DUMPED on the football scrapheap by their hometown teams, Curtis Edwards and Jamie Hopcutt were just two teenagers playing part-time, struggling to make ends meet.
Edwards, released by Middlesbrough in 2013, was working for his dad on building sites and turning out with his mates for Thornaby on a weekend.
Hopcutt, let go by York in 2010, found himself playing for Tadcaster Albion, earning a crust as a primary school sports coach after trying his hand with his old man’s carpet-fitting firm.
For both, a successful career as a professional footballer was nothing but a distant dream.
Yet fast-forward a few years and Edwards and Hopcutt are a midfield partnership for Graham Potter’s Ostersunds in Sweden’s top tier –about to face Arsenal in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Edwards,24, admitted: “If you said that this would happen to both of us when we’d just been released and we weren’t enjoying our football in the lower leagues of England, we’d have just laughed.”
Edwards ended up in Sweden in 2015 after a Facebook message from a friend, who was playing for fifth-tier team Ytterhogdal.
Speaking to SunSport after Friday’s 3-0 Swedish Cup win over Trelleborgs, he explained: “I was working through the week and looking forward to the weekend, playing football out with your mates.
“I thought I was finished in England. It’s hard to get back up through the ranks.
“My lifestyle also wasn’t what it should have been if I wanted to do it.
“I was a bit childish really. I didn’t understand what it took to make it as a professional.
“I got distracted with friends and wanted to do other things.
“So when my friend who was playing in Sweden asked me if I would like to come out, I thought it would be nice to leave that behind and get away from Middlesbrough for a bit.
“About a year after I moved to Ytterhogdal, I got the chance at Ostersunds.
“My manager used to play for them and Graham Potter had asked him if he had a few players to help them in a friendly.
“I went and did all right so he said, ‘Come and train’ – and it went from there.”
Hopcutt, 25, was already well established at the Jamtkraft Arena by the time Edwards joined him, having signed for Ostersunds in 2012, when they were then in Sweden’s third tier.
He said: “I got released by York at 18 and then went to Ossett Town.
“Playing there made me me fall out of love with football. I was sat on the bench and it wasn’t nice football, not my style of play.
“I had some of my ex-youth team-mates playing locally for Tadcaster, which is close to me, so I went there to enjoy playing with my mates again, really.
“Then one day I got an email about a trial day for Ostersunds at Warwick University.
“It was sent by the LFE, who help released players, and was written by Graham, who coached me when I was at York when I was 13.
“I thought, ‘I’ll give it one last try, I’ve got nothing to lose’.
“I went to the trial day, did well, met him the next day and then it was all planned to go to Sweden.”
Edwards and Hopcutt are now loving life in Ostersund, both personally and professionally, despite its remote location and freezing temperatures.
They have settled down with Swedish girlfriends and have become firm favourites with their club’s fans.
Hopcutt smiled: “They chant, ‘Vi alskar Hopcutt’, which is, ‘We love Hopcutt’.
“They call Curtis ‘The Sheriff’ because of his beard. They’ve got a big flag of him wearing a cowboy hat!”
Hopcutt is a Manchester United fan and is targeting the shirt of former Red Devil Henrikh Mkhitaryan shirt when they host Arsenal in Thursday’s first leg.
He knows the odds are stacked against his side – but they have defied them throughout their Europa League campaign.
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And Hopcutt, who still hopes to play in the Premier League one day, added: “We are confident.
“Every single player needs to be at 110 per cent otherwise, against teams like this, if a few players aren’t on the ball, you’ll get found out.
“But we’ve shown in the Europa League up to now that when these big games come, everyone steps up and puts a real performance in.
“I think we can do the same against Arsenal and we are all really motivated to get a big result.
“If we can manage to pull this off, it’ll be an incredible achievement.”