Former Player Remembers: Pontus Kamark
Mark McGhee brought Pontus to Filbert Street for £840,000 in September 1995. He was introduced to the crowd in a signing ceremony on the pitch before a match against Southend United, although he was not due to link up with Leicester City until IFK Gothenburg had completed their Allsvenskan title winning campaign a month later.
Pontus began by describing his life in football before he arrived at Filbert Street.
“My footballing journey started in my home town of Västerås one hour away from Stockholm. It’s probably about the tenth biggest town in Sweden. I played football as a kid at school, went to training and got into the youth national team when I was 15. I played in all the junior youth national teams under the age of 21. One of my age group who I played with was Stefan Schwarz who later played for Sunderland and Arsenal. I played with him through all the ranks. In February 1990, we made our senior Sweden debuts on the same day.
“I played ice hockey as well for the youth national team so I was caught between football and ice hockey. In the end I chose football mainly because of the weather where I was forced to play ice hockey! I chose football because it felt to be more fun."
In 1989, Pontus, who had been playing for Västerås signed for IFK Gothenburg where he had great success.
“Before I arrived at Gothenburg, they had done really well and we looked to continue this. In 1992/93 we finished third in the Champions League. We were beaten by AC Milan in the group but it was only two groups then. The winners of each group went to the Final. We finished second in our group, so we got combined third place.
“I played in two Champions League seasons with Gothenburg and then one season with AIK after I left Leicester. I won five Swedish titles in six years with Gothenburg. Games that stand out for me in Europe were against Barcelona in 1994/95 and, for me personally, the game that season against Manchester United. We beat them 3-1 and I scored penalty at home in a full stadium. As a young player that was a big thing for me. I was captain of the Gothenburg team as well. It was a big night for me”. Whilst at Gothenburg, Pontus was also making his mark in the Swedish national team.
“We had some good players in the national team. There was the crazy goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli. We also had Patrik Andersson who was at Blackburn for a while, as well as Bayern Munich and Barcelona. There was also Joachim Bjorklund at Valencia and Roland Nilsson who played at Sheffield Wednesday. In the midfield we had Jonas Thern who played for Rangers, Roma and Napoli and who was selected as one of the midfielders in the 100 years-team for Benfica. There was Stefan Schwarz of course as well as Jesper Blomqvist who played for Manchester United. Another player was Martin Dahlin who also played for Blackburn and who had a spell at Roma. Then there was Tomas Brolin from Palma who also went to Leeds and who later became the manager of Crystal Palace for a while. That was outrageous!
“The biggest thing in my career was reaching the 1994 World Cup semi-final in the USA with Sweden. because of its magnitude and because of the focus back home. We were a little bit unlucky having to play the Champions Brazil twice. We played them once in the group and then we lost 1-0 to them in the semi-final. We were at the right age and we were flying at that time. We were strong. We scored the most goals in the whole competition. We had Kennet Andersson up front. We did really well. When we got home the 1994 World Cup was selected as one of the top memories of 100 years in Sweden. We are not a big country and it is cold for half of the year so to compete and to achieve so much amongst the big guys was a big thing for the Swedish. We had a great summer. People were very happy!”
Explaining why he decided to come to Leicester City 15 months after the Word Cup semi-final, Pontus said: “I think Mark McGhee went to watch Sweden play Scotland and I had a good game. I was contacted by an agent I knew. I had to choose between Sporting Lisbon and Leicester. I could have signed for Sporting Lisbon but I chose Leicester City (who were top of what is now the Championship) mainly because of the English League. That’s the league we follow the most in Sweden. We think it is very professional. I always wanted to play in what for me was the biggest and the most exciting league in the world. At that time the Italian league was probably the best in the world but this was before Bosman when teams could only have three foreigners and it was not very often a team would choose a defender so it was a really good opportunity for me to get away. It was a big challenge. Although Gothenburg played in the Champions League, English football was so much bigger and so much more professional, so a club like Leicester City was actually a much bigger club than Gothenburg."
Pontus’ Leicester City debut at the Hawthorns came on November 5 1995. It was a Sunday afternoon. Leicester City were 3-0 up at half-time and Pontus hit the post with a spectacular long-range shot.
Then, three days later, disaster struck in a League Cup replay against Bolton Wanderers.
Pontus explained: “I damaged my cruciate ligament. It was the second time this had happened. I had three cruciate ligament repairs which is quite a lot. It was really disappointing for me because I knew I was going to be out for a year. And you never know if you can get back to your fullest potential. It was a very sad time and not a good start. You are always affected by it. I don’t think I got a lot worse but you don’t get better. You do lose a little bit of edge and when you start picking up problems you always have things that you need to deal with when it comes to fitness levels."
Pontus tried a comeback in the reserves at Grimsby in January 1996, but broke down again.
“Grimsby Town! I will never forget Grimsby Town! Terrible memories! Also a new manager Martin O’Neill had replaced the manager who had bought me, so he didn’t have issues about having to play me. It is up to the manager to pick the best team. If he doesn’t do that he is not a good manager. My job was to try to do my best. That has always been my way of thinking. I can’t do more than that."
When Pontus did get back into the side, in January 1997, Leicester were back in the Premier League, but then he broke his arm four games later in an FA Cup match against Norwich City, although he did not immediately realise this before eventually going off the pitch.
This meant that Pontus was out of the side again until March by which time Leicester City had won their way through to the League Cup Final against Middlesbrough.
Three weeks before that game, in a Premier League match against Middlesbrough, Leicester City were destroyed by their Brazilian midfield player Juninho.
Pontus returned to the side for the next game and the following month was given the job of man-marking Juninho, which he did to great effect, both at Wembley and in the replay at Hillsborough.
Pontus joked: “I was actually in Middlesbrough’s dressing room as well at half time at Wembley, but nobody knows that! My skill was speed, one against one. From that aspect it was interesting to have this role but at the same time it was a little bit sad for the crowd as they don’t want the charismatic players to get out of the game. It was a destructive thing for me to do but that guy was so good and we had to do it. The first objective is to win the game, not to make it look nice, especially not for the opponents. It’s up to them to play spectacularly. I personally think it was a genius thing for Martin O’Neill to do because if Juninho had been able to have space it would have caused us a lot of trouble. He had done that in the League game and that was the bell for the gaffer to do something. That’s why he gave me that job. Juninho was really good at that time."
Leicester won the League Cup Final and qualified for the UEFA Cup the following season. They were drawn against Atletico Madrid, who had recently signed Juninho!
Pontus laughed: “What an irony that was! I don’t usually complain about referees but he was outrageous in the second leg at Filbert Street especially when Parks (Garry Parker) had a second yellow card for taking a free kick quickly. There was something wrong towards us in that game. There were also penalty claims which were turned down. We should have gone through. It was really disappointing."
The following season (1997/98), Pontus was a virtual ever-present fulfilling his ambition to play against the very best.
“The gaffer used to put me up against the best players so I played against David Beckham and Dwight Yorke many times. I had to face Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars, who were really quick skilful players. I was also up against Eric Cantona. If you look at all those players, I was just delighted to be on the same pitch. It’s something that you keep with you for the rest of your life."
Whilst Pontus was at Leicester he got the reputation of being a bit of an intellectual.
He joked: “Compared to the others, I might have been! I was a genius compared to some of them! If you think about Sav (Robbie Savage), I was a genius! I could have won the Nobel prize! In Sweden we have a different structure. I had a university engineering degree when I arrived in England. I also studied a lot of languages. We have it in the Swedish system that we study a lot. I also studied marketing at DeMontfort University as well as learning Arabic which I had also done in Sweden. I had the time. Footballers only practice once or twice a day. To be honest, footballers are so spoiled. We waste too much time."
In July 1999, Pontus moved back to Sweden.
“The main reason I went back was for my daughter. I had lived away for four years. I wanted to stay in England and wouldn’t have minded staying in Leicester but I made a promise to my family and to my daughter that I would only sign a contract for three and half to four years. After that I felt I couldn’t be away from my family. You can’t compete with that.
“I was thinking about going back to Gothenburg but they had done all their signings so I went to AIK who were the Champions and fighting for a place in the Champions League. I went there for one and a half years before I moved back to Gothenburg.”
Pontus retired from Gothenburg in 2002 for medical reasons.
“This was mainly because of my knees because of cartilage problems. They couldn’t guarantee that I would be able to exercise for the rest of my life if I continued playing. I felt I had basically done it all so why destroy my body? I had played in the World Cup, I had won Swedish Championships, I had played in England. I was actually selected for the 2002 World Cup team but I said no. They tried to convince me to go with them but I was not the player I used to be so I turned the World Cup down. I retired that summer because I didn’t feel OK with my knee."
Since then, Pontus has become an established media figure in Sweden.
“I have done media work in Sweden for 14 years now. I am lucky. Firstly I went to TV4 which is Scandanavia’s biggest station who do a lot of sport and football. I was also lucky to get a move three years ago to Viasat. They have all the broadcasting rights to the Premier League, the Champions League, the Championship in England, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Italian, Spanish and Dutch leagues and the Olympics. We have everything except the German League. I work every weekend, sometimes in England. I was at the Manchester United-Burnley game recently, but mostly I am in the studio in Stockholm.
“I have been following Leicester closely in the Champions League this season. What a season last season was for Leicester! It was unreal. Everybody has a dip in form, even Barcelona, but Leicester didn’t have one. It was just a fairy tale! They did so well. Leicester really deserved it. It was just amazing. I was so happy. Even I felt proud because I had played for the club. It spills over to me."
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