Zlatan afterwards.”

The Swans assistant coach goes on to explain how he and a few others managed to use their ceremony passes to gain access to a press conference at the event, where Ibrahimovic - the recipient of the main award – was facing the media.

As the former Barcelona and Manchester United striker left, they managed to stop him and get a picture. “You’re the guys who were dancing,” said the Swedish legend as he departed laughing to himself all the while.

No-one was laughing just a matter of months later when Ostersund secured their place in the Europa League and knocked out Turkish giants Galatasaray along with shocking Arsenal at the Emirates in arguably the club's finest result to date..

It’s a story that tells you much about Hamberg’s passion for the game, ingrained in his persona and tangible every time you listen to him talk. Like almost anyone else would, he wanted a snap with one of the game’s global superstars.

Not that the depth of Hamberg’s love of football should come as a surprise. 

After all this is a man who formed a club with some friends at the age of 20 because he could not see how else he could start coaching, and went on to secure two promotions in four seasons.

During his playing career he trained six times a week, managing that around a full-time job at a major supermarket chain.

His daughter is named Juve – a nod to his love of Italian giants Juventus – and wife Anna is no mean player herself having played to a high standard in their homeland.

So the question is: Was there ever anything else other than football?

“It was always football for me, I played an awful lot of sports as a youngster but it was always football that grabbed me,” says the amiable Swede, who is still just 34.

“I like to think I was a good student at school but I grew up next to a massive sports complex, I had a lot of friends my age and you just play.

“You play on the schoolyard and the system use to be that each class would have a football team with girls and boys playing together. You would play twice a week.

“Every kid played football. You would play that in the summer and ice hockey in the winter. I played tennis, swimming, wrestling. I was an all-rounder, but I was obsessed with football.

“I tried everything else, but football was the fun bit to me. It was the team sport and that just really appealed to me.

“It’s the same now. I like travelling and watching movies. I’m interested in food, although I’m more a fan of eating it than cooking it!

“I love to be outside more than anything but football is obviously such a big part of life.”

While Ostersund is now firmly on the football map following the exploits of Graham Potter, Reid and Hamberg, that has not always been the case.

In many ways it was a footballing backwater, and there was no clear pathway for players and coaches to develop and move upward within - as well as outside - the local area.

It was this glass ceiling that would eventually lead Hamberg – who was born and raised in Ostersund - and two friends to form BK Bjorner.

“There were a few reasons we did it,” he recalls.

“I was already playing football but there was not much in the area to aim for. Ostersund barely paid money, were struggling every year and played bad football.

“I played for the second-best team in town, Kroke-Djursatt, and then had an offer from Ostersund. But was told I would be a back-up with no money so I would still have been training six times a week outside of my full-time job in a supermarket.

“I had always loved football but I did not feel that would work for me. I really wanted to get into coaching, and being a 20-year-old looking for a senior coaching job meant you were pretty much stuck. The opportunity wasn’t there, even at a really low level, because of your age.

“I did not want to coach a youth team, I wanted to coach a first team so two friends and I decided we would pick up all the guys our age who had maybe stopped because there was no path for them.

“That’s where we started from. We trained wherever we could find a bit of grass and we just enjoyed it. We played a few games and were quite good.”

That is a bit of an understatement given they quickly went from Division Six to Division Four Jamtland, and they were a club built on an attractive football philosophy that was very much out of place with the majority of the sides they faced.

“Back then a lot of the game was about playing from back to front. I never liked to watch that football and even less to try and play it,” he said.

“I wanted to see the ball on the floor, technique instead of physicality. We played football, but it’s Division Six so it was not hard to play the best football there!

“But we had players who were hungry and it was really positive, not just in coaching and playing but in everything around it.

“We had to make sure we had a pitch, that we had a sponsor, that we had a referee coming to take charge of the game, that the league got paid.

“It had to look serious, as silly as that sounds because there was no money involved. People paid to play and were all doing full-time jobs.

“I had no coaching badges, I just wanted to get started.”

BK Bjorner’s exploits made quite an impression and Hamberg was soon coaching an ambitious team in Floorball (a variant of hockey) before becoming player-coach at Froso IK.

Hamberg nearly got them promoted but they narrowly missed out on goal difference. They were just below Ostersunds FK when the chance to join the biggest of the local clubs arrived.

The offer was to join and work with an incoming English coach by the name of Graham Potter.

“I had a few phone calls with him. I was 26 and I had a chance to work for the club in town with an English coach I had never met,” he says.

“I was excited, but I was wondering what it would be like. I had worked with friends and now I was moving into something unknown. I wondered if I could do it.

“The history of English coaches in Ostersund was not so good, but the first time I met him I just thought he had so much common sense. The same then as now really.

“It was a sliding doors moment for me. Ostersund had been relegated and struggled, but you knew you could build something. You cannot sit and moan, you have to do it.

“I remember the first question he asked me was what my favourite system was, and I didn’t have an answer and I felt stupid.

“Yet I would probably be the same now, it’s more style and philosophy that matters to me than whether it is 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. But I still remember thinking: ‘Am I going to get the sack here after one day?’”

There was no question of that once Ostersund got on their rise to the top-flight, cup success and a remarkable Europa League adventure.

Then came the offer to follow Potter and Reid to Swansea.

Whereas, the manager and his assistant were returning to the UK, Hamberg was leaving the area where he had lived his whole life.

But the decision was not difficult to take.

“I had to take the opportunity. If my ambition is to work at the highest level, wherever that may be, then I had to be prepared to grasp it,” he says.

“When players came to Ostersund I would always say they had to have an ambition to get to a higher level, that they should not settle.

“How could I say that to them, and then not do it myself? I have to be ready to keep learning and improving.

“Moving a family is not easy, but thankfully my wife Anna was as positive as me. We knew our daughter would move into a new school but the family have loved everything about it.

“There has not been one negative.

“This is a really nice place to come to, and a big reason we find it so nice is the Welsh people and supporters are really good people who make us feel welcome.

“Wherever we go people like to talk to you, and it’s not just because I am involved in the club or I am a coach. The people have just been lovely.

I think it has been really positive on the field too. There have been ups and downs, as you expect, but I think with the Manchester City game you did see what this team can achieve when we do well.

“It sounds stupid, and I understand people will point out we lost our last three games, but the Norwich, West Brom and Man City games gave us a lot of positive in terms of how we played.

“What we did against Manchester City for 45 minutes was not so different to how we played against Norwich and West Brom.

“But it has given us a belief in the work we do.”

With that Hamberg departs to go and meet his wife and daughter, they are off to enjoy his beloved outdoors and - unsurprisingly - they are planning to have a kickabout too.