Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
Auntie Ruth’s nightclub, Northampton, late 1999. A hot new band named Toploader are sweeping the nation and Premiership goalkeeper Magnus Hedman is up on the sticky dancefloor throwing some shapes to their infectious debut single, Dancing in the Moonlight. Northamptonshire’s premiere discotheque would never be so cool again. Nor would Toploader. And nor, regrettably, would Hedman.
The Coventry City No.1 was at the peak of his powers at the turn of the millennium, having ousted the legendarily resilient Steve Ogrizovic in a Sky Blues side that revelled in its unfashionable tag, sustaining top-flight status for more than three decades. A £500,000 signing from AIK in 1997, Hedman was also winning plaudits for the Swedish national team - keeping a record number of clean sheets on route to the Euro 2000 finals amid rumoured interest from Barcelona.
“He was a great shot-stopper who commanded his area well and rarely lost his Swedish cool,” surmised one fan on the Sky Blues Talk website. Others fondly remembered the “fantastic reactions” and “calming influence” of a goalkeeper once referred to by American writer Rick Gekoski as having “hands like flypaper”.
Not only was Hedman good at making saves, he was also an unmistakably cool customer, with dancing to Toploader in Northampton nightclubs merely the tip of the iceberg. Customarily seen clinging to his 6ft 5in frame was Magdalena Graaf, a Swedish author, model and pop star (not necessarily in that order) who left a greater impression on many Coventry fans (the males ones, anyway) than the player himself.
“I can remember the first time I saw Hedman’s wife. It was in a magazine and I think it might have been Hello, which would mean it was at the hairdressers,” recalled one still-infatuated supporter. “Fit”, “smoking hot” and “mint” are other descriptors applied by City fans to Graaf, who was once voted the world’s sexiest footballer’s wife and whose equally striking sister Hannah dated Hedman’s Sweden team-mate Martin Dahlin.
Hedman was the guy who appeared to have it all. But even strapping Viking superstars with supermodel wives have their weaknesses, and one of Hedman’s was crosses.
“Excellent shot-stopper but could not catch a ball on crosses to save his life,” remarked one City fan, while another agreed that the Swede “couldn’t catch a cold”. “Some great saves but also some howlers,” was the most balanced assessment.
Coventry’s relegation in 2001, following a 34-year unbroken spell in the top division, put the club on a calamitous downward spiral that sucked up everyone in its trajectory – Hedman included. Having lost his place to Chris Kirkland during City’s final Premiership season, the Swede returned to action the following campaign looking shorn of confidence of commitment.
“My abiding memory is of a home game against Grimsby where he ran about 40 yards out of his goal and got tackled by Phil Jevons, who then put it into the empty net from distance,” recalled one fan.
Linked with Barcelona to dispossessed by Phil Jevons within two years, things would get even worse for Hedman when, during an ugly 4-0 defeat at Preston, a disgruntled Sky Blues fan invaded the pitch to confront the keeper about his perceived lack of dedication. Hedman maintained his Scandinavian cool as he faced down the assailant, but he soon fled the sinking ship for Celtic. All he left behind in Coventry was a Swedish-speaking dog, who memorably refused to obey its new English-speaking owners because he couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Hedman played all four matches in Sweden’s 2002 World Cup campaign that summer but never regained his form north of the border, or anywhere else. His lurch towards retirement took a strange twist in 2006 when Jose Mourinho signed him for Chelsea amid a goalkeeping crisis at Stamford Bridge, but Hedman left without playing a game and subsequently quit football, only to face a bigger battle off the pitch. Cocaine, alcohol, depression, debt and Romanian prostitutes were among Hedman’s demons as he struggled to adapt to life outside the game. Now divorced, the 42-year-old is currently a “personal life coach” and describes himself on his Twitter biography as a “Former goalkeeper who has learned that life is more than football… At last!” A cautionary tale of a player who danced in the moonlight, but flew too close to the sun.
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