As a youngster Owen Price seemed to have the world at his feet. At the age of 14 he had the world record for the fastest goal in a cup final (4.7 seconds, if you’re interested) to his name and had also agreed a deal to join Tottenham Hotspur for a fee which could rise to as much as £450k.
Nearly 18 years on, the 32-year-old is still playing the game he loves, albeit at non-league level, but it was his spell playing abroad in Scandinavia after he left Spurs which really shaped him as a person and footballer.
“The move first came about when my agent and uncle knew someone that was managing out in Sweden,” says Price.”He was also English which was a major factor for me. I then went out there for a few days to sign and meet everyone and the set up was unbelievable so I was sold.”
It was 2006 and the former Charlton Athletic man had left Spurs despite still having several years to go on his five-year deal. The chance of regular first team football with second division side GIF Sundsvall, which he had not found at White Hart Lane, was too big of an opportunity to turn down. In charge of Price’s new club was David Wilson, an English midfielder who started his career at Manchester United before going on to play more than 200 league games in Scandinavia himself.
Although the move was a massive chance for the midfielder, it still required a huge adjustment.
“To be honest, for the first couple of months I struggled,” he says. “It was winter, freezing, snow everywhere and dark near enough all the time and it wasn’t a very big city – nothing like I was use to being a London boy.”
But with the help of another Englishman, former Peterborough midfielder Chris Cleaver, Price’s new environment soon started to feel like home.
“I had moved into an apartment and the club did quite a lot for me, which helped me massively being a young boy in a foreign country. It helped me grow up quite quickly, to be honest.
“I spent quite a lot of my time with another player who was also English [Cleaver]. We often went out to restaurants to eat and watch all the Premier League games.
“Friends and family would come out to see me and I’d fly home whenever we had a few days off which was always nice.”
Cleaver had been playing in Finland since 2000 so helped the young midfielder settle into life in Scandinavia. After a year with GIF, the pair would return to Cleaver’s former country to join top-flight side TPS. It was a move which would last just one season for the Londoner.
“Finland was good but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Sweden. It wasn’t such a drastic change with it still being Scandinavia but the language was a lot harder to grasp. It was still a great experience, though.”
It was at this point that the two Englishmen would separate as Price would return to the country and the manager who first gave him a chance abroad. Whilst he had moved to Finland, his former boss Wilson had returned to take change of second-tier club Swedish club Ljungskile, a team which had both previously played for and managed in the past. It wasn’t long before he coming knocking for his former player.
“I returned to Sweden the next season and I really enjoyed my time there. My old manager had joined a new team and wanted to sign me so this time I moved to Gothenburg, which is a great city and a lot more what I was use to.
“In Sweden I didn’t struggle at all. I picked up the language really quickly plus everyone speaks really good English.
“Finland was a bit more tricky, not everyone spoke English and the language was so tough to understand and speak.”
After his spell at Ljungskile, Price’s time in Scandinavia came to an end as he returned to England to continue his playing career but it was a time in his career which he has nothing but positive things to say about – so much so that he would want others to follow in his footsteps.
“I would 100% recommend any young players to go abroad,” he says. “Football aside, it definitely helped shape me as a human and give me life skills that’ll carry me through life that I would never have had staying in my comfort zone.
“I don’t think there’s much of a difference in the style of play either, I just think we are just more advanced. It was a lot more technical than I imagined it to be, to be fair, but being a technical player I feel I slotted in quite easily.
“I think now we’ll see a lot more young English players going abroad. I feel like the success that Sancho is now having will mean he’s [going to become] almost like a trailblazer.”
However, Price’s move to Sweden in 2006 wasn’t actually his first experience playing abroad. When he was younger, he had a spell on trial with La Liga giants at the time, Deportivo La Coruna.
“I went out to Deportivo when I was younger. They invited me over and I was there for a few weeks. It was an unbelievable experience, the training ground was nothing like I’d ever seen before.
“Training with the first team and seasoned internationals was a crazy experience, something that will live with me forever.”
Since his return to the UK, Price has played for clubs such as Farnborough, Carshalton Athletic and Chatham Town and he hopes to add to the list soon.
“I’d like to carry on playing for a couple of years maybe as we’re a long time retired. Then the plan is to go into coaching or managing.
“I have a few other things going on which I’m trying to get off the ground also but coaching is my next step for sure.”
After a promising youth career, playing abroad offered the 32-year-old his first steps into senior football and hearing from him, you can tell it is still a time which has benefited his career and life to this day. He may not have got his chance at Spurs but he did get a chance at many new life experiences because of that.