Spontaneity was the name of the game for former Forest Green and Shortwood United midfielder James Baldwin when he watched England thrash Ukraine in Rome.
Baldwin, who played for Forest Green under Jim Harvey and starred in the Shortwood side that reached the FA Cup first round in 2013, was holidaying with his girlfriend Gabriella Cordoba in Croatia when he decided to make a quick dash to Rome to watch Gareth Southgate’s England in Euro 2020 action.
“After the Germany win, I had a quick look into flights and then got over to Rome on Friday evening after getting tickets for the game, it was very spontaneous but obviously completely worth it,” explained Baldwin who now lives in Sweden, where he played for Swedish first-tier outfit Östersunds FK under the now Brighton manager Graham Potter.
Italy’s Covid-19 restrictions meant England fans were unable to travel, but despite this, Baldwin admitted the atmosphere was electric.
He said: “There were only 12,000 or so it was still a good atmosphere in and around the ground. I’d say it was 60% English ex-pats. It was the first game my girlfriend had seen, so she has high expectations after that.”
Now a store manager for Hugo Boss in Stockholm, Baldwin fondly remembers his time with Östersunds FK and the influence manager Potter had on his career.
He said: “It was a great experience. Graham (Potter) was a really intelligent man-manager and it’s no suspense he is in the Premier League now. His backroom staff have gone with him and as a team they were exceptional. He puts a lot of focus on developing people, not just players and I think you can see that now in what he’s doing at Brighton. A lot of emphasis on character and stepping out of your comfort zone, so he just about pips Evo (Shortwood manager John Evans) for the best manager I’ve played for.”
Baldwin, a former Hartpury College footballer, was part of a quartet of college graduates that made the switch to Sweden after their studies ended.
“A lot of the Ghanaian lads from Hartpury played for Östersunds FK – David Accam started in Östersund then ended up in the MLS and is now back in Allsvenskan with Hammarby. Thomas Boakye is now playing for Halmstad in the top league in Allsvenskan and Sam Mendes is captain at Östersunds.
Despite living in Sweden, Baldwin is still in touch with a number of his former team-mates in the UK.
He said: “I speak to Jake Parrott, who I played with at Hartpury College and Shortwood United, and a couple of years ago I met my ex-Shortwood team-mate Ash Thomas in Los Angeles, where he now lives. I’m also great friends with goalkeeper Rich Thomas who was at Shortwood and now plays for Lydney Town.”