Continental capers from Scandinavia to the Med
Its fair to say that the forging a career overseas is not a well trodden path for English footballers.
When it comes to discussing the subject, your mind may subconsciously edge towards Joe Cole at Lille or David Beckham, formerly of Real Madrid, now with LA Galaxy. However in Stockholm there’s only one Englishman that matters, and his name is Kenny Pavey.
The most striking thing about Pavey is that, despite spending thirteen years in Sweden, his accent remains intact. A friendly ‘Alright mate’ greets FourFourTwo as we begin the interview and share a laugh at his cockney vernacular.
The story of how he ended up in Sweden is a curious one. He tells of his time with Sittingbourne United and a potential move to Aston Villa in 1997. All seemed well at first after an impressive trial, but things quickly turned sour when Sittingbourne were unable to agree to financial terms with the Midlands club.
As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, Pavey heard of the deal's collapse in the worst possible fashion.
“I found out it wasn’t happening when I was in a train station, on the way to a match,” Pavey explains. “It was in the Gazette. I don’t know what made me buy the paper that day, but I did and there it was: ‘Villa dream for Pavey falls through’ and it had a big interview with the manager and the chairman saying how well I’d taken it and I’d bounce back. I just got a big lump in my throat.”
He still has that edition of the Gazette in his house - a memento of what could have been. With Sittingbourne in administration it was a difficult period for the club. It was around that time he was approached by David Wilson, Aston Villa’s Scandinavian scout. Wilson offered him a chance of a move abroad, but not to where Pavey was expecting. “I was thinking where are we going? France? Spain? But no, it was Sweden,” he laughs.
The club Ljungskile SK had at the time just suffered relegation from Sweden’s top tier (The Allsvenskan). After a trial, the club confirmed their desire to make the move permanent, but once again Sittingbourne dragged their feet. With a year still to run on his contract, he was forced to wait for his move. Looking back Pavey admits to losing focus, saying; “I lost my head a bit and I got sloppy, I was still a bit annoyed about the whole Villa thing.”
When he finally completed his move to Ljungskile he settled in well. It’s at this point that FFT poses the question most Englishmen abroad have to entertain; “How did you manage with the language?”
If Youtube is anything to go by, it would seem well. Fluent interviews in Swedish suggest a strong grasp of a difficult language.
Pavey is slightly more modest in his assessment; “I’m alright talking football, but when it comes to talking stuff like politics, I’m not so sure.” He goes on to explain how he caused ‘mayhem’ at one of his early Swedish classes.
During an exercise which involved naming an animal in Swedish, then drawing it for the rest of the class, Pavey asked the teacher if he could contribute. Knowing the word for badger (grävling) he attempted repeated it to his fellow students.
Confusion ensued a class of international students – many of whom had never heard of badgers – couldn’t work out what he was trying to say. He struggles to finish the story without laughing. It’s at this point FFT notes the mischievous side to his character.
This part of his personality was also demonstrated when he scaled the fences at AIK’s Råsunda Stadium after scoring a second half goal against Hammarby, piercing his hand in the process, something he was unaware of until he later inadvertently smeared his face with his own blood.
FFT asks him about the club's fans, whom he describes as “very passionate.”
He speaks of the AIK faithful as if they were family. He is clearly being careful with his words so as to not do them a disservice. “They appreciate you if you work hard, and give your all. They are very respectful to you in public. They travel all around Sweden and are some of the best fans in the country,” he explains.
Partly due to an inability to agree an extension with the club, Pavey is calling time on his career with AIK after five years in Sweden's capital. The winger has career options throughout Scandinavia, and also back home in England.
For Pavey though, his decision now includes the potential impact on his family. "If I do end up going to Denmark it means they can stay in Sweden and either fly to see me or get the train, I don't really want to move them, to be honest."
While there’s currently an uncertainty about what’s next for Pavey, he does still believe the time was right to leave AIK; “I think after the great send off they gave me, it wouldn’t be right to go back now, I had a great time there and now it’s time to try something new.”
Having discussed his career in some depth, we move onto the subject of what will come after his playing days are over. The modern footballer has a wealth of options at his disposal, with coaching or media-work being the route taken by many.
“I’d really like to do something out here, to be honest. I’ve got a lot of good contacts in Scandinavia and I think some time out here could do a lot of young lads that fall through the cracks some good,” he said.
Of course it’s worth remembering that Pavey took something of a risk with his Swedish adventure. There was no guarantees other than a change of scenery. It’s through his own hard work that he has achieved his medals and been able to play in the Champions League.
Pavey’s demeanor is both friendly and down to earth, it’s more akin to chatting with an old school friend than a footballer with Champions League experience.
Wanting to go out on a high – as Pavey is aiming to do at AIK – FFT asks how it felt the first time he heard ‘There’s only one Kenny Pavey’ reverberate around the stadium
“It was brilliant, but they actually have a few songs for me,” he explains, before bursting into a full vocal rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.
Much like the many other versions of the Frankie Valli-penned classic that have echoed around stadiums across Europe down the years, AIK fans profess their love for Pavey and then offer their wives up to him. FFT asks quite how his missus, Danielle, feels about this generous offer – once again, Pavey can only answer with a fit of laughter.
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