The Djurgarden of Eden


Just over a year ago I was lucky enough to attend one of the final football matches played in the Olympia Stadion in Stockholm.  In normal circumstances, clubs move elsewhere because they have outgrown their grounds and they can gain greater financial rewards by moving to the out-of-town, identikit stadiums.  In the case of the Olympia Stadion, and its then tenants, Djurgården IF, it was a case of them being told they could no longer play games there.  The iconic stadium is a legacy of a past era of watching football, with wooden benches, poor sight lines and a creaking infrastructure and the Swedish FA, after giving them a few stays of execution, finally told them that 2013 would be their final season in the ground.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_zFast forward twelve months and the Järnkaminerna are now firmly at home, with their slippered feet well under the table at the Tele2 Arena in the Johanneshov area of the city.  Average attendances have gone from just below 9,000 in the last decade to over 15,000 in the first year, with over 25,000 for the explosive derby matches against AIK.  As you would expect from a brand spanking new arena, with thousands of shiny metal plates attached to the outside and a sliding roof that moves with the action of a CD player at Tandy’s (Partridge gag).  Transport links are excellent, with a number of train stations around the ground – who would have thought of that when building a stadium eh!

After numerous troubles on and off the pitch in recent years the club is at last able to look up.  Coming into this game, nearly at the half way point in the season, they seventh, one point and one place behind the visitors, BK Häcken.  A little run of form now and they could be putting pressure on city rivals AIK who sat in second place, jut six points away.

10837676685_f17af0b580_zWork done for another day I took my place in the new arena which looked relatively similar inside to the stadiums in Cardiff and Düsseldorf.  Three things were lacking for me. One was a beer (Swedes and their crazy alcohol rules for you), two was any flares from the home fans – especially as I had seen their displays in the past at the good-old Råsunda and last year in the game at the Stockholms Stadion and finally was any away fans.  In fact there were 8 of them, with a flag between them, perched in the upper tier.  Whilst it is a fair way from Göteborg, it wasn’t a school night.  Still, at least there was probably room on the team bus for them to get a lift back home.

Djurgården IF BK Häcken – Tele2 Arena – Monday 21st July 2014
After collecting my media pass I followed signs to the press seats which takes you up a tunnel and onto the edge of the 3G pitch which was enjoying a liberal watering.  With ten minutes to kick off the DIF fans were in full voice and it was tempting just to stand there and get a close up of their pre-match display.  Alas, a friendly steward pointed out to me that I was likely to have things thrown at me if I did so I took refuse up in the stands.

14730122413_5f5d42bebb_zTen minutes on the clock and with their first attack the visitors forced a corner.  The ball bobbled around the 3G pitch before Carlos Strandberg häckened (too good an opportunity to miss) it home from close range. The DIF fans behind the goal didn’t miss a beat, simply turning up the volume a notch, launching into the Swedish version of “Build a bonfire” (well, the same tune at least), bouncing choruses between the Ultras behind the goal and a section standing under a banner that said Östermalms Gentlemannaklubb, which Google translate told me was not family friendly nor was it open for breakfast.

Twenty minutes later and another mix up led to Martin Ericsson being allowed to sneak behind the defence (as they were all positioned to look the other way – fact from my scouting course) and he side-footed into the corner of the net.  Two-nil and for a full thirty seconds the stadium was silent.  The truth was that the visitors had only had two forays into the DIF area and scored on both occasions, whilst at the other end the Häcken keeper, Källqvist had to be on his toes to keep out chances from Jawo, Radetinac and Tibbing. The noise slowly built again and the whole stadium rose in unison, with a symphony of “ooohs” as Stefan Karlsson’s rocket was tipped the bar.  It looked like being one of those nights for the home side.

As you would expect, DIF came out fired up for the second half and created a number of chances in the opening fifteen minutes.  But try as they might, and willed on by a wall of noise they simply couldn’t break down the stubborn Häcken defence.  It’s also fair to say that the half-time substitute Prijovic had an absolute stinker, somehow managing to connect with every part of his body bar his head or foot when in a dangerous position.

14709960342_461a2c57ee_zFinally in the 74th minute they got their slice of luck.  Martin Broberg beat the offside trap and with only the keeper to beat managed to slice his lob sideways into the path of Fejzullahu who walked the ball into an empty net.  What effect would that goal have on the team? In short very little.  They took the tactic of trying to stretch the visitors, looking to get in behind them and to the by-line but the pace of the artificial surface often took the overlapping runners by surprise.

So in the end it was a missed opportunity to gain some ground on those above, whilst the visitors closed the gap themselves with AIK to just 2 points.  However, there is more to football than just a result and it had been an entertaining game, in a very impressive new stadium.  With a loyal fanbase that oozes passion and now a brand new home it can’t be too long before DIF will be challenging for the major honours again.

 

 

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Closing time


“Closing time…every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

So here I am at last.  It has taken me five years of visiting this wonderful city to finally take my seat in the Olympiastadion, and not a moment too soon.  In just a few weeks, Djurgårdens IF will be packing their bags and departing from this historic venue to take up home in Johanneshov, where the new Tele2 Arena will open its doors in July.  The new stadium, close to the Globe Arena (the largest hemispherical building in the world as if you didn’t already know) will be shared with Stockholm’s third team, Hammarby IF meaning that in the space of twelve months two brand spanking new stadiums will have opened in the city(The 50,000 capacity Friends Arena in Solna being the other one).  It’s been like London buses around these parts.

If there is a stadium that oozes history more that the Stockholms Stadion then I’m yet to hear about it. Of course it is totally unsuitable for a club with lofty ambitions such as Djurgårdens IF, and finally the Swedish Football Association have given them notice to conform with new ground regulations and that is why they are finally moving out next month. But on a warm summer’s night with the stadium bathed in sunshine it was a perfect venue for the home side to prove that they had turned a corner. Defeat on penalties in the Svenska Cupen final to Göteborg last weekend had been hard to take, but even harder was the fact that they propped up the whole league with just two wins so far.

8900602326_9ca0118289_bEverywhere you look in the stadium it is old brick and wood. Grand entrances, century-old turnstiles and two iconic towers at one end of the stadium. The canopy that once protected the Royal Family and dignitaries at the Olympic Games is still in place, although it could do little to protect us from the slowly setting sun shining in our eyes. It was enough to get in here an hour before kick off and just soak up the history.

The other reason to watch a game here was to see the Djurgården ultras in action (in a positive sense) and they didn’t disappoint with an excellent move that saw them all swap flag designs mid-act. How in earth they get these sorts of thing right on the night is beyond me, especially as the extent of our “tifosi” displays involve holding up bits of coloured cards at a unspecified time which invariably looks a bit shit compared to what we see on the continent.

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But back to tonight.   Stockholms Olympiastadion,  or just Stadion to its friends, has its place in history already assured even after DIF depart in a few weeks.  Built for the Games of the V Olympiad in 1912, very little in the design of the stadium has changed in the past century. The wooden benches, the gothic-style brick entrances that would look more in place at a castle, the elaborate entrance to the arena at one end.  Alas it is doubtful that anyone who witnessed the drama of the 1912 Tug of War competition is alive today.  The event, which is still the shortest ever held in the Olympics history, was completed from start to finish in less than 5 minutes when Sweden beat Great Britain 2-0, being the only two competing nations, to take the Gold medal. The stadium is also famous for holding events in two Olympic games.  In 1956 it hosted the equestrian events for the Melbourne Olympics due to quarantine regulations.  Two facts in one paragraph to amuse and amaze your friends.  You don’t get that from behind a pay-wall do you?

The last golden period for DIF came a decade ago when the team won three Allsvenskan Championships in four years, including the domestic double in 2002 and 2005.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to make any progress in the resulting Champions League campaigns, a fact that was probably their undoing in the end, as the best players moved on and the gravy train didn’t deliver enough cash to re-invent a new, better, team.

Since then the club have floated around the lower mid-table in the Allsvenskan.  There have been many false dawns and even more disappointments.  Seeing arch-rival AIK win the double a few years ago was a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps the move to the Tele2 Arena may well see the rise of the blue half of the city once more.  Despite a crap start to the season, the majority of sides were separated by just a few points and so a win or two could take them up into the European spots in just a week or two.

Djurgårdens IF 1 Kalmar IF 0 – Stockholms Stadion – Thursday 30th May 2013
Of course, Swedish football is the best in the world. Why? Because when all other options are exhausted at the end of the season in May, the Swedes are just getting going in their season. DIF’s campaign so far has been a bit of a nightmare.  Coming into this game against Kalmar, The Iron Stoves (Järnkaminerna) prop up the rest of the league.  The visitors came into the game just one point outside the European spots although having only scored 12 goals in their opening ten games didn’t really suggest they were the most attacking team.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_bWith the hope in their hearts the home side began the game with some purpose, having discovered their mojo with the first real appearance of summer. Cool, calm defending that belied the fact they had shipped an average of over 2 goals per game so far this season, and some good movement from the pacey front two Fenzullahu and Jawo. Fifteen minutes in and they had their reward as a ball over the top of the Kalmar defence saw Jawo outpace his markers and beat the keeper with ease from 10 yards. For the rest of the half they “Kalmar’d” the storm, with Kenny Höie called into action on frequent occasions to clear his lines.

The second half saw the teams welcomed back onto the pitch with a display of flares from the ultras, which meant that until they all had been extinguished they game couldn’t start – and that just encouraged them to light a few more through the half, which always resulted in a stern PA announcement that probably said something like “don’t go back to fireworks once they have gone out” or “don’t gargle petrol when holding a flare”.

8900661751_42308d86ea_bDespite forcing some early corners, Djurgårdens didn’t have that cutting edge that a player like Teddy Sheringham could bring. Oh Teddy, Teddy. Young Edward as Cloughie used to call him, had a very productive season in these parts back in 1985 and enjoyed his time in the Swedish capital – and who wouldn’t?  Stockholm is a fantastic city to relax in and I am sure Teddy made full use of his Saarf London persona in the bars and clubs of Gamla Stan. More of his adventures can be found in a new book, published this summer by Ockley Books called The Football Tourist, written by erm…me.

With ten minutes to go Martin Broberg should have doubled the lead when he headed over from six yards and then young Martin broke the offside trap to seal the victory but blazed high and wide. It hadn’t been the best night for him, but for the team as a whole it had been a performance that would give them confidence of the battles ahead. Relatively assured at the back, positive going forward. No Bayern Munich but certainly no Stoke City.

8901220232_a22eac7eb6_bWhen the clock hit ninety minutes the fans unfurled a banner – “Djurgården – we’re gonna live forever” accompanied by a rousing verse of the club’s hymn. The three points won’t give them immortality but it did take them up five places in the table which on a beautiful Stockholm night is about as good as life could get for the blue side of the city.

“Closing time. So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits.  I hope you have found a Friend”

Still England’s finest export


We think Kenny Pavey is the best English player currently playing outside of these shores.  Whenever we are in Sweden we try and make time for him, simply because he is a really nice bloke.  After my trip over to the Stockholm derby I asked Andy Hudson, our expert on Swedish football, and author of the excellent website Blågul Football to meet up with Kenny when he was next over in Stockholm.  Over to you Andy.

Pavey thanks to Robert Henriksson

I’ve been involved in many great situations since I started writing about football, but one stands out. It’s June 26 2011 and I’m sitting in O’Leary’s, a bar in Örebro. I’ve just ordered another beer, my fifth of the day, and AIK have won 2-1 away to Trelleborg. The only people celebrating as Teteh Bangura struck the winner in the 77th minute were me and a friend, in stark contrast to our protests when AIK wrongly had a goal disallowed in the first half; the other lads with us are still fuming about the ÖSK loss earlier. I fire off a text message and then there’s a look of disbelief from around the table as I read out the reply. My AIK supporting friend, the person to blame for the amount of time I spend talking about AIK; the person to blame for me checking the internet for the latest news; the person to blame for me listening to Swedish radio coverage of games whenever I can, can’t believe it. Kenny Pavey, ‘scorer’ of the disallowed goal, has replied. The same Kenny Pavey who can also happily be blamed for my AIK lust.

An infectious smile comes across the face of every AIK fan when I mention one name: Kenny Pavey – crowd favourite, idol of the North Stand, legend. If you wanted a definition of a whole-hearted, passionate player then I would give you Kenny Pavey. But he isn’t an English clogger, this guy has skill to go with the tough tackling. Continue reading

Playing away from home


I have a few mistresses in my life. Those loves that you try and keep secret, but almost like a drug you are drawn back time and time again. And damn they are expensive. I can see a few of you reading this nodding along sagely. We know it is wrong. We know that we are being unfaithful, breaking one of those seven deadly sins but on the other hand we only get one life and I am a firm believer in a “no regrets” policy.

Before everyone who knows we starts getting out the voodoo dolls and inviting CMF to various councilling sessions I am of course taking about football. What else would I be talking about on a website called The Ball is Round (well apart from cricket, baseball, handball and even the odd darts game). As every TRUE fan knows, you are married to our team, through thick and thin. For richer and poorer, until death do you part. Unfortunately I am stuck with a partner who appears to be living in a poor episode of Eastenders. Farce is high on the agenda these days at Upton Park and you couldn’t ask a team of Hollywood screenwriters of the calibre of Patrick Marber to make up some of the stories they seem to involve themselves in.

So a few years ago I started “playing the field”. I met a fine club in Lewes and am proud to have her as my second team in a world where it is still technically acceptable to have a favourite Non League Team. After all, with the momentum behind such initiatives as Non League Day and Non League Notes, everyone should have a little fling in the grass roots. During my frequent travels I came across one or two clubs who offered the “continental option”. “You don’t see many of those down in E14” I would often say, aghast at some of the things they would offer me in terms of experience. But one club has me coming back time and time again for more.

Confession time then….I am in love with Malmo FF. Ever since I saw them play Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final and stared in awe at the “ö” in their name and those pastel blue shirts I had a very soft spot for them. I loved them when they were winning the league every season under “Woy” Hodgson, yet back home nobody had heard of him. With my move out to Scandinavia I was at last within touching distance of my affections. Continue reading

Stockholm Syndrome


What is the biggest match in football around the world?  Many will say Real Madrid v Barcelona, others AC v Inter whilst some of a more continental persuasion will go for the Boca v River Plate game in Argentina.  But what is clear that in most domestic leagues the biggest game tends to be the local derbies.  In fact Spain (and to an extent, France) is the exception in that the biggest game is not a inter-city derby.

Germany has all of the passion (and spite) of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke as well as a new rivalry, played for the first time this season in Hertha v Union Berlin.  Italy has the Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa variations.  Portugal has Sporting v Benfica derby played between the Lisbon sides and then of course there is the Old Firm in Scotland.  Childhood friends grow up enemies based on the teams they support, families are split in two over their allegiances.

Parken on fire again

During the past few years I have been lucky enough to experience a few such games.  Internazionale 0 AC 6 will always rank up there in my most treasured footballing memories, as will the rampant destruction of Parken, home to FC Copenhagen by Brondby IF fans in one of the fastest growing inter-city rivalries.  But one game I had always wanted to see was the Stockholm derby between Djurgården IF and AIK.

Djurgårdens IF and AIK were both founded in 1891 separated by just a month apart and both are originally from the Northern part of Stockholm.  Today they are almost in different towns with AIK based in Solna, to the north of the city centre and Djurgården in the district of Östermalm. They are also historically two of the biggest and most successful clubs in Sweden, with 11 League titles each. The Djurgården vs AIK rivalry is considered by far the biggest rivalry in Sweden and maybe even the whole of Scandinavia because of its rich history and the huge animosity between the two clubs and both sets of fans with the Järnkaminerna or Blue Saints of Djurgården on one side and the notorious Black Army of AIK on the other.  With this being the first game of the season for both teams, it was guaranteed to be a cracker in terms of atmosphere. Continue reading

On the eighth day of Christmas…the best atmosphere


On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, an atmosphere so red-hot it will make you wee.

The best atmosphere we have seen in 2010 is quite a difficult one to judge as in many games there are times when the atmosphere is cranked up to 11 due to a goal, a controversial incident or simply hatred against an opposition player, team or set of fans.  It is also related to the number of fans in the ground.  So a ground of 50 vocal fans in a crowd of a few hundred will generate a fair amount of noise.  But for us, the three teams below generate an impressive noise, show and support wherever they go, home or away.

Malmö FF- For the past few years things haven’t been too rosy for Malmö FF.  They had seen their dominance from the late 1980’s under Roy Hodgson disappear, unable to compete with the new challengers like Kalmar and Elfsborg.  Crowds at the old Malmö stadion started declining and the outlook was bleak.  But then things changed.  A new ground was built behind the old stadium and Roland Nilsson took over team affairs and since they haven’t looked back.  This season saw The Blues snatch the title from bitter rivals Helsingborgs in front of packed crowds at the Swedbank Stadion.  And do they love a show?  Oh yes.  Noise, colour and inventive fan behaviours.  Every game is a different show and you will be a fool to miss it.  Get there or be square!

FC United of Manchester – “Bring on United”…repeat to fade.  I guarantee that days after visiting Gigg Lane, Bury to watch FCUM you will still be singing that little line such is the noise, passion and commitment the home fans sing the song from five minutes before the kick off.  What FCUM have built is special.  A community borne out of frustration, to quote James, who have a common vision and goal.  And the fans respond with noise the like that Gigg Lane has not seen since Gracie Fields launched her new album there.  Flags decorate every spare section of the ground to show the passion and the songs carry on for the whole 90 minutes.  Just imagine when (and not if) the crowds are five times the size.  Deafening!

Brondby IF – On the field Brondby have seen any chance of getting the better over bitter rivals FCK disappear into the ether.  Their dominance of the domestic game is growing season upon season, and their run to the second stages of the Champions League will only see them get richer at the expense of the league.  However, one area where they do have the edge is the passion created off the field.  Go to any game at Brondby stadium and take a place on the Faxe Tribune and you will literally feel the stand shaking underneath your feet.  Follow them across down to Parken for the Copenhagen derby and you will see real atmosphere.

On the second day of Christmas – The best game


“On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a top game of football or three.”

In 2010 (so far as this is written prior to the potential games post Boxing Day) we have seen 86 games of football, featuring 224 goals, 6 red cards, 3 dogs in 10 different countries.  So we have been a bit busy.  Consequently we have seen our fair share of dross (few of the 30,000 at West Ham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0 in January 2010 for instance will remember anything) but we have also seen a few games that will live in the memory for a long time.  Here are our top three in no particular order.

Lewes 5 Dorchester Town 0Looking back now this game was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  However, at the time, Lewes’s biggest victory for over 3 years was priceless in their fight for survival in the Blue Square South.  Needing to win at least three of their last four games to claw their way out of the relegation zone, the team had gone away to Worcester City and won their first away game in 17 months.  Then came the “do or die” game against Dorchester.  The team simply over ran their opponents on a beautiful sunny day in East Sussex, with the Harveys flowing and the silky skills of David Wheeler on the wing setting up goals at will.  All of the reasons why I love Lewes so much in one afternoon.

Malmö FF 2 Helsingborgs IF 0We know from bitter experience that the meeting of the top two in any league towards the end of the season is a receipe for a dull encounter.  But not in Sweden.  The Allsvenskan was the tightest it had been for years in 2010 with bitter rivals Malmö FF and Helsingborgs IF matching each other result for result.  Coming into this game in mid September they were separated by 3 points.  Not only was the atmosphere one of the best we have EVER experienced at a game (see here for an example of what it was like to be there) but the game itself was an absolute cracker – end to end action that you rarely see in the Allsvenskan and two decent goals to boot.  Few of the 21,000 in the stadium that night will ever forget this one.

Carshalton Athletic 3 Tonbridge Angels 2A Ryman Premier League game on a chilly September night with England playing away in Switzerland on TV would hardly rank high on most peoples agenda for a night out but it turned into a classic game of cut and thrust.  In a real old fashioned football ground both teams were committed to attacking play from the first whistle, and whilst the skill on offer may not have been Premier League but it was a great game, capped off by a come back from the home team in the last 3 minutes from 2-1 down to win 3-2 including a stunner of a 35 yarder in the final minute.  All this for less than a tenner as well.