Ytterhogdal is a small town in central Sweden which has a population of less than 600 but you could be forgiven for thinking you were visiting a town in the north of England if you attended one the town’s football matches. Ytterhogdals IK are a Swedish fourth-tier club with a more than strong English influence. The club are managed and coached by Englishmen and over half their playing squad comes from Britain.
One of those players is Jordan Blinco, a 21-year-old from Durham who is taking the Swedish fourth-tier by storm. His side currently sit sixth in the league but are on a five-game winning streak and the winger recently fired home a hat-trick.
“Our team spirit is great at the minute and it’s getting better every week,” says Blinco. “We live together and we always do stuff together, which is fantastic as we’re all becoming close friends on and off the pitch and that has shown with some of the results we’ve been getting lately.
“A lot of that comes down to our gaffer as well [Adrian Costello] who has been fantastic with our team and helped me personally to become a better player.”
That is the enthusiastic response from Blinco when asked if having his fellow compatriots at the club has helped him settle in. After several years around youth football in his homeland, he is delighted to be reaping the benefits of the first team football that a move abroad can offer.
Having started his career at Darlington, at the age of 15 he made the step-up to Sunderland and progressed through their youth sides, working his way up to game time with the under-23s.
“I loved my time at Sunderland as I developed mentally and physically during my time there and I had a great coach in Elliot Dickman, who I wished I had another year with,” he says.
During his time with Sunderland, he had a couple of loan spells out, including his first taste of football abroad. Back in March 2016, Blinco joined Norwegian fourth-tier club Bergsøy, a club who Englishman Craig Rogers now plays for. It was certainly an unusual move for a Premier League youngster to make but one he took full advantage of.
“The Bergsøy move was down to Kevin Ball at Sunderland who rang me and said there was an opportunity to play a handful of games and get my profile out there. I was grateful for the chance as I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to at Sunderland.”
He certainly raised his profile in Scandinavia with his performances as he scored eight goals in just fifteen games for the Norwegian side, including a hat-trick in the 7-1 thumping of Surnadal. The club also had Scott Burgess on loan at the time, a midfielder who played for Macclesfield Town this season.
After returning from Bergsøy, his second loan spell after spending time at Boston United, Blinco left Sunderland and dropped into non-league football, albeit a very successful non-league club.
“After I left Sunderland I went to South Shields,” he says. “I loved my time there but I wanted to be in an environment where it was everyday so I could fully focus on my football instead of twice a week.
“That’s no disrespect to South Shields as they’re a big club and maybe one day I could have the opportunity of going back there.”
That full time environment came in the form of a move to Sweden to join Ytterhogdals IK earlier this year. Already with a strong English contingent, the move seemed perfect for the 21-year-old.
“My move to Ytterhogdal was through a top guy and now a close trusted friend of mine Nick McCreery (of McCreery Sports Management) who has been excellent giving me an opportunity like this. I’m so grateful for this chance and he has helped me a lot when many people turned their back on me.”
His new side are now exactly halfway through their season and although in sixth place, they have every chance of being promoted if they keep up their recent form. The club are managed by Adrian Costello, the former manager of English non-league side Garforth Town and a UEFA A-License holder. He is assisted by Andrew Hardey who joined the club in 2016 after his son had gone over to play for the side.
The club were also previously managed by Brian Wake, a striker from Stockton-on-Tees who played in Scotland and Sweden and is now back at one of his former clubs, Östersunds FK, assisting caretaker manager Ian Burchnall.
A large proportion of their English players come through the League Football Education’s Erasmus+ scheme (read more here) which allows young English players to continue their footballing education abroad on a short-term deal which can lead to longer deal if they impress.
Blinco is playing alongside many Erasmus+ graduates and is an advocate of how good the experience on the pitch can be in the Swedish fourth-tier.
“The standard here is actually really good which I was quite surprised about at the beginning,” he says. “We’ve played some tough teams who can play decent football.
“I’d say the standard here is better than what I experienced in Norway but at Sunderland it was much more faster paced, although over here it’s men’s football which is quite ruthless. You have to take your chances on the pitch or you can be punished.”
It seems like the young forward is enjoying his second chance abroad although he is not thinking too far ahead when it comes to his future playing options.
“My ambitions are to take every game as it comes and just keep playing the best I can to hopefully play at the highest level I possibly can. I’d love to keep playing abroad as I love playing in other countries.
“For now though, I’m hoping to stay out here for a longer time so I can develop and play at the highest level, that’s my goal.”
Ytterhogdals are certainly a unique side. Their largely foreign cohort has brought real life to the community and if Blinco continues on his hot streak, they could be soon making a real impact on Swedish football.