Saturday Interview: From obscurity to Ostersunds - York City reject Jamie Hopcutt’s Swedish adventure

On the ball: Hopcutt has helped Osterstunds land two promotions in five years
On the ball: Hopcutt has helped Osterstunds land two promotions in five years
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Yorkshire football is getting rather used to the fairytale story.

Whether that be Jamie Vardy’s meteoric rise from Stocksbridge Park Steels to the Premier League title or Huddersfield Town’s remarkable dream that keeps on giving.

Hopcutt celebrates the 2-0 Europa League win over Galatasaray with his Ostersunds teammates

Hopcutt celebrates the 2-0 Europa League win over Galatasaray with his Ostersunds teammates

Another can be found hidden in the small urban Swedish city of Ostersund.

Amongst the snow slopes and ice glaciers, the winter city’s football team have produced a sporting rise of gargantuan proportions.

Right at the heart of it sit two men.

In five years, former York City and West Bromwich Albion full-back Graham Potter has guided Ostersunds FC from the third tier of Swedish football into battle with the European elite.

I thought it could be a good opportunity. I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want to play non-league. I was desperate to go into full-time. I went there and managed to do well and straight away he wanted me to go out. The rest is history.

Jamie Hopcutt

Having won the Swedish League Cup last season, the minnows have beaten the odds to qualify for the Europa League and sit top of Group J following wins over Hertha Berlin, FC Zorya Luhansk and a draw at home to Athletic Bilbao.

Throughout the journey, Potter has backed the talents of York-born midfielder Jamie Hopcutt, a player dumped by his home-town club at the age of 18.

The player had fallen out of love with the game and was destined for a life touring non league grounds.

But in August, Hopcutt scored in a 2-0 victory over Galatasaray to help steer Ostersunds into the group stages of European football’s second-tier competition.

Jamie Hopcutt, pictured playing for Tadcaster Albion  one of the many non-league teams he has plied his trade for  is now playing in the Europa League with Swedish side Ostersunds

Jamie Hopcutt, pictured playing for Tadcaster Albion  one of the many non-league teams he has plied his trade for  is now playing in the Europa League with Swedish side Ostersunds

“At first it was a bit scary, being only 19, but the longer I’ve been out here, it just got better and better,” Hopcutt told The Yorkshire Post.

“It has become more successful every year for me. It’s not guaranteed to work out going abroad. I’ve had to work hard and I’ve had a bit of luck on the way.

“Luckily I’ve had a great relationship with a fantastic manager. He has taken the club from nowhere to the very top.

“He’s put his trust in me. I have managed to stay with him and I’ve repaid him with performances.”

Graham Potter made more than 100 appearances for York City between 2000 and 2003

Graham Potter made more than 100 appearances for York City between 2000 and 2003

Like Vardy, Hopcutt found himself playing in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier Leagues when the door was slammed shut on his professional career.

He had been fulfilling his duties as a first-year professional at York having won a contract from then York boss Martin Foyle. However, following Foyle’s departure, the midfieder’s contract was terminated as new boss Gary Mills made his presence felt just one training session into his regime at the club.

“It was a bit cruel at the time,” the 25-year-old reflected.

“I’m not angry about it, I’m thankful he did. I would rather be where I am now than playing somewhere that I wasn’t wanted.”

It was a decision that left Hopcutt on the scrapheap of out-of-work footballers, despairing at the prospect of visiting run-down grounds in non-league.

A torrid spell at Ossett Town followed and his attempts to return to the professional circuit hit the buffers during a one-week trial at Brentford.

“The Evo-Stik League – that can make you fall out of love with football,” snarled Hopcutt.

“Playing non-league isn’t that nice. I was getting a bit fed up.”

Hopcutt found solace playing with two friends at Northern Counties club Tadcaster Albion before the opportunity arose at Ostersunds. The former York High School student recognised Potter’s name at the bottom of an email – the 42-year-old had coached him during his youth days at York – and headed for another trial.

“I thought it could be a good opportunity,” added Hopcutt. “I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want to play non-league. I was desperate to go into full-time. I went there and managed to do well and straight away he wanted me to go out. The rest is history.”

History indeed.

Ostersunds, founded 20 years ago, were in the 14-club Division One Norra at the time, the regionalised third tier.

In Hopcutt’s first season, OFK won the title and promotion to the Superettan for the first time.

Three years later, Hopcutt scored 15 goals as Potter masterminded promotion into the Allsvenskan, where, in their first season at the top level, the club with a capacity stadium of 8,466 won the Svenska Cupen to qualify a place in Europe.

Hopcutt said: “Graham’s project was that he wanted to play in Europe in five years. Everyone laughed at that. But now we’re there, it’s crazy.

“The first year I came we got promoted. Just being in the second league was really good, there’s some big teams, some big stadiums and it’s on TV.

“It felt like I was back in the big time. Once you go to the top league and you’re playing the top teams like Malmo. It’s a really good league and definitely fun to play him.

“It’s obviously different to play abroad, it’s out of your comfort zone. But I have enjoyed it. It’s been a great journey, it’s taken me to some massive highs.”

Potter has been in charge at Ostersunds since 2011, overseeing more than a quarter of the club’s history in existence.

The 42-year-old, who played 114 times for York before financial ruin hit the club in 2003, has been the only English manager in charge of a club in European competition this season. His success, Hopcutt believes, will have England’s biggest clubs taking note.

“He’s a pure football man,” said Hopcutt. “The way he wants to play football is nice, a possession- style team.

“In Sweden, a lot of teams are direct but he has stuck with his way all the way through the leagues. A lot of people doubted him but he stuck to his belief.

“He is great with the little details. He’s one step ahead of everyone and that’s down to him. He has a great future because what he has done for this club is unbelievable. The big teams will probably come sniffing.”

Hopcutt’s future may also come under scrutiny from his European adventure. Brighton and Aston Villa were clubs taking a look over the summer, and Hopcutt admitted home is where the heart is.

“If the club get the right price for me, they’ll let me go, but they don’t want to let me go for nothing because they see me as a key player,” said Hopcutt.

“When you get to the group stages, it can change your options. Teams watch those games all over the world and that can really improve your CV and change your life.

“My aim is to come back to England but because I have been playing in the top league, I don’t want to come back and drop down the leagues. That’s just back to square one.

“If I can get back to the Championship or above, that’s something I will consider.

“If that doesn’t come off, I’ll probably look to another country – Germany, France or Spain.

“I’m pretty open to most things.”