I’ve been asked about film rights for my story but I want to make ‘lost’ Swansea box office again
GRAHAM POTTER has lived through one Disney-style fairytale – now he is focused on creating another at Swansea.
The well-travelled 43-year-old arrived at the Liberty Stadium this summer having made his name in a Swedish backwater where he transformed Ostersunds from alsorans into Europa League upstarts.
It was a back-story that earned him a crack with the Swans, a club trying to regain its place centre stage after a fall into the Championship chorus line.
Potter may one day have his name in lights. But not just yet.
He said: “I’ve been asked about film rights. People want to speak to me about what happened at Ostersunds.
“I’m proud of the story, proud of being part of an amazing experience, going from the fourth tier of Swedish football to the Europa League. When we started, no-one believed in the club. There had been too many broken promises. No one liked the club. Those interested in Ostersunds didn’t trust anyone.
“My wife turned up to drop our eldest at nursery one day and they asked why she was in Ostersund. They said to her ‘Just go home, you’re wasting your time.’
“By the end there are 5,000 people coming from Ostersund – a town with only 50,000 inhabitants – to watch a game of football in London against Arsenal. They travelled because we had given them something to believe in. And that’s what we are in this job for.”
There is a matter-of-factness about Potter. He is one of the few to have played at every level from the Premier League down, following a handful of appearances at Southampton. But he’s now spent just as long coaching. And he’s making waves, too, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what he was going to do.
He said: “I had 13 years as a professional footballer. A lot of kids will dream about doing it. I did at a variety of levels. I was fortunate. I had a few clubs, lots of managers, lots of influences.
“But I stopped playing when I was 30 because I lost motivation.
“It was a conscious decision to quit. I didn’t want to do that and end up getting someone the sack because I was going through the motions.
“I wasn’t enjoying playing in League Two. I wasn’t earning that much money. I knew football would kick me out at some point and I wanted to go on my own terms.
“I had saved a bit of money and my wife had a business so, financially, we could get through the transition, but I needed to do something.
“In a lot of dressing-rooms the chat among the lads would be ‘how much money have you got?’ and ‘how much do you need to retire?’
“I’d pull them up and say: ‘It’s not about that. If you stop playing at 35, what are you going to do with the rest of your lives? You still need a purpose.’ I’d realised that it was coming to an end. Was I going to continue on £30,000 a year?
“It was a powerful moment in my life. I was turning my back on being paid to play football. You turn up, train, play and go home.
“I wanted to use the experiences I had. I had an idea about teaching so I went down that route. I picked up coaching badges but I needed to become a better coach.
“You lose your identity as an athlete when you stop playing and I think I struggled.
“What saved me was my job at the University of Hull as football development manager. I was coaching all age groups, from six-yearolds to college kids. That, coupled with my degree, got me the gig at Ostersunds.
“I had to sit in front of a panel of five at interview and complete a personality profile test. It was tough. “But I started to work in this learning environment. There were people there I could coach. A lot had been released by clubs. It was a turning point for me.”
Though he was given time to shape the club, it was his first managerial position and came with its own pressure.
He said: “People say to me ‘you were at Ostersunds for seven years – you had time.’ But it wasn’t exactly like that.
“When I got the job the chairman said to me: ‘First season you need to get promoted.’ We were promoted.
“Second season he came and said to me: ‘You need to get promoted again.’ We had two promotions in as many years.” Potter faces a whole new challenge in south Wales.
“What I found at Swansea was a club that had lost its way,” said Potter. “A club that did its best to stay in the Premier League.
“But the focus on just staying in the Premier League can eat you up and I think it has had that effect on this club. “It has to re-set its values. “The Premier League is wonderful but it’s a dangerous path to go down if you count success as merely staying in it. That can erode the good things at your club, the good things that are important to the club.
“Are we proud to play here? Are people coming to develop their careers? We need the fundamentals of the club back – they’ve been lost somewhere along the way.”
It may not happen but Graham Potter, for one, is determined that the sequel doesn’t turn out to be a box-office flop.
rags to riCHes: Graham Potter in his office at Swansea and, below, with Arsene Wenger before Ostersunds took on Arsenal in last season’s Europa League