MONDAY 16TH MAY 2016
Host nation for the 1958 FIFA World Cup the Swedish national team almost became World Champions long before England hosted and won the Jules Rimet event in 1966. The organised and efficient Swedes also managed to host the UEFA European Championships event in 1992 in some ways due to the patronage of the then UEFA President Lennart Johansson but also thanks in part to its modern, compact, safe and roofed stadiums.
In the post-war period, many Swedish players led the way across Europe as some of the earliest foreign football exports. A host of Swedish players became some of football’s first overseas stars. The likes of Nils Liedholm, Gunnar Gren and Nordahl were players in Serie A by the end of the 1940’s. Such was Liedholm’s stature in the Italian game he was still coaching during the 1980’s at AS Roma. Others followed such as the maverick Lennart Skoglund and the free-scoring Kurt Hamrin both of whom are now acknowledged as true legends of Swedish and Italian football
With its refined traditional settings in pleasant urban towns venues such as the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, the Ullevi Stadion in Gothenburg and the Malmö Stadion hosted the creme of world football in 1958 and then at the 1992 Euro event. However, home wins in either tournament could not be attained with Brazil winning the 1958 event in Stockholm thanks in part to a young Pele. The Danes meanwhile shocked the world by winning the 1992 European Championships in Gothenburg with a surprise 2-0 victory over Germany.
The traditional home of Swedish football – the Råsunda Stadion – has long gone from the landscape of Swedish football. During April of 2006, the Swedish Football Association announced a detailed plan to create a new modern stadium some 1km away from the Råsunda Stadium in the Solna Municipality. The naming rights of the new stadium were bought by Swedbank to the tune of 150 million SWK. They then announced that it would be named the ‘Friends Arena’ in support of the non-profit anti-bullying organisation Friends.
The Friends Arena is a modern centre point for the Swedish national team and the football club AIK. In a country known for the IKEA brand, the stadium vision is also a pioneering one with a sustainable approach to mass consumer culture central to its operation. With its democratic design, there is an integrated approach to hosting match-day fans with seating and standing ticket options both available. Moreover, fans can move around the stadium freely within the spacious interiors.
For smaller events, the Friends Arena can be scaled down to provide an intimate setting for smaller matches with higher tiers closed off to supporters. The stadium also skilfully integrates modern media concepts with a huge media cube visible and 647 LED screens installed all around the stadium. This ensures fans can enjoy refreshments without missing the game action.
Outside, the Arena is complemented by the nearby Mall of Scandinavia which is one of the biggest shopping arcades in the Nordic region ensuring that the customer experience does not end when the 90 minutes finishes.
On match-day, especially for the largest Allsvenskan league games, a liberal approach to pyrotechnics use and supporter behaviour is still adhered to by clubs and the police. Since 2012 a constructive discourse has gone on in Sweden with respect to the use of pyrotechnic devices being used inside enclosed roofed arenas. For the time being at least, the clubs want these activities to stay. There continues to be the noticeable absence of police inside the stadium and an interactive safety approach between stewards and fans is preferred with devices set off at the front of stands often taped to sticks rather than underneath flags. Mass colour by way of smoke bombs, tifo display and flares is a noticeable feature at most of the big Stockholm derby matches.
Such colours often come to the fore during Swedish football’s biggest derby the Tvillingderbyt which takes places between the yellow, red and blue of Djurgården IF and AIK ‘Allmänna Idrottsklubben‘ who play in black and yellow. Both sides were established in Stockholm in 1891 giving rise to the ‘twins’ tag used to describe the derby. Yet both of these sides also share a fierce sporting rivalry with another Stockholm club Hammarby IF.
With interest in watching English football as strong as ever on a Saturday, many Allsvenskan matches are scheduled for early evening midweek slots to appeal to live television audiences. TV rights are sold abroad and matches aired through a variety of live and pay per view channels. This particular fixture derby took place on a Monday evening with a 7 pm kick off.
The game in Sweden continues to be dominated by clubs in the western regions of the country chiefly the likes of Malmo FF, IFK and Helsingborg although there has been an intermittent success by clubs in the east. The current champions are a club from the East IFK Norrköping. They fought off a big challenge from traditional giants IFK Göteborg to win the title in late 2015, and in doing so, become the first club from this area of Sweden to win the title since AIK in 2009.
With neither side doing particularly well in the current campaign the two old rivals met on a slightly cold and overcast Monday evening on what was week 9 of the campaign. Both sides supporters met the players onto the field with a host of smoke bombs and tifo displays. The referee decided to delay the kick off by 15 minutes to let the dense smoke clear into the evening sky.
AIK took the lead early thanks to a wonderful free kick by Ishizaki on 12 minutes and in truth, the away side offered little to its travelling fans. In the second half, the intensity of the clash increased as the visitors came back into things but by this time AIK had scored a second through Hauksson.
The AIK fans departed back into the Stockholm evening knowing that with this win they were at least ahead of local rivals DIF in terms of league positioning. However, at the top of the Allsvenskan table IFK Norrköping continue to lead things as they chase a second title in as many years and neither AIK or DIF look like being able to forge a title challenge.
With the Swedish league being very competitive and open a number of sides remain optimistic of challenging for the crown. However at Djurgårdens things look particularly bleak for the season ahead. And, as the DIF fans barracked its team at the end of the match near the pitch, it might just be that this season will only be one of a struggle for a traditional giant of the Swedish game.
Carlgren, Karlsson, Johansson, Hauksson, Sundgren, Ishizaki, Ahmed Yasin, Saletros, Gravius, Strandberg, Isak Coach: Norling
Nilsson, Bjorkstrom, Kack, Colley, Hansson, Faltsetas, Karlstrom, Sabovic, Ranegie, Jawo, Johnson Coach: Olsson
See some images from the Stockholm derby here