Two years ago, Francis de Vries worked in a factory that made pieces of zinc just to make ends meet after moving to Sweden to pursue his football dream.
He had signed with IFK Värnamo in Sweden’s third class Ettan after a successful trial period, but most of the players at that level had day jobs.
De Vries worked in the factory from 07.00 to 13.00 Monday to Friday. He would train with Värnamo in the evenings and play games on the weekends.
Francis de Vries receives the Miss All White summons after helping the Swedish club to reach the top tier.
“If you buy yourself a Volvo car or an Ikea door handle, there’s a chance I’m hung it up, stuffed it through a machine and picked it up again,” said de Vries.
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This month, de Vries received his first All Whites call-up for his friendly match against Gambia in the United Arab Emirates after playing a major role in his club’s story rise from third tier to top tier.
His national team selection came on the same day as he helped Värnamo to advance for the second season in a row and placed them in the Allsvenskan together with the Swedish big clubs AIK, IFK Gothenburg and Malmö FF for 2022.
“I’ve never had so many messages in my phone in two days,” he said.
“Both from New Zealand and Swedes. It was awesome to see how happiness flowed out from all the people around me, especially from the people who have seen where the journey came from.
“Sometimes you shake your head and think, is that true? But it is.”
De Vries actually started playing in the seventh grade when he first moved to Sweden, hoping to keep his football career alive after being released by the Vancouver Whitecap reserve team and spending a season back in New Zealand with his hometown team Canterbury United.
“I was in contact with an agent through a friend and he said, look, I have nothing for you until the summer so you can come and play at a small club that I have contact with called Gimo, they are north of Stockholm, and if I calculate it correctly, they are in Sweden’s seventh division, and it was or is playing winter in New Zealand.
“I thought, why not give it a try? If nothing works it would be an experience, a holiday and I would meet some family in Europe.
“I trained there for three months and played matches with them and it was the right amateur level, 10-12 people in training, three training sessions a week but the people were fantastic, they welcomed me, they lined me up, they fed me and I got to train , and then in the summer I had some attempts in the third division and got into the team and left.
DISCOVERY + SPORTS
Francis de Vries scores to help the Swedish club IFK Varnamo advance.
De Vries thought back to when he packed his bags and left New Zealand, determined to create a professional career, when he scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over AFC Eskilstuna which made Värnamo the first team in Swedish football history. go straight through the Superettan on the second level.
It was de Vries ‘first goal of the season and helped Värnamo, which is located in a city with half of Timarus’ population, secure promotion for the second season in a row with three matches left.
They won the league with a 3-1 win over Helsingborg in the next match. Comrade Kiwi Joel Stevens scored.
“I just shook my head and thought back to the times when you thought you would just finish football and nothing would happen,” said de Vries.
“It was in the back of my mind, and then it was above all just the joy of being there with the fans. So many people had come and given their support, many that I started in Sweden were there and it was really meaningful and Joel that I am very close.
“You saw on the faces of the players and coaches, some of the guys who grew up in Värnamo that it was as if the whole dream had come true, so you rode with their feelings, and you could not stop smiling.
“We are the second smallest club in the second division, so there were no expectations, and it’s a huge shock for everyone here. It’s good that the ability to go up is still there in football.
The All Whites have a non-cap-earning match this weekend where Danny Hay is set to provide opportunities for his wider squad.
“Even if there is no money, you still have a chance, which is not always the case. If you compare it to New Zealand, it would be like someone winning a first-class rugby tournament based in Oamaru.”
Värnamo’s incredible rise through the leagues also helped get de Vries on the national team radar as a 26-year-old.
He was in the audience at Sky Stadium in Wellington when the All Whites played against Peru in the intercontinental playoffs in 2017, now he is in Abu Dhabi and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chris Wood and Winston Reid.
De Vries has been selected to play left-back, which is where he has been a mainstay for Värnamo, even wearing the armband sometimes, which means that he will compete with Liberato Cacace for a starting place against Gambia on Wednesday and in the All Whites. warm-up match against Algeria A ‘on Saturday.
“Because of how well we have done as a team, it has put me in the spotlight to get the chance to come here, so first and foremost I am grateful to everyone in Värnamo for what we have done together,” he said.
– It was scary to take that risk and come over to Sweden. Many people end up in that position and stay in New Zealand, and that’s good because there are other good things in New Zealand, like the lifestyle, but it just shows that if you put your mind to something and a few things go aside, then fantastic things possible, which is why it’s hard to ever be in a bad mood now. ”
All Whites – November international window
Matches (NZ time)
Saturday, November 13 at 05.00: in Algeria A ‘; Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai (Earnings without roof)
Wednesday, November 17 at 05.00: in Gambia; Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai
Goalkeepers: Stefan Marinovic, Jamie Searle, Michael Woud
Defender: Michael Boxall, Liberato Cacace, Francis de Vries, Kelvin Kalua, Niko Kirwan, Nando Pijnaker, Tommy Smith
Midfielder: Joe Bell, Matt Garbett, Sarpreet Singh, Marko Stamenic
Forward: Joey Champness, Elliot Collier, Andre de Jong, Elijah Just, Callum McCowatt, Chris Wood