Brighton. Londoners’ nearest seaside resort. A giant pleasure pier straight out into the English Channel. Britain’s ‘green capital’. There, Abba won Eurovision with Waterloo.
It is other than football that has made Brighton famous. But now it is about to change.
Brighton & Hove Albion FC are sensationally sixth in the Premier League, two points from the league leader.
And the man who gets the most credit for the success is Graham Potter, the 46-year-old Englishman who received his coaching education in Sweden and Östersund.
– If someone had said that we would have 14 points after seven matches, I would have taken it immediately. We are very happy in the club right now.
– But it’s early in the season. This league is brutal and you must not lose your head. I know how fast it can turn around, says Potter on the phone from the English south coast.
Do not believe everything you read in the newspapers.
To say that Graham Potter is the hottest English football coach right now is no exaggeration. He seems predestined for bigger tasks and according to media, Tottenham wanted him already this summer.
– Do not believe everything you read in the newspapers, he says with a laugh.
– It was that time of year with a lot of speculation. I have done two years on a six year project in Brighton. The club showed confidence in me by extending the contract and I am very happy right now. My job is to keep the players here focused, Potter continues, who in Brighton has the Swede Björn Hamberg as one of three assistant coaches.
Expert commentators regularly mention you as a man to take over one of the big clubs?
– There are a lot of opinions, that’s the charm of football. But you have to be careful in this job and not listen too much to others, it can turn around quickly.
But when a coach like Pep Guardiola claims that you are the best English coach right now, what do you say?
– Maybe that says more about the level of English coaches? No, but of course it’s fun when people say good things about you, Pep is someone I respect a lot.
If you just look at the results as Potter has achieved since he left Östersund, the tributes may seem a little surprising. He first took Swansea to tenth place in the Championship. Since then, Brighton have reached 15th and 16th places in the Premier League during Potter’s two years at the club.
It is more his modern leadership style that is noticed.
At the same time, Brighton was high last season in the alternative table “expected goals”.
– We did a lot right last season, but did not get the results with us. We knew that if we could repeat it, it could be really good. This year we have the margins with us instead, says Potter.
Are there any similarities between Östersunds FK and Brighton?
– Brighton is of course a much bigger club, but it does. Brighton are relatively new at this level. We can not afford to recruit expensive, ready-made players. We take them from our academy or from lower divisions and try to get them to develop, just as we did in Östersund.
– Brighton is a unique place in the UK, perhaps a little outside the center of the country like Östersund. Not so British. It is a very liberal place, a green city, vibrant and LGBTQ-friendly with people with an open mind.
We work a lot with self-awareness, we discuss vulnerability and courage, share stories and let the players speak in front of a group.
In Sweden, the attention was great when Östersunds FK staged various annual cultural projects, such as book releases and musicals, or when the team danced “Swan Lake” in front of 1,500 people at Storsjöteatern. Or when Potter, with his very limited Swedish, sang the Jämtland song in Jämtland.
Have you done similar projects in Brighton?
– No, not the same extreme projects. Östersund was a unique environment and a unique time. It would be a mistake to copy it straight off.
– But we work a lot with self-awareness, we discuss vulnerability and courage, share stories and let the players speak in front of a group. When we recruit, we look a lot at how the players should blend into the group, not just what they look like on the pitch, says Graham Potter.
But at the same time as Brighton is seriously about to establish itself in the top division, it is a free fall in Potter’s old club Östersunds FK.
Potter came to Jämtland in 2011 and took ÖFK from division 2 to the superettan in two years. 2015 was made all-Swedish.
In 2017, the team finished fifth in the Allsvenskan and won the Swedish Cup.
During some magical evenings the same year, Swedish football history was written when ÖFK moved on in the Europa League after beating Galatasaray and Paok Thessaloniki. In the group stage, there was further advancement, in competition with Hertha Berlin, Athletic Bilbao and Zorya Luhansk.
In the last 16 against Arsenal, the English won the first match 3-0. In the return in London, Östersund was shocked to go up to a 2-0 lead, to eventually win 2-1.
It was a wonderful time and honestly it was traumatic to leave Sweden.
But the players disappeared one by one and eventually millions of debts were discovered in the club. Now ÖFK, which meets Malmö FF on Saturday, is on its way straight down to the Superettan.
– There will be fewer and fewer people in the club that I know from my time. But I keep an eye on the results and it’s sad that it’s going so badly, says Graham Potter.
What has Östersund meant to you?
– Without Östersund, I would not have been where I am now. They gave me a start as a coach and I am forever grateful for my time there. I have lots of fond memories. When I sometimes come across Ken and Saman (Sema and Ghoddos, in Watford and Brentford respectively) we talk about old times.
And on a personal level?
– My twin sons were born there. The winter is fantastic. I got the chance to have my thoughts and values from English culture questioned in a new country. I grew as a person.
– It was a wonderful time and honestly it was traumatic to leave Sweden. We left something that was truly our home. Almost every day we refer to something that happened in Sweden, says Potter, whose eldest son lived seven of his first eight years in Östersund.
– He has probably forgiven me now that we moved. It was heartbreaking for him to leave his friends, but he still has contact with them.
Graham Potter acknowledges that he now has mixed feelings for Östersunds FK.
It was the club’s former chairman Daniel Kindberg who gave him the chance as coach. But two years ago, Kindberg was sentenced to three years in prison for serious financial crime.
According to the district court, Daniel Kindberg, together with two others, had aired more than SEK 15 million from the municipal housing company Östersundshem and the company Fältjägaren through air invoices.
According to the ruling, the money then ended up mostly in Östersunds FK.
The hearings in the Court of Appeal have now been concluded and the verdict in the case falls on 17 November.
What are your thoughts on the lawsuit against Daniel Kindberg?
– I have not followed the process so closely, I leave it to Swedish justice. But it’s sad what’s happening.
It is clear that the legacy of Östersund will be affected by what Daniel is accused of.
How is your relationship with Kindberg now?
– He is my friend and will always be my friend. We do not have much contact now, I’m busy and he’s busy. I can not comment on his private or business life, but he was a great friend and very supportive as club president.
– It was he who took me to Östersund, he helped me and my family. He believed in me. He was a bit of Östersund’s mouthpiece if you will, either you hate or love him, he is such a character.
How does it feel if Östersund’s success was based on money that did not get there in the right way?
– It’s sad. I can only say that during my time there was never any mention that something was not right, we in the management staff only concentrated on what we were doing on the pitch. It is clear that the legacy of Östersund will be affected by what Daniel is accused of. ÖFK has gone from a club that everyone loved to a club that people no longer like.
Can ÖFK come back?
– Everything is possible, but … When I got there, the team was in the fourth division, and no one even in Östersund cared about the team. We managed to turn it around and bring the people with us, you need the support of the city. Now many people look down on the club and I can understand that.
– But I still think that many look back on those years with positive thoughts, I will always be grateful to Östersund, says Potter who has not visited Sweden since the move, but who is planning a trip to the summer.
If the Swedish national team wants you as the national team captain at some point in the future?
– Then I have to freshen up my Swedish first. But I would love to work in Sweden again sometime, so who knows.