Sweden's number one
Another day, another country. Today’s 4am start took me across the Oresund and back to Stockholm, just a week after I was last here. And as luck would have it AIK Solna, arguably Swedens biggest team were at home. Well they are now…
Swedish football is an enigma to me. Every year a new team tends to dominate – if you look at the Allsvenskan winners in the past few years you can see a pattern emerge:-
2009 – AIK
2008 – Kalmar
2007 – IFK Göteborg
2006 – Elfsborg
2005 – Djurgården
2004 – IF Malmo
The treble winners in 2009...2010??
Every season the team that seems to do well is the one that has the most home grown players. With Sweden playing March to October they essentially only have the August transfer window to make their changes, by which time the league is often all but over. So clubs develop their squads, do well and win the league and then sell off all of their best talent. Of course for the champions this means that by the time the Champions League campaign starts the following July, all of their decent talent has gone and more often than not their campaign is over quicker than they realise. And this season was so far no different. After such a stella campaign last season, AIK came into this game 2nd to bottom with just two points, and one goal from their five games.
2009 – Kalmar – eliminated at 2nd qualifying round
2008 – IFK Göteborg – eliminated at 2nd stage of qualifying
2007 – Elfsborg – eliminated at 3rd stage of qualifying
2006 – Djurgården – eliminated at 2nd stage of qualifying
2005 – IF Malmo – eliminated at 3rd stage of qualifying
So next July when qualifying starts again AIK Solna will hopefully get to the “promised lands” of the Group Stages, something no Swedish team has done since 2000/01 when IF Helsingborgs reached that stage. In the same period of time, look at Norway with Rosenborg and you can see what a disappointment it has been for the Swedes to fail to see their teams progress.
So back to Stockholm on this sunny Tuesday. Allmänna Idrottsklubben, or “The General Sports Club” are the biggest club in Sweden. How can I quantify this? Well they are the current Allsvenskan Champions, the Swedish Cup winners and Swedish Super Cup holders. And to make matters better, they beat bitter rivals IFK Göteborg in the final of all three.
The old 2 balls on the field trick
Whilst the league is not a “winner takes all” game but played over seven months, but last season’s Allsvenskan actually came down by random luck to the last game of the season when 2nd placed IFK hosted league leaders AIK. One point separated the two teams and when IFK took the lead in the first half it seemed the title was going back to Göteborg. But it was left to AIK’s captain Daniel Tjernstrom to net the winner and bring the trophy home to Solna for the first time in eleven years.
The last few years have been disappointing for AIK. A gap of ten years without a major honour has been hard to bare for the loyal fans. In that last title winning season they had also made it as far as the Champions League group stages, playing Barcelona, Fiorentina and Arsenal in their season of misery when they played their European games at Wembley.
The club have been the best supported in Sweden for many years, taking advantage in some ways of playing at the Råsunda, the 36,600 capacity national stadium. Their fans are notorious across the whole of Scandinavia, both in terms of their vorocious support but also in terms of their organised displays at home games. Groups such as the AIK Tifo, Black Army, Ultra Nord and Sol Invictus are well known across all Scandinavia and try to promote the club in a positive light.
Unfortunately that has not always been possible, and a chat over lunch with two Swedish football fans filled me in on some of the more recent stories about the antics of fans at the top teams. I myself saw a strange incident at the Helsingborgs v IFK cup game last season and how the police seemed to set a trap, or “honey pot” as I prefer to use, for the home fans (you can read all about it here). Most of the issues have occurred in games between the three clubs from the city, which have a diverse range of supporters. For the visit tonight of Halmstad from the west coast I hadn’t come expecting to see fireworks off the pitch.
Where has everyone gone?
After tearing myself away from the Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea hotel where I was staying it was a short ride on the T-bana to the ground. I was surprised at how few fans were on the train, especially as it was such a good nice – perhaps the lure of Arsenal v Spurs, or dare I say Lewes v St Albans on TV was more important to them. The station was built with the stadium in mind (take note Wembley!) and you are signposted clearly to where your entrance is so just a few minutes after alighting the train you are in the stadium.
AIK Solna 0 Halmstads 1 – Rasunda Stadium – Wednesday 14th April
Two home games, 1 point, no goals scored – the unenvious record of AIK coming into this game. On a lovely spring evening all but the hardcore fans had stayed away for this one and it took a rousing rendition of the clubs anthem to generate any atmosphere in the ground. It was a pity that the team wasn’t on the field at the time as their offering in the first half was poor to say the least.
They lined up with just one player who had actually found the net this season, and he was a centre back (Walid Atta) and it was the visitors who made the early running, spurred on by their following of 46 (that was how dull it was for a while that I had an opportunity to count them!). The home fans kept up a continuous display of passion but it simply did not filter through to the players.
The first chance came to the visitors in the 11th minute when the Lewis Hamilton look-a-like (the racing driver, not the Lewes FC full back) was tripped as he accelerated dangerously into the penalty area but the free kick from a perfect position deflected away for a corner. Ten minutes later Alexander Prent’s shot from the edge of the box was well tipped over by AIK’s keeper Tommy Maanoja. From the resulting corner Emir Kujovic was presented with a great chance but he hit his shot straight at Maanoja. Then Kujovic again came close when his shot from distance was fumbled by the Finnish keeper but the ball trickled the right side of the post for AIK.
The dirtiest player in Sweden - FACT
In the 37th minute the home team had a chance at last. Martin Kayongo-Mutumba (don’t fancy paying for a replica shirt with his name on) found some space on the edge of the box and curled a shot towards the top corner but Johnsson in the Halmstads goal did well to tip it over. One player that did catch my eye for the home team was Kenny Pavey – hardly a Swedish sounding name, and a quick t’internet check revealed he is a Londoner who started his career at Millwall before a spell at Ryman’s League Sittingbourne. Last season he was actually voted “Sweden’s Dirtiest Player” by his fellow professionals – the first Englishman ever to win the award!
And it was Pavey who created the first chance of the second half as his run into the box and low cross just eluded the two in rushing AIK forwards. On 64 minutes AIK midfielder Sebastian Eguren found himself in acres of space in the Halmstads area. It was too good to be true surely – and it was with the linesman flagging for offside. Eguren put the ball into the net just to remind the crowd what it was like to score a goal (there is a song in there somewhere) and got a yellow card for his troubles.
AIK threw men forward and in truth should have scored at least one if not more from one of the headers that fell to the forwards. As the game wore on so did the desperation and with just a few seconds left of normal time Halmstads took the lead with a shot from distance from Jonas Gudni Saevarsson that seemed to take a deflection on its way into the back of the AIK net. Despite there still being four minutes of injury time to go, AIK knew they were beaten. Their heads went down and the body language said it all. This was a team who last season dominated Swedish football – tonight they sat in the relegation zone with just two points and one goal from six games.
Facing the music and dancing
I wandered down to the press conference afterwards to listen to the Halmstads manager, Lasse Jacobsson say he was “over the moon” with the result but despite the team climbing up to sixth but he was still “taking each day as it came”. Or that is what his body language said he was saying anyway! AIK’s coach meanwhile could hardly look anyone in the eye and talked about regrouping and moving on, but you could see the fight had been knocked out of him.
So that was that – an overall disappointing experience – I had expected more fans to be behind the team at the stadium. Those who were there cheered the team passionately but they were restricted to the few thousand Tifosi in the north stand. I do not think there is any long term danger of relegation for AIK, especially as the season stops for 6 weeks for the World Cup and will give AIK a chance to regroup and re-assess the squad before the August transfer window opens. Quite why the Swedish league has to shut down is a mystery to me – after all its not as if many players are going out to South Africa is it!
More photos from the game can be seen on our Flikr page here.
About the Rasunda
The Råsunda Stadium is the Swedish national football stadium. It is located in Solna Municipality in Metropolitan Stockholm. It was opened in 1937 and has a capacity of 35,000–36,608 depending on usage. The stadium is the home stadium for AIK, and is used for many derbies between Stockholm clubs. It also hosts the headquarters of the Swedish Football Association, and stages 75% of the home matches of the national football team each year, with most other matches being played at Ullevi in Gothenburg. These two stadiums are UEFA 4-star rated football stadiums. The record attendance is 52,943 and was set 26 September 1965, when Sweden played West Germany.
Råsunda is one of two stadiums in the world to have hosted the World Cup finals for both men and women. It hosted the men’s final in the 1958 World Cup and the women’s final in the 1995 Women’s World Cup. The other stadium with this honor is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, USA (men in 1994 World Cup, women in 1999 Women’s World Cup).
The stadium is a mixture of styles with one stand behind the goal dominating proceedings. Think the old stand at Goodison Park and with three tiers and supports down the middle and put them at each end and you are not far from what the ground looks like. The hardcore home fans are located at the north end of the stadium.
On April 1 2006 the Swedish Football Association announced a plan to switch to a new stadium to be built in Solna. The new arena will be completed and ready for sporting events at 2011, and by then Råsunda Stadium is to be demolished. The new stadium will have a capacity for 50,000 spectators. The name of the new arena will be Swedbank Arena – Swedbank bought the name for 150 million SEK.
Fabege AB and Peab AB signed an agreement to acquire Råsunda Football Stadium and existing office buildings from the Swedish Football Association on December 11 2009. All activities on the arena will remain until the Swedbank Arena stands finished.
How to get to the Rasunda
A really easy ground to get to if you are coming from the centre of Stockholm. Simply get on T-bana line 11 in the direction of Akalla for five stops from Central Station. Follow signs for the relevant stand you are in at the ticket hall and you will pop out right next to the ground – can anything be simpler.
You can also get a suburban train from the central station to Solna station, turn right onto Frösundaladen and follow this until you see the stadium on your right hand side. Both journeys cost 60SEK return.
How to get a ticket for the Rasunda
AIK Solna get on average 20,000 for home games meaning there are plenty of tickets available for all games, although some matches such as the local derbies against Djurgården and IF Hammarby are often made all ticket affairs and are not for the faint hearted. Tickets can be purchased online from Ticnet.se and range in cost from 130 SEK behind the goal to 275 SEK in the main stand. Tickets can be printed at home.