We regularly hear of players heading from English non-league to Sweden. Many released scholars get the chance to play in the Swedish fourth-tier through the LFE’s Erasmus+ scheme and then work their way up. But Alex Purver’s story is unique. Yes he did go from non-league to Sweden but he went straight to the top. From the sixth-tier of English football to the top-flight of Swedish football.
“The step up in league has been a challenge but one that I’ve really enjoyed,” he says. “The style of play in the National League in England is very different to out here in Sweden but both present different challenges.
“The tempo is much higher in England but the technical quality of the players and tactical understanding of the game is much better in the Allsvenskan.
“Going from part-time at Guiseley back to full time at ÖFK has been something that I’ve welcomed and taken advantage of since moving to Östersunds.”
The 24-year-old is speaking after his first appearance of the season for Östersund, helping his side to a 1-0 victory away to Falkenberg.
Having joined partway through the season last year, it looked like Purver would be able to get a full campaign under his belt this season but the global pandemic scuppered those plans. The Allsvenskan eventually started three months late in June.
It was a big step-up for the midfielder, coming from National League North with Guiseley but he was no stranger to the pro game. He learned the game with his hometown club Leeds United. Joining at the age of 6, he spent over 15 years with the side. He progressed through the ranks to captain the under-21 side but despite being entrusted to lead the club’s youngsters, a first team chance never came.
“I look back on my time at Leeds with really fond memories,” says the 24-year-old. “Being there from the age of six, it was always my dream to play for the first team but the fact I didn’t, doesn’t change what an amazing time it was.
“I met a lot of great people there, from coaches, to players, to staff and developed some great relationships with people that have continued since I’ve left.”
Whilst at Leeds, Purver did get the opportunity to play senior football for the first time, albeit on loan at nearby club Guiseley, who have had a close relationship with their West Yorkshire neighbours for several years.
Joining the club initially in the 2016/17 season, the midfielder played 29 times in all competitions as he got his first taste of competitive men’s football.
At the end of his spell, he joined the side on a permanent deal, playing another 74 times for the Lions over two seasons, scoring six goals. He missed just one league game in the 2018/19 season, being a vital player for the club.
That’s when his chance to go abroad for the first time came about.
“The opportunity at Östersunds came about through a coach I worked with at Leeds, Mikey Morton, who told me ÖFK were looking for a midfielder and asked if I’d be interested in going over for a trial.
“I had to cancel a holiday with my girlfriend to come on the trial, but it turned out to be a good decision as the trial went really well and I ended up signing an 18-month deal over here in Sweden.”
It indeed was a good decision as Purver returned to full-time football and joined a club renowned for their English influence over the past decade. First it was Graham Potter who took the side from the fourth-tier to the top-flight and now it was compatriot Ian Burchnall in charge. The side were not quite at the highs of the previous year when they had defeated Arsenal in the Europa League but they were still a solid outfit in the Swedish top-flight. They had Ravel Morrison on their books for the start of the season and also had ex-Chelsea man Charlie Colkett and former West Ham winger Blair Turgott in midfield.
Purver went on to make four appearances, all starts, over the course of the rest of the season as he relished the step-up in standard and the change in lifestyle.
“This is my first time in Sweden and I’ve loved living here for the past year,” he notes. “My girlfriend has moved out here with me, so we’re really enjoying exploring and experiencing a different country and new culture together.”
After surviving a relegation scare in the 2019 season, Östersund had an unsettling off-season with the club’s former chairman sentenced to prison for financial irregularities but Purver states that it did not affect the players.
“I am really confident in the group of players we have here at ÖFK. Last year was a difficult year for a number of reasons but I feel we have come together as a squad this year and are looking to have a really successful campaign this season.”
Since hearing from Purver, the club and manager Burchnall have decided to part ways meaning the club will now be led by a non-English coach for the first time since before 2010 when Potter took over. At least Burchnall went out on high after that victory over Falkenberg which moved his side out of the relegation spots.
As well as playing, the midfielder is also looking to help his fellow footballers with a project of his own. The 24-year-old has created the Alex Purver Football Programme to offer tailored coaching to help players improve their game.
“I have started an individual and small group football coaching business here in Östersund. We offer tailored coaching focusing on the specific needs of each individual player. We work we players aged eight all the way up to adults, at all ability levels.
“We’d love to have a chat and answer any questions people may have regarding how we work and how we can help them, whatever their footballing ambitions may be.”
There may be a new project underway but it will also be a project to help preserve Östersund’s top-flight status this season. As it stands they have seven points from their first seven games but if there’s anyone who knows how to dig deep, it’s Purver, having battled through relegation battles during his time at Guiseley.