Sweden has become a favoured haunt of mine in the last few years, ostensibly the excellent Swedish Groundhops and some independent trips have made the northern kingdom a place I love to return to.
This year’s hop takes in the central province of Uppland and means flying into the behemoth that is Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. Now promoting itself as the “official” airport of the new ABBA museum, it is interesting to note that the global phenomenon of ABBA has now belatedly been recognised in their homeland.
Månkarbo IF 4 Karlholms GOIF 0 (Division 5 Norra Uppland)
Attendance: 176 (at Tallparken)
A quick punt up the motorway sees the merry band gather at the small village of Månkarbo for game one of this year’s festivities. The village numbers a mere 660 inhabitants most of them turn up to the photogenic Tallparken to see the game, a live band in the clubhouse and to look at the odd band of British travellers pitching up in their little village.
Publicity for the eccentric British travellers has gathered momentum in recent years. Only last year we were followed by Offside magazine, the Swedish equivalent of 4-4-2, who managed to pack thirteen pages of their weighty tome to the why’s and wherefore’s of this quirky activity. This year Swedish television gets into the gathering and films organisers Kim Hedwall and Laurence Reade plus the irrepressible tour-de-force that is the legendary Martin Bamforth to explain this curious pilgrimage to a welcoming and intrigued nation.
Månkarbo’s welcome is first class, a tasty snack and a beer are awaiting us and we are deluged with gifts including shirts and badges. As the game ends in a comfortable 4-0 win for the home side against their mortal enemies Karlsholms, a rock covers band “Just Got Paid” strike up to ensure the villagers enjoy this evening out together into the small hours.
Storviks AIF 4 Lingbo IF 1 (Division 6 Norra Gästrikland)
Attendance: 41 (at Sports Centrum)
Saturday brings disastrous news for any groundhop organiser, the visiting team for the first game cannot raise a side, even though the season is only half a dozen games old. There is great sympathy for Gävle GIK, the hosts, whose efforts are in vain. The quick thinking and knowledgeable Kim Hedwall goes into overdrive and is determined to pull a rabbit out of his hat with next to no margin for error.
The beneficiaries are Storviks AIF a new offshoot of the existing Storviks IF club. The coach rounds a corner and a collective sigh of relief confirms Kim has sorted out a more than adequate replacement. The hosts have hurriedly cobbled together a programme and some coffee and cakes for their unexpected guests. Their hospitality is greatly appreciated and the match is viewed from a steep bank in warm sunshine. Storviks’ hospitality doesn’t extend to their opponents Lingbo, however, as the new boys give the visitors a master class in finishing and win 4-1.
Hille IF 1 Söderhamns FF 0 (Division 3 Sodra Norrland)
Attendance: 231 (at Hille IP)
Next stop is the sundrenched Hille Idrottsplats for a top of the table clash.
Another warm welcome, coffee, cakes and gifts as well as informative talk from a rightly proud chairman. It’s a tense affair which the homesters win by a solitary goal.
The ground has traditional bleacher style seating and the game is very well attended. The kiosk selling cold drinks and ice cream does a roaring trade as the crowd swelters in searing heat.
Strömsbergs IF 2 Skellefteå FF 0 (Division 2 Norrland)
Attendance: 235 (at Strömsbergs IP Heden)
The third game of the day is literally in the middle of nowhere at Strömsbergs IF. In a move akin to Bishops Stortford’s enforced placement in the Conference North, the hosts have found themselves launched into the north division of Division Two (fourth tier).
Opponents Skellefteå are over 400 miles away and have taken eight hours to drive to the ground. To say the hosts are unhappy with their journeys is an understatement. The ground is a bit of beauty, an extraordinary clubhouse, circular in shape for dancing from the adjacent bandstand, is a real treasure and also has a timeline exhibition celebrating the club’s centenary.
The game is turned on a debatable penalty decision and the home side overcome their understandably lethargic visitors.
Saturday night concludes with a hunt for food in a strangely quiet Uppsala Gamla Stan. The highlight of the bus ride back to the hotel is an elderly local couple spotting Martin Bamforth as an inadvertent star of the previous night’s news programme on television.
Sunday sees a drive back to Stockholm for a game at multi pitch Skytteholms. With time on our side for once, some take the option to look at the part demolished old national stadium, the Råsunda, over the road. I find the scenes of devastation quite harrowing, one of FIFA’s official iconic football grounds looks more like a warzone. The need to finance the new Friends Arena is undoubted but what a price to pay for it.
Athletic FC 0 Tyresö FF 4 (Division 3 Sodra Svealand)
Attendance: 67 (at Skytteholm IP)
Skytteholm is principally the home to Vasalunds IF who have in the recent past had a brief flirtation with the second tier of Swedish football, the Superettan.
The 4G pitch, however, with its astonishingly tall floodlights, is used morning, noon and night by a number of clubs and also AIK’s youth teams.
This morning it’s Third Division Athletic FC, a team from Stockholm’s ever burgeoning émigré populace that are playing host to footballing travellers of a different sort.
They are no match for their opponents however, as after the sides swap red cards, Tyresö rattle in four goals without reply. Their eye catching young forward “Roy” plays under the Swedish equivalent of “A.N.Other” which is the rather marvellous “Personuppgifter Skyddade”
IFK Österåker 0 BKV Norrtälje 2 (Division 3 Ostra)
Attendance: 145 (at Åkersberga IP)
A quick sprint over to Åkersberga, familiar from a visit to the town’s other ground in 2011, sees the party arrive at IFK Österåker.
Yet another cordial welcome and a definite winner in the gift bag stakes (the socks will come in handy next winter), and we are ready for another top of the table clash. The visitors are hot favourites for the title and have brought some supporters with them, including an ageing pair of flag waving “ultras”!
The home side wilt in the heat and the lovely old manual scoreboard records, in the end, a comfortable away win.
Bele Barkarby IF 3 Tåby IS 1 (Division 3 Norra Svealand)
Attendance: 82 (at Veddestavallen)
The final game is at the curiously named Bele Barkarby. It’s a busy scene that greats us as multiple teams and age groups use the facilities. The Veddestavallen is not a photographers dream being situated in an industrial area and the undulating pitch is the talk of the pre match build up.
The hosts go to town providing us with glossy reading material and they are clearly proud of their self funded progress. The game is a curious event, a goalless and tight first half is the antithesis of the second, when the hosts rattle in three quick goals to put the result beyond any doubt.
The game finishes in comfortable time to get back to the airport and the seventh annual Swedish Groundhop is done. As usual the event was superbly organised and hugely enjoyable. Voulez-Vous same time next year? Uh huh. Well would be rude not to….