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Swedish crowds fall for footballer turned 'Idol'

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Swedish crowds fall for footballer turned 'Idol'
14:20 CEST+02:00
Football fans and music lovers alike have found a common idol of late in Kevin Walker, a half-Irish half-Swedish footballer turned singer who survived a near-fatal poisoning and now has women swooning and the television heads grinning.

Kevin Walker, the Swedish footballer turned wannabe pop idol, has been making headlines all week for his exploits on the Swedish Idol talent show.

International media has gobbled up the story that TV4 , the makers of Idol who coincidentally also broadcast Swedish second division football, switched a match involving Walker's GIF Sundsvall team so it didn't clash with the hit programme.

In fact, the Aftonbladet tabloid announced on Friday that Walker can't possibly win the contest because an away game clashes with a show in four weeks.

"He has a contract," coach Roger Franzén told the paper.

Of course, there are no guarantee he'll even advance that far.

But behind the headlines is an even more remarkable story. That Walker is combining football and singing at all is a miracle considering he almost died five years ago when he contracted blood poisoning.

"He was close to death and it was a very shocking period for him and the whole family," Walker's father Pat told The Local.

The illness temporarily ground his promising football career to a halt. Walker was on heavy medication for six months and said in a recent interview with The Emerald Exiles that his condition was "very critical" before he finally recovered.

Since his comeback Walker, 24, has established himself as a key member of the GIF Sundsvall team which is chasing promotion to the Allsvenskan. He normally plays in front of crowds of around 3,000 but his participation in Idol has seen his popularity explode nationally.

He was encouraged by his team-mates to enter Idol after jamming with colleague Stefan Ålander at a club function last winter.

"His mother is the musician in the family. She performed in an ensemble which was broadcast on Swedish radio and he's always been spending his money on guitars," said his father Pat, himself a former professional footballer and manager who moved to Sweden from Ireland 30 years ago.

The publicity surrounding Walker is certainly the shot in the arm Idol needed. It was taken off the air following the 2011 series to be replaced with The Voice and X Factor, neither of which struck a chord with the Swedish public.

Idol's return has been a hit with viewers, in no small part due to the interest in the half-Irish footballer turned singer, with over a million people tuning in to the Friday night shows. Bookmakers have installed Walker as second favourite to win the show outright which climaxes on December 6th.

Combining a promotion battle with his football club and singing live in front of thousands weekly isn't a problem for Walker, says his father. After all, he's been through a lot worse.

"He has a hell of a lot of discipline and if anybody is able to combine the two then it is him. The club know that too and of course it is brilliant publicity for them," he told The Local.

"He's been playing really well. A few weeks back he captained Sundsvall on the Tuesday and was then on Idol the following day. Kevin is enjoying himself and we're all very pleased for him considering what he's been through."

The popularity of his son, who is attracting a sizeable female fanbase, does have its drawbacks for his father though.

"I'm getting approached by old women out on the street saying they are going to stop watching the show if Kevin gets voted off. Hopefully this adventure will last for a while yet."

Patrick Reilly

Follow Patrick on Twitter

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