Even at the age of 11, Scott Beeks had a long-term plan in his mind. When his father Steve, a former professional footballer for Aldershot Town, made the move to Åland, a Swedish speaking island which is part of Finland, in 2011, he had it in mind he would one day join him there.
Now seven years on and after multiple visits, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder is coming to the end of his third year living in Åland and is close to breaking through as a professional footballer.
“I always had it in my mind that I would move there straight after I finished my GCSEs,” says Beeks. “During almost every half term or holiday, I would travel out to Åland to see my dad. I got to experience great opportunities because of this and because he is a football coach, I got to train with Åland United, which are the professional ladies team on the island. This was brilliant for me as a 12-13 year old to be surrounded by professionals.
“I also got to train and play with IFK Mariehamn (top flight Finnish club) youth teams as well. I think these trips really persuaded me to make the move because the facilities, the people and the football were brilliant.”
Having initially made the move to coach the Åland United professional women’s team, his father Steve would then take over as academy director of IFK, the island’s only top flight club. Having played for his local clubs such as Chertsey Town and AFC Aldermaston growing up, Beeks’ trips abroad to see his father and train were a huge step up in terms of professionalism.
When the time finally came to make the move to the Finnish island permanently, the thought to stay in England never passed the midfielder’s mind, even if he does admit that it was difficult at first.
“I found it quite hard leaving friends and my family, however I was just so excited for the move that I think that outweighed all my other thoughts.
“I think I settled quite quickly as well, mostly thanks to already knowing many people because of my trips to Åland during time off school.
“Despite most people speaking very good English though, there was a little language barrier and I definitely overestimated how easy it would be to learn Swedish before moving here.”
On his arrival in Åland, Beeks would continue is education in a Finnish college, combining that with his football, and just like the increased levels of professionalism he experienced in sport, he found his new schooling arrangement to be just as impressive.
“I still have over a year left at college but there is no doubt that the Finnish educational system is unbelievable and never doubt someone when they say it’s one of the best in the world. The system has helped my grow as a person, as an athlete and therefore as a football player as well.
“It took a while learning Swedish, I think it took around a year and a half to feel comfortable speaking it and to be quite fluent. Then I would say after two years I was fluent and didn’t have any problems.
“There is always the odd word I haven’t heard or need to hear twice to fully understand what it means. I should also say that there is a huge difference between ‘everyday language’ and ‘school language’, like having to learn specific terms related to different subjects.”
This season, the 19-year-old has twice made the bench for IFK Mariehamn in the top flight of Finnish football and has also appeared in friendly matches for the club. As well as playing for IFK’s under-21 side, to help his development, he has also played for two of the other clubs on the island, FC Åland and Jomala IK, both of whom play in the fifth tier, known as the Nelonen. Beeks finished the season with Jomala, scoring four times in eight games as the side finished second and earned promotion.
This season really has given the young midfielder a taste of football at all levels in Finland and he has developed an understanding of the type of football in his adopted home.
“I think the best way to describe Finnish football is robotic,” he says. “You rarely get Finnish players who have a lot of skill or try tricks, rarely do you see something unbelievable or bits of individual creativity. However, most teams are usually very well organised and tough to break down. However some teams play great football, ROPs and HJK (top flight clubs), for example.”
Having been hugely impressed with the Finnish schooling system and having then benefited from it himself, Beeks had also come to appreciate how the Finnish treat youth football different to what he was used to back in the UK.
“One huge difference is that almost everything in Finland, or at least IFK, is development first. They tried to emphasise that it’s the individual’s development which is very important, more important than the result. In comparison to England, or at least my experience of England, that is massively different.
“In England, it’s the result which is the most important thing, even when you are only 10 or 11-years-old, which looking back on it, is insane.”
The 19-year-old definitely seems to be benefiting from this approach and his involvement with a top flight football is testament to that. With still a year to go in his studies, he will have plenty of options once his time at college comes to an end.
“I’m very open to playing anywhere in Europe when I finish college, however I would also like to experience playing college soccer in the USA for a year as well. I think to travel someone else in Europe as a full time professional and have the challenge of learning another language while playing in a top division would also be very exciting.
“My ambitions for now though are to develop myself as much as I can before I finish college and then assess my options. Whether that’s traveling to USA for a year, to sign professionally for IFK, or to find a club in Europe.”
As a 19-year-old, Beeks has already made tremendous progress considering he has already been involved in top flight matches. All of his footballing experiences so far have brought him to this level, including playing for grassroots clubs as youngster in England, but his move to Åland can surely be seen as a key factor in his development. And for that reason, he is yet another advocate of playing abroad.
“I recommend to all players to move abroad or at least experience training with another team abroad if they are aspiring to become a professional footballer.”