As part of our semi regular features that cover English footballers playing overseas, we have taken a closer look at players such as John Bostock and Luke Steele in recent times. As we are always looking to shine the spotlight on the stories that you may not be aware of, our next journey takes us to Sweden, a country that many English players have turned to in the past in an attempt to revive their hopes of making it in the game. Kenny Pavey is a little different, he hasn't used Sweden as a stepping stone to something bigger, he has been there for 19 years and enjoyed quite the career.
Born in London, Pavey was playing for Sittingbourne when David Wilson, a scout at Aston Villa, spotted his talent. A move to the Midlands club fell through and although an unlikely destination for an 18 year old Englishman, Pavey ended up at Ljungskile in the second tier of Swedish football on the recommendation of Wilson. It may not have been the big stage of the English Premier League, but it was the first chapter in what would prove to be an exciting, yet unconventional career.
He went on to make over 100 appearances for Ljungskile but had never tasted top flight football in the country that he had now called home for eight years. Then came the high profile move that every player dreams of. Aston Villa will have seemed like so long ago when AIK of Stockholm, arguably Sweden's biggest club, came calling for his services in 2005. This may not seem like a big move to the average English football fan but AIK were a top tier side that had been crowned Swedish champions on ten occasions and cup winners seven times. In short, this was a club with a big history holding the ambition of further success and they saw Pavey as part of that plan.
The move to Stockholm would eventually see Pavey become a fan favourite with the AIK faithful during what proved to be a very successful spell. The expectation was much higher for the Englishman but he was hardly new to Swedish football or culture and so was able to find his best form with AIK almost straight away, becoming a first team regular despite never playing at that level before. Pavey has previously commented on the adrenaline that he felt as a result of playing in front of 34,000 fans in his first Stockholm derby and no doubt he found it easy to raise his game in such a setting.
Perhaps this adrenaline that he describes is a factor in his playing style. Pavey is unashamedly aggressive on the pitch and although he admits that the referees in Sweden can be harsh, that has never made him shy away from a tackle. His aggressive style of play is one of the reasons that the AIK fans fell in love with him. Fans love passion and a never say die attitude and Pavey has always had that in abundance. He has always spoken highly of the AIK fans in what has always seemed to be a mutually respectful relationship.
The height of Pavey's career came in 2009, right in the middle of his first spell at AIK, as they won the league and cup double ending a ten year wait for silverware. As if winning the two major trophies in Swedish football wasn't enough, this success allowed Pavey to do something that many other English footballers, many of whom are more highly regarded, have never been able to do. Pavey would be part of the AIK team that would play in the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League.
Entered into Europe's biggest club competition at the second qualifying round, AIK were able to defeat Jeunesse Esch of Luxembourg over two legs with Pavey playing the full 90 minutes of each game. They would then come unstuck in the third qualifying round to Champions League veterans, Rosenborg, with Pavey a mainstay in both legs once again. Although his time in the Champions League may have been brief, the fact that he even played in the tournament is a testament to just how far he had come since deciding to join Ljungskile all those years ago. Whether he would have had that same opportunity had he stayed in England is very questionable.
Pavey was just 18 when he took the leap and went to Stockholm and after more than ten years of hard work, consistent performances and embracing the culture, he had found himself at the very top, with an Allsvenskan winners medal. As AIK won the Super Cup in 2010 too, it meant that the club held all three trophies at once. Pavey was in his prime and was reaping the rewards. After defeat in the Champions League, AIK were thrown into the UEFA Europa League where they lost to Levski Sofia. During his time with AIK, he also played against teams such as Astana, Linfield, Shirak and Atromitos in the Europa League. It is fair to say he has seen a few obscure corners of Europe during his career.
Pavey would have a second spell at Ljungskile as well as a season with Oster before rejoining AIK. He has also played for Assyriska and now, aged 37, has recently joined Vasalunds IF who play in the third tier of Swedish football. It seems clear that football isn't about the money for someone like Pavey, there is a pure love of the game resting inside of him that will not go away. At 37 years old he will hope that he can help Vasalunds go one better than last season when they narrowly missed out on promotion, losing in a playoff. Perhaps there is one last chance to fill that trophy cabinet up a little more.
It is clear that after 19 years in Sweden, Pavey is very happy there. He has spoken about how he would get recognised by fans in Stockholm and asked for a picture or autograph yet can almost live anonymously back home in England when he visits. It is strange to think that an Englishman who has played in Europe's biggest competitions and spent much of his career playing for perhaps the largest club in Sweden has such a low profile in England, maybe the English fans are too one dimensional. We have an obsession with the English Premier League and the idea that if you can't make it in that league then you must not be worth talking about. The fact is that there is a footballing world beyond these shores where a highly commendable and rewarding career can be had.
Now coming towards the end of the career what can we say about Kenny Pavey? Would he have been a better player had he stayed in England? That is open for debate. At 18 he made a life changing decision to move to Sweden. It was a brave decision and one that saw him end up being loved by many Swedish football fans. He has achieved all there is to achieve in the Swedish game and so questioning his ability or potential ability is really quite pointless. If Aston Villa had signed him back in 1998 then life would have been very different but I see him as a great example to young English players. The message from the story of Kenny Pavey should be that if you take the leap, immerse yourself in a new country rather than viewing it as a stepping stone and work hard, there are trophies to be won and hero status to be gained. It may be in a country you didn't expect, but the opportunities are there all the same and who knows where it may take you.