Välkommen to Stockholms Stadion

Rock band KISS have sold out the Stockholms stadium more times than any other act – in all probability more times than the once resident football team Djurgårdens have filled it with fans.   When the curtain came down on Djurgårdens time at the stadium it was more to do with the harsh reality of financial progress rather than pressure from the local municipal rulers.

As much as it was held dear by fans, the time had come for the club to move on.

An approaching wave of modernisation rather than any effort at people trying to take soul away, was it would seem, at the root of the move.

By 2006, with most of Europe progressing in terms of stadium infrastructure so Sweden still clung proudly to its monuments of events long past.  The Råsunda Stadium home of AIK was a relic of the 1958 World Cup finals, and so the history of the Stockholms Stadion went even further back.

It is a glorious memory of the V Olympiad – the 1912 Olympic Games.

By 2006 the SvFF in association with partners made a decision to build a new stadium in Stockholm to replace the ageing Råsunda.  Likewise, the creation of the Tele2Arena to accompany the existing Globen sports complex in the south of the city would see Djurgardens move on from the playing home it has inhabited since 1936.

Crazy football nights at the Stockholms Stadion had become very thin on the ground by 2013. UEFA Champions League qualifying matches were being regularly played at the Rasunda home of rivals AIK.

Despite its ornate beauty and delightful brick exteriors such were the limitations of the 1912 Olympic venue even a home derby against AIK could not be enjoyed fully due to safety concerns.

It’s one thing to have a normanesque castle as a home stadium but another to have a facility fit and able to host football matches for all ages in the 21st century.

The year 2013 witnessed a milestone in the history of the football wing of the Djurgårdens sports society.  More than 75 years after its move to the former Olympic games venue, the time had come for its football arm to move on.

Välkommen to Stockholms Stadion

Described as ornate, classical, grand and even glorious by many stadium analysts over the years for Djurgardens fans the place remains only one thing – beautiful.

A design commission had been won by Swedish architect Torben Grut for the building of the structure for the 1912 Olympic games and in May of that year it opened.

Original estimations were that the Olympic Stadium would be built in the Östermalm area of the city near a then existing athletic ground.  The Traneberg home ground of Djurgardens was also mentioned as being a possible location for an Olympic venue before the present site was chosen by architect Grut.

As well as holding fencing, athletics, equestrianism and gymnastics events the final match of the 1912 Olympic Football tournament was held at the venue.

A Great Britain XI won the gold medal by defeating a strong Danish team 4-2 in front of 25,000 spectators.

The 1912 games are best remembered for the efforts of native American Jim Thorpe who became famous for dominant displays in the pentathlon and the newly-created decathlon events. Long before the Ben Johnson affair of South Korea 1988, Thorpe was stripped of his medals.  Not for a failed drug test but due to violating amateurism rules for playing baseball before the Games.  There are still many believe that Thorpe was stripped of his medals on racial grounds.

King Gustav V of Sweden had described Thorpe as ‘the greatest athlete in the world’ and Burt Lancaster later played him in the film The Bronze Man.  A tragic story, it was not until after his death that his name was restored and his medals returned to his daughter.

Stockholm’s 1912 Games are still considered standard-setting for the Olympic games.  On the track photo-finish electronic-timing was introduced as a back-up to the more manual hand-held judges’ stopwatch.

Whilst flag waving amongst the midst of Stockholm heatwave had greeted the opening ceremony, national rivalries at the games were less bitter than those of 1908.   The Games of London four years earlier had been bogged down with bad tempered incidents between British and United States teams.

The football wing of Djurgardens IF never fully gained the royal surroundings so benefitting of its foundations until 1936. Founded in 1891 on the Stockholm island of the same name, ‘Djurgardens’ (The Royal Game Park) had played its first football matches at the more humble Östermalm Athletic Grounds in the east of the Swedish capital.

By 1911 the club moved to a new home, the now defunct Traneberg Idrottsplats also used as a football venue in 1912, where it stayed until 1936.

With a ornate clocktower (Klocktornet) and castellated towered appearance, Djurgardens IF in 1936 had at last found lodging worthy of its royal naming conventions.  Untouched by any sort of drastic modernity (newer floodlights aside) the original concept of the creation remains in place even to this day.

One entrance is that fit for the Swedish king; the then ruling King Gustav V in 1912 had declared the stadium and the Olympics open in 1912.  Moreover, other entrances and interiors are ornate and well preserved, similar in feel to what you might find at Oxford or Cambridge University.

Black painted outdoor turnstiles sit neatly in front of sculptured brick surroundings and wooden arches provide a classical backdrop.

But while football in 1912 may have been strictly fun for watching kings and queens, more majesty on the field would be forthcoming as Swedish football began to progress.

The Swedish national team would qualify for both of the World Cups held during the 1930’s; even finishing fourth in 1938.  By 1948 the national team had won the gold medal at the Olympic Games and by 1950 in Brazil the team was good enough to finish third.

By the 1950’s Sweden were in effect the ‘unofficial European champions’ at least in international football.  Famous names like Liedholm, Nordahl, Gren and Hamrin would lead the nation to a runners up spot in 1958 when the World Cup finals came to Sweden.

By then the Stockholms Stadion was in the shadow of the Rasunda. The home of AIK would play host to the World Cup final between Brazil and Sweden whilst the Olympic Stadium further east could only look on and watch.

By 2012 Djurgardens has been crowned the champions of Sweden seven times and Svenska Cup winners four times. But while the Stockholms Stadion witnessed and glorified in all of these successes the last significant success was a double in 2005.

Crowds meanwhile seldom averaged above 12,500 whilst UEFA progress was non existent. Due to UEFA regulations matches against the likes of Juventus and Utrecht had to be played at the Rasunda.  Moreover, at the insistance of the SvFF and both clubs, home derby matches against AIK (often huge spectacles) were switched to the Rasunda Stadium.

Välkomna till nya Stockholms Stadion

If any one group was to be disappointed at the move to the Tele2Arena it was the fans of Hammarby IF.  Whilst Djurgardens had for all its history been stuck away in the north of the city, the area around the new structure had for years been the home manor of ‘Bajen’.

When it was announced that both sides would share the same stadium it was fans of Hammarby IF who expressed the most surprise and dissatisfaction.  While Djurgardens could enjoy welcoming the creme of Swedish football to the modern facilities, Hammerby would be using the huge facility only to play Superetten fixtures against some of the lesser known sides in Swedish football following relegation.

Just before the Tele2Arena was due to officially open a fake explosive device was found outside the arena. In a panic the package forced the cancellation of an evening dress rehearsal game organised to test the ‘match readiness’ of the venue. As it was the object that was found turned out to be a fake – merely a harmless shoe box with the word ‘bomb’ written on it.

Nevertheless the implications for safety left both clubs and the media in shock.

The motives behind it also seemed to be clear. The timing of the discovery of the box was connected to the friendly match that was due to take place between two veteran football teams.

In reply to these events both Hammarby IF and Djurgårdens announced that they were aware of the ‘strong feelings’ behind the stadium move but confirmed that they were at the Tele2Arena ‘to stay’.

For some the area around the Tele2Arena is and always will be ‘Bajenland’ and they have not been slow to tell the invading forces from Djurgardens so.  To hammer home the message, an airplane was commissioned by Bajen fans and flown over the stadium with the mock message – “Welcome to the new Olympic Stadium”.

For many Hammarby fans then the Tele2Arena is now the ‘new Söderstadion’ more than it is the ‘new Stockholms Stadion’ in the eyes of Djurgardens fans.

Holding onto memories of the past is still hugely apparent amongst fans (given the move for both clubs only happened in the summer of 2013) the sharing of the new stadium seems to have went down well with the ruling owners at both clubs.

The part castle, part mansion cloister clad surroundings at the Olympic Stadium are held dear by Djurgardens fans but such pageantry did not win the club trophies.  The interiors of the Stockholms Stadion has served as the venue for Olympic fencing, but the verbal jousting between fans of Bajen and Djurgardens did little to deter the hierarchy at both clubs towards moving to the newer stadium.

Decked in ivy and circled by flagpoles the best preserved pre-1920’s stadium still in existence in Europe only had capacity for no more than 15,000 fans weekly.   Likewise, the Söderstadion had room for only 16,000 fans and on a cold day the surroundings did little to hide spectators from the overhead elements.

With the new generation of super stadiums becoming a reality so both clubs can now attract more fans and have increased revenue streams accordingly. In an age where hi-tech facilities, wi-fi and video screen advertising are so necessary so the facilities at Soderstadion and Stockholms Stadion had become outdated.

As much as the old school feel of the Soderstadion and the beauty of the Stockholms Stadion were held dear neither, sadly, was a model for the future.

Image sets from Stockholm can be viewed here (colour) and here (black and white).

For other images see here