Former Dunedin player enjoying freedom in Sweden

Joel Stevens
Joel Stevens
Life has remained remarkably normal for Joel Stevens over the past six months.

Or as close to normal as has been possible.

Games went on hold for a while, but everything else carried on for the Dunedin football player who is living and playing in Varnamo, Sweden.

He moved there at the start of the year, allowing his partner to return home. That followed a stint in Dunedin where he returned to play a starring role for Southern United.

Sweden has remained largely open during the Covid-19 pandemic, taking what has been described as a "herd immunity" approach. Cafes and bars stayed open, as did schools.

The football season was put on hold — although it started with no crowds three weeks ago — but his IFK Varnamo team was able to train right through.

"It was pretty odd for me," Stevens (25) said.

"I was obviously talking to my parents and friends back home.

"For you guys it was complete lockdown; here it was normal life.

"You could still go to cafes and things like that.

"I don’t think the schools shut down, universities shut down, they just worked from home.

"Everyone was still working. Nothing really changed."

While there had been some safety concerns — notably his insurance not covering him in the event of a pandemic — he said it was nice to retain the freedom, although

it had messed with his plans to find a job alongside football.

While he was a full-time professional, he said most players were able to work around football as well. However, jobs had been harder to come by.

He had hoped to travel around while there too, which was now not going to happen. Likewise, he was unsure if he would be able to visit home for Christmas.

His season was due to finish in early December now and if the two-week arrival quarantine remained in place, it would not give him time to complete the trip.

He was enjoying being back in Sweden, though. His team was good, as was his coach — which had been a problem in his last venture to the country.

Varnamo was playing two games a week at the moment, having won its first four, although it lost its last two.

Stevens said it was a higher level of football than in New Zealand.

The teams passed well and the game management was of a higher standard, while there were no easy games.

He was unsure of his long-term plan, although he hoped to stay on if he was able to secure another contract next year.

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