The Temple of Ull – Still Breathing

These days those who seek to visit the Ullevi Stadium are more likely to be in town for a Bruce Springsteen experience rather than any football related festival.

Compared to the older, classical and more upmarket Swedish capital of Stockholm in the east, the west coast location of Gothenburg exudes a more alternative feel. In some ways it is a more open city; and the sights and attractions feel much more more welcoming compared to the stately royal grandeur of Stockholm.

Founded in 1621 by King Gustav II Adolf, Sweden’s second city has long since established itself as a commercial fishing and shipbuilding hub. In more recent times is known for transportation and car engineering innovation.

Gothenburg is the birthplace of the Volvo Car but the city continues to be fiercely proud of its fishing heritage, sporting and seafaring traditions. Modern bridges are central to the city landscape allowing ships to pass through the central districts and trams to scuttle alongside quickly to neighbouring islands.

If Gothenburg and Stockholm are Swedish cousins so the Nya Ullevi (new Ullevi) and the neighbouring Gamla Ullevi (Old Ullevi) are brothers. The line however would be drawn at them ever being considered identical twins such are the visible differences between them.

Historically, IFK Göteborg’s main home stadium has always been the Gamla Ullevi opened in 1916, where the majority of competitive domestic football games have been played. Larger matches however (at least before 2009) were always traditionally played at the Nya Ullevi given its size and capacity potential.

These fixtures included Gotherburg derbies against rivals Örgryte IS and GAIS as well as bigger UEFA matches.

The origins of the Nya Ullevi are in the 1950’s.

When Sweden was awarded the 1958 World Cup tournament unopposed on 23 June 1950 it was a forgone conclusion that Gothenburg would serve as a venue for the tournament.

Construction on the Nya Ullevi did not commence until 1957 about a year before the finals tournament commenced. But on time it opened in May 1958 with a match between Sweden and a Gothenburg XI.

During the tournament it hosted six matches including those in Group 4 which involved matches of the Soviet Union, England and Brazil. Only Austria did not play a fixture at the Ullevi.

For years football remained the bread and butter of the Nya Ullevi.

Twice the European Cup Winners Cup Final was held here as were legs of the UEFA Cup final in 1982, 1987 and a one off final in 2004. Internationally the stadium was the host for the 1992 UEFA European Championships final when Denmark defeated World Champions West Germany 2-0.

While today it remains secondary to the renovated Gamla UIlevi in terms of football, it is far from overshadowed in terms of scale of presence.

With its tall steel cables its ageing feel resembles that of the Olympic Stadium in Munich.

On approach the design is unmatched elsewhere in Europe. While designed by the same architects who dreamed up the Malmo Stadium, the Nya Ullevi has a shell like bending roof design that makes the stadium open at the ends but high in the middle.

The sweeping undulating roof is perfect to the eye as you approach it.

Inside the high points overlook the halfway line glaring down on the action below. It gives watching supporters (or as it is today music fans) a prize view of proceedings.

With its towering floodlights and seating visible from the outside, the bowl like appearance can give views – when seated inside – of the nearby smaller Gamla Ullevi.

If a football tournament gave birth to the Nya Ullevi (namely the 1958 FIFA World Cup) so another global tournament pushed a decision on its replacement.

The staging of the UEFA Euro under-21 championships in Sweden during 2009 saw the Gamla Ullevi renovated as a host stadium. Like the Old Malmo Stadium, the Ullevi stadium had to watch on as Germany won against England in the final.

The name Ullevi roughly translates to ‘Ull’s kingdom or temple’ and relates to Ull, the god of games, glory and play in Old Norse mythology.

Today, the Ullevi Stadium is Sweden’s largest outdoor arena. Its is time worn, ageing but far from past its sell by date. Inside its sweeping seated areas allow sound to travel near and far while the surrounding athletics track makes the Ullevi home to everything from world-class musicians to being the perfect host to multi sport events.