Do you remember the summer of 2006?
Back in my home country, the Arctic Monkeys were on repeat on the radio, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, and a football manager from Sweden was on the front page of every newspaper.
Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006. Photo: TT
Sven-Göran Eriksson was at the helm of England and he was (optimistically) hoping to secure them a World Cup victory in Germany, after taking on his own nation's side in Group B in the early stages of the tournament.
With an outspoken and heavily made-up girlfriend (Nancy Dell'Olio) and a former fling in the name of British TV star and fellow Swede Ukrika Jonsson, he was every tabloid editor's dream.
Meanwhile I was a fresh-faced 24-year-old reporter in my first job in BBC national radio and had just won a departmental competition to travel to the England manager's home town in Värmland in western Sweden, to try and find out what made him tick.
I spent two days in Torsby, a place with a population of just 4,000 people, dotted with brightly coloured wooden houses and surrounded by thick green forests. Apart from its celebrity football manager – who started his career as a player there – it is most famous for boasting Sweden’s first ski tunnel.
Lake Upper Fryken in Torsby. Photo: Per Erik Tell/Image Bank Sweden
Friends, former players and fans linked to the man Swedes affectionately call 'Svennis', told me about his life growing up in the Värmland countryside, before he went on to manage some of Europe’s top clubs from IFK Göteborg to Portugal’s Benfica and Lazio in Italy.
They backed up his reputation as a laid-back, democratic and open guy, with a slightly wild streak.
I can no longer recall much about our specific conversations, but a detailed picture of Torsby remains imprinted on my brain.
This was the place that sparked my love for Sweden. The place where I feasted on my first Swedish meatballs as I watched people fish from a glistening lake. The place where I learnt that you could get sunburnt in Scandinavia.
The air was the freshest I’d tasted. The people were wonderfully friendly. The working day ended at 4.30pm.
After snapping a blurry photo of a wooden yellow house on my Nokia 6230, I texted the boy I was dating to tell him I’d found my dream home. By the time I’d spent the next three days chasing other radio features – travelling on Gothenburg’s rickety retro trams, interviewing young Swedes in hip underground bars, taking a spin in one of the world’s top biopowered cars – I was hooked.
Eight years later – I found myself relocating to Stockholm to become the editor of The Local, Sweden's largest English-language newspaper.
It was by no means a straightforward or obvious path, but during those intervening years, my soft spot for Sweden developed into a much wider fascination with Scandinavia – long before it became trendy to watch Nordic Noir dramas or read Stieg Larsson. Throughout a variety of different (and mostly brilliant) roles at the BBC, I kept pitching reporting trips to Scandinavia – covering everything from Sweden's unique overnight childcare system to Oslo's start-up scene, Norway’s greenest music festival, Denmark's cycling obsession and legal shooting galleries for heroin addicts in Copenhagen. Not forgetting Stockholm's new Abba museum and the explosion of the Swedish music streaming site Spotify. You can read all my articles here.
I also had some great experiences meeting Scandinavians abroad – from the backpackers I hiked and kayaked with during a career break to Australia (while all our British dormitory mates spent their days in bed hungover), to the Norwegian translator who I kissed in the rain at London’s Field Day festival, and the staff at the Scandinavian Kitchen – the best place to eat meatballs in the British capital – where I spent many, many lunch breaks.
Maddy Savage on a reporting trip to Røros in northern Norway in July 2012. Photo: Private
Maddy Savage with Swedish friends Emilie Renström and Anna Karinen in Queensland, Australia in November 2007. Photo: Private
I often talked about moving to Sweden, but with very few media organisations funding correspondents in the Nordics, it seemed the only way I’d get to work here would be by going freelance, which didn’t seem like the brightest idea in the midst of a global financial crisis and a successful broadcasting career in the UK. Countless friends and colleagues asked me the same question: “Maddy, is there really that much news in Scandinavia?”
So instead, I saved to buy a flat in London while applying for almost every overseas reporting job going. I kept coming second.
Then, in May 2014, in a taxi on my way home from a night shift and while in the midst of an application for a role in Asia, a LinkedIn contact alerted me to a job advert for my current post – a permanent position working for an exciting new European media brand, in exactly the place I’d long thought about relocating to.
I ended up being offered both jobs. It was a very tough decision, but I followed my heart to Stockholm.
If you’re a regular reader of The Local, you’ll know the rest of my tale: I touched down in Sweden during one of the most fascinating periods in the country’s recent history.
From political crises to rogue submarines and rising concerns about Islamophobia in a nation that currently takes in more asylum seekers per capita than anywhere else in the EU, Sweden has barely been out of the global headlines – and The Local's journalists have appeared on news networks on every continent talking about what’s happening here. The nation may still be a world leader in clean air and work-life balance, but it is also facing many challenges.
I’m working hard to make the site as engaging and informative as possible, and following the transfer of our deputy editor Oliver Gee to The Local France, I'm looking forward to the next chapter in the company’s history. From next week, I’ll be leading The Local Sweden’s first all-female editorial team.
England weren’t victorious in the World Cup in 2006 (or indeed any international competition since). Sven-Göran Eriksson didn’t even get to beat his home country (the two sides drew 2-2). But I definitely scored when I won my trip to Torsby that summer.