Stirling native Fiona Brown has spent the first half of the domestic season 785 miles from her home in Scotland, having signed for Eskilstuna United at the start of the year.
The 22-year-old is currently away with Scotland as they attempt to navigate through their maiden major tournament; she’s warm and friendly when we talk, the skilled attacker more than happy to chat about life at her new club.
Move a "no-brainer"
After four years with Celtic, Brown moved to Glasgow City where she helped the perennial winners to another three SWPL titles, and it was there, playing for UEFA Women’s Champions League regulars, that she caught the eye of those at Eskilstuna,
“We played against Eskilstuna United last season in the Champions League and I guess that’s just where they saw me – playing against them – so at the end of the season they contacted me to see if I was interested and of course I was. So, I listened to what they had to say and just weighed up all my options.”
Arguably one of the best leagues not just in Europe but in the world, the Damallsvenskan has seen a steady supply of Scottish footballers over there years, and although Brown admits that she never specifically dreamed of playing in Sweden, the move was no doubt a perfect one for her.
“I always wanted to play professionally and ever since I was young I knew I wanted to play in [mainland] Europe. It was never a particular, “I want to play here, here or here” I just knew I wanted to play in Europe and I know the Swedish league is one of the best in the world so when I got the opportunity to play over there it was a bit of a no-brainer.”
Not the only player in the current team of 23 to ply her trade over the North Sea, Brown was glad for the opportunity to talk to her countrywomen about all things Sweden before her move.
“I was fortunate enough to have people that I look up to in this team that have been there and I’ve seen it work out really well for them and that obviously helped my decision. I spoke to a few of them before I went out there and asked their opinion, obviously I spoke a lot with Anna [Signeul] and she was a big factor in helping me decide, she explained a lot of things to me. I had a good support around me to make my decision.”
Unable to speak for her teammates on why they opted to play in Sweden, Brown reiterated that the quality of the league speaks for itself as a selling point.
“I don’t know why the others chose to go there but it’s obviously a good league and it’s proved that and it’s produced some unbelievable players over the years and that’s something that attracted me as well. And some of the players in that league are of an unbelievable level so it’s a great league to be in.”
Just a few months into her Swedish adventure and the young attacker is already loving her time in Scandinavia, beaming when she talks about her teammates and new home 60 miles west of Stockholm.
“Great! I love it! It’s a beautiful country, the girls in the team… I’ve been really fortunate that it’s really a tight team everyone gets on off the pitch as well and spends a lot of time together (off the pitch) by choice. I love it, it’s a really nice place to live and of course the football side of things is class.”
Already well into her Swedish classes with Scotland teammate and Eskilstuna stalwart, Vaila Barsley, Brown laughs when asked about her progress.
“It’s okay…” she starts, “It’s a hard language to learn but I can understand a lot now, on the football pitch; everything football related and that helps a lot. I’m learning but they all speak perfect English – which they like to speak as well – so that makes it quite difficult to learn.”
Playing a wholly different style in a professional league, Brown’s development has been swift, her abilities on the pitch quick to improve.
“I think I’ve changed a lot, being there I’ve learnt so much. It’s a different style of play than I was used to back home and it’s a different standard, new players, new coaches I’m learning from the players around me all the time.”
The rich depth of experience of those around her at the Tunavallen more than beneficial to her personal and footballing development.
“In that team, I’m surrounded by players who’ve played in all sorts of different competitions and events and gone different places so I think I’m in the best position to be learning from (in my opinion) some of the best players out there. I think I’ve developed my game and I can keep developing it.”
The woman to open United’s account for the season in the first match, Brown’s effort five minutes after the restart should have been a routine claim for any ‘keeper but Emma Holmgren let the ball slip through her parted gloves, and over the line to give the hosts their first points on the year. When I began to mention the goal, Brown broke out in a grin and intoned, “Belter!”
Clearly happy with getting onto the scoresheet at the first time of asking, Brown’s only regret is that it wasn’t a stunner however the Eskilstuna woman obviously understands the value of goals, even the really ugly ones.
“It was amazing, it couldn’t really have gone better, on my debut I’d like to have scored a pretty goal but they all count and they all go in and got us the three points so I’ll take that any day of the week regardless of who scored it or how it goes it.
"But it was amazing, I loved it, obviously it was important for us to get three points on the board from the get-go to put down a marker for how we want to continue on in the season.”
After a sterling (no pun intended) start to the season, Eskilstuna had been flagging a little as the mid-season break approached, losing not just their spot atop the table but valuable ground on last season’s top two, Linköping and Rosengård. Frustrated with the stilted end to the first-half of the season, Brown is expecting her team to push on after the Euros, the team more than capable of finishing in a Champions League spot.
“I think we started off really well, the last few games of the season weren’t good enough for ourselves. Obviously, we’re a in a good position as we’re only half way through and it’s still all to play for but we didn’t play to the standard we know we can play to the last few games.
"We’re hoping to fix that going forward, so it’s been a mixed bag; we’ve had moments of brilliance and moments that haven’t been good enough.”