MATT FRIDAY talks to young Cornish footballer Josh Richards, who is plying his trade in Sweden

Professional football is a notoriously unforgiving world, and with the chances of making it very slim, it means hundreds of talented young players are released from football academies every year.

For the majority this is the end of the road, but Falmouth Town midfielder Josh Richards opted to take a different route in order to keep his dream alive.

Richards, 19, was a student at Redruth School when he joined Plymouth Argyle’s youth setup, spending just over three years at the club before being released last spring.

He said: “It was hard to keep motivated. I sort of knew a little bit before I left that I was getting released so it was quite hard to pick myself back up and keep training as hard as I was.”

That was until Charlie Davis, coach at Falmouth Town, got in touch and said that there was an opportunity to continue playing in Sweden through his brother, and fellow ex-Argyle apprentice, Toby Davis.

Davis lives in Sweden and works for the League Football Education (LFE), a company that helps young players being released try and gain a contract elsewhere.

An offer was made to Richards from IFK Östersund, a Division 2 Norrland (fourth tier) side managed by Englishman Ben Smith, who also went through Argyle’s youth setup.

“He [Smith] said if I wanted it I could go over on trial. I was sort of lucky really, I owe quite a bit to Charlie to be fair, and his brother.

“The Sweden thing came about a matter of weeks after I got released, so I was still a bit down in the dumps with football and I didn’t know what I wanted at that time, but I thought to myself that I would regret it so much if I just give up now because I’m still young and everything so I just went for it.

“It was hard moving country and moving away from home properly, but I really wanted to do it and keep playing football.

“Obviously I was a bit nervous going over there. I didn’t know what the level was like, what the standard was like and everything, but I had a friendly the second day I was there and I played quite well so I sort of settled in straight away.”

Richards moved to Östersund, a small, rural city in the north of Sweden, last summer in the middle of the season, which runs from April to October given the harsher winter conditions in Scandinavia.

He played eight times in the second half of the 2017 season, and this experience has allowed him to note some of the differences between the country and his homeland.

“On and off the field it’s a bit more relaxed, in England on the pitch there’s loads of swearing and big tackles and everything like that, but over there you’re not allowed to swear, you’re not allowed to appeal to the ref, it’s a lot more respectful and laid back.

“The season is a little different; it’s quite strange because there’s a mid-season break as well for a month. It’s more about keeping fit because it seems like there are longer periods of not playing football so it’s making sure you’re keeping fit in the off-season really.”

It was this desire to maintain fitness that brought him to Falmouth Town in October, again via Charlie Davis, and despite numerous postponements of late he has played eight times for the South West Peninsula League side.

“[I came to Falmouth] to keep fit and to try and keep playing football as much as I can, and obviously I enjoy playing for Falmouth as well which helps.

“Before I went to Sweden I was with Falmouth for about three weeks and I had a few games with them so Westy [manager Andrew Westgarth] said ‘when you’re back we’ll just try and get you involved as soon as possible.’”

This admirable determination to better himself by continuing to play at Falmouth in the off-season is what Richards hopes will help him in his quest to secure a professional contract.

“I’m just going to try and go as high as I can, but it’s perfect for me at the minute. Obviously as I get older and get more settled into Sweden I do want to try to move up the leagues and get a professional contract out there.

“Over there you’re almost living as a professional so I do want to do that for as long as I can, but obviously when I get to an age I’ve got to think about money and other things come into it, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

But why has Sweden become such an attractive proposition in the first place?

“When you’re at a pro club and you get released, unless you’ve got the contacts it is really hard to get another club in England.

“I think over in Sweden there’s just so much opportunity which attracts players because you need an opportunity and in England sometimes it’s really hard to get.

“Over in Sweden there just seems to be a lot more happening, and the football is pretty and you enjoy it. Football becomes more enjoyment in Sweden I’ve found.”

Richards will be looking to take inspiration from near-neighbours Östersunds FK, who have risen from the fourth tier to the Allsvenskan (Premier Division) and lifted last year’s Swedish Cup.

The club has reached this season’s Europa League knockout round, in which they are set to welcome Premier League giants Arsenal to their Jämtkraft Arena later this month, the ground at which Richards’ IFK Östersund also plays their home games.

“I’ve actually trained with them once. If they need players we’ll go up and train with them, but it would be amazing to train with them more and try and get a contract with them but I’ve just got to play and see what happens.”

For now, Richards’ eyes are firmly placed on the new season ahead for him and IFK Östersund, with the 2018 league campaign getting underway in two months’ time.

Promotion to Division 1 (the third tier) is his and the team’s aim for the coming year, but with his dream of becoming a professional in touching distance, he could certainly be forgiven for having bigger goals on his mind.