It took just a few training sessions in another country for Kraig Rochester’s entire view on football to change. Having grown up playing in the academies of Arsenal, Reading and Leicester City, he was contracted to Dagenham & Redbridge at the time when he had his football epiphany.
“I was curious about playing abroad having seen documentaries on TV about players moving to other countries and doing well. I had a general interest in learning a new style of play, it was just now a question of where to go.
“Sweden popped up from knowing a former coach of a League Two team. He told me to come over and train with Umeå, who at the time were in the Superettan (second tier in Sweden).
“It changed my whole view on football and how big the world of football really is after that I made my mind up quickly and decided to move to Sweden.”
During his time at Dagenham, the forward had loan spells at Dulwich Hamlet and also played for Hampton & Richmond Borough but the time he spent at three different academies as youth player had taught him how to adapt and he would use that after moving abroad.
“Every academy I was at had its lessons for me, from Arsenal to Reading to Leicester City,” he says. “Each club had its different ideas, styles and techniques. A lot of lessons were learned.”
Having trained with Umeå, Rochester joined fifth-tier club Ånge IF under the management of Benny Mattsson, a man who had played at the top level of Swedish football for GIF Sundsvall. Ånge have had several English players in the past, benefiting from the LFE player placement programme. In the 2013 season, alongside the likes of Brad Grayson, Adam Mitter and Lloyd Saxton, Rochester helped his side achieve promotion to the fourth tier.
It was a big change for the forward but one he soon enjoyed.
“I was pro at Dagenham & Redbridge, who were in League Two then, so to go from League Two football to Sweden, the style was massively different. It was a slower pace but the ball was kept on the floor and one-two passing was a lot more important. Overall it was more technical than physical but that suited me.
“It took a while to get use to everything in the country as well but once I did, it felt like my second home. The people here are nice, welcoming and willing to speak English so they made it very easy for me.”
After his spell with Ånge, Rochester joined another fourth-tier club, this time Gällivare Malmbergets before moving to Piteå IF, where he played alongside fellow Englishman Samuel Jay Naiwo. He has now just finished the season with Torslanda IK, a team from Gothenburg, who also play in the same tier.
The 29-year-old ended the campaign with five goals in 32 appearances in all competitions as his side avoided relegation.
“Personally, it [this season] went well. I scored a few goals and got a lot of assists which was my target from the start.
“Overall for my team, it could have gone a bit better but considering the fact we lost a few players through injury and other reasons we did well.”
This season was the former Dagenham man’s fifth in Sweden and he is enjoying the new life he has built for himself in Sweden. It’s turned out be a great life and career move for Rochester and it is something he would advise others to follow.
“I think if you’re not playing a lot in England and want to keep improving and progressing, try something different and play abroad for a few seasons at least to enhance your ability and reputation.
“It is working now for a lot of English players so I recommend it highly.”
Next season could be the Londoner’s sixth in Sweden but when it comes to discussing his future, he is happy to see where football takes him.
“My ambitions have always been to progress and play as high as I can for as long as I can. So far so good. We will see what what the future has for me.”
From that successful Ånge team, Saxton is now playing top flight football in Sweden and Mitter has spent the past season playing in Singapore and the Philippines. Rochester continues to progress himself five years on and will continue to be a threat to Swedish defences.