More Northern Skies

The days before and after any Swedish Groundhop offer a plethora of options for those wishing to extend there stay in this summer football season part of the world.

For the few that remained in Sweden Kim Hedwall organised a minibus to take in a couple of Monday matches on what was a National Day holiday in his homeland.

First up was a pit stop at Enköping to admire the modern and attractive stadium of the two local clubs. Enavallen hosts both Enköping SK, who were an Allsvenskan club as recently as 2003, and Enköping IS. The main stand is visually very pleasing and Kim has mooted this as a potential hop venue of the future.

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A few minutes later we arrive at fourth tier side Håbo FF and their Björkvallen ground is already teeming with people on this glorious afternoon. The Swedish national anthem is sung beautifully by a young lady before over 600 people watched the local side rattle in four hugely impressive first half goals. The visitors from IK Franke rallied briefly in the second half but a quick fire double from Håbo one of which saw the visiting keeper dismissed ensured the points were staying deservedly with the host club. Björkvallen is a relatively basic Idrottsplats style ground, the officials and visitors change in a building outside the ground for example, and these limitations could hamper the progress of this rapidly rising club.

Sweden Div. 2 Norra Svealand (06/06/2016)

Håbo FF 6 (Kristiansson 19, 29, 82, Aras 23, Danilo 32, Yilmaz pen 81)
IK Franke 2 (Applefeldt 51, pen 71)

Att: 615 (at Björkvallen)

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After heading south we arrive at the impressive Södertalje Futbollarena which plays host to two clubs with their roots firmly in the Assyrian community which first starting arriving in the city in 1967, fleeing from conflicts in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Over 40% of the cities’ population is from an immigrant background so it is no surprise that two clubs, Assyriska (1973) and Syrianska (1977) have flourished, the later enjoying three seasons in the Allsvenskan. The stadium was opened in 2005 and boasts one enormous stand with open terracing on the opposite side and a segregated section for away fans. This afternoon’s match is a Superettan game between Assyriska and GAIS from Gothenburg. A modest crowd gathers for this game and a well contested encounter is enjoyed by all especially when the hosts level with an injury time penalty when the GAIS captain inexplicably concedes an unnecessary foul.

Sweden Superettan (06/06/2016)

Assyriska FF 2 (Söderström 34, pen 90)
GAIS 2 (Singh 21, Moënza 63)

Att: 1,308 (at Södetalje Futbollarena)

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Tuesday evening sees a Tunnelbana ride east to the suburb of Hässelby where you will find Grimsta Idrottsplats home of IF Brommapojkarna, officially the world’s biggest football club! This claim is based on over 3,000 registered players for its 250 teams! The team have suffered a double relegation since the heady days of a return to Allsvenskan in 2012. Now in Division 1 Norra the team is coached by former Aston Villa legend Olof Mellberg. They sit top of the division and on tonight’s evidence of a totally dominant performance against Akropolis, few would seriously bet against a swift return to the Superettan. Grimsta was opened in 1963 and despite periodic refurbishment had always had just one stand running the length of one side of the pitch. Now though a new main stand is partially erected on the opposite side of the ground. Now looking like a proper stadium rather than an idrottsplats hopefully the investment will see BP return to the higher levels of the Swedish game.

Sweden Div.1 Norra (07/06/2016)

IF Brommapojkarna 3 (Brandeborn 32, 74, Gustafsson pen 90)
Akropolis IF 0

Att: 738 (Grimsta IP)

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The trip then heads to Finland and a much cooler Helsinki, draped in heavy cloud it’s not looking its finest when the top level Veikkausliiga runs a full midweek programme on Thursday evening. The game of choice is IFK Helsingfors against PK-35 Vantaa now managed by Shefki Kuqi. IFK, or Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors, are an old club having been formed in 1897. Known by the nickname “Stadens stolthet” (The city’s pride) the club were originally solely patronised by the Swedish speaking middle classes while the Finns traditionally support their great rivals HJK. After seven Mestaruussarja titles IFK suffered severe financial problems in 2002 and had to take the place of their reserve team at level five. To their immense credit they have regrouped, opened a share issue for fans to invest, and have ultimately returned to the top flight after winning the Ykkönen Liga in 2014. IFK were playing at the Töölön Pallokenttä but following top flight promotion the club have groundshared with HJK at the 10,700 seater Sonera Stadium which is adjacent to the Olympic Stadium.

Tonight’s game, however, is a poor one for the hosts despite some great vocal backing from their supporters. Vantaa are two goals to the good, including one from the manager’s kid brother Njazi before IFK even muster a chance. The hosts pull one back in the second half but really look like a side who don’t believe they can score a second time.

Finland Veikkausliiga (09/06/2016)

IFK Helsingfors 1 (Salmikivi 53)
PK-35 Vantaa 2 (Kaufmann 12, Kuqi 41)

Att: 2,816 (at Sonera Stadion)

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Another day, another country and a ferry crossing the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn and two games in the murky nether regions of Estonian football.

The first game takes place in the 3G ground adjacent to the Kalevi Keskstaadion, home of Estonian Esiliiga (second tier) side JK Tallinna Kalev. It’s a fifth tier match tonight between Castovanni Eagles and JK Retro who are an interesting team almost entirely made up of ex Estonian internationals including 89 cap Andrei Stepanov who once played two minutes for Watford. They are managed by Erko Saviauk who himself won 60 caps and play purely for fun these days. This point is stretched as they start with ten men until 45 year old, 3 cap, Arvo Kraam arrived belatedly in a speeding taxi 25 minutes into the first half! With even numbers the ageing but more skilful veterans begin to outclass their younger, fitter opponents and eventually claim a deserved victory with a late winner.

Estonia III Liga (10/06/2016)

Tallinna Castovanni Eagles 1 (Naariste 66)
JK Retro 2 (Rist 60, Silkin 85)

Att: 9 (at Kalevi Keskstaadion Kunstmuruväljak)

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Saturday brings a 12pm kick off in the Wismari Staadion, a short walk past the magnificent Aleksandr Nevski cathedral. The Wismari is normally the home of JK Tallinna Legion, however, this match is between Tallinna Dünamo and Lokomotiv Jöhvi who have travelled some 100 miles for this fourth level match. The pitch is again 3G though the surface is in poor condition and the surroundings are vastly inferior to those of the previous evening. Lokomotiv are far too strong for the side from the capital and win easily, barely breaking sweat.

Estonia II Liga (11/06/2016)

Tallinna Dünamo 0
Lokomotiv Jöhvi 4 (Vender 36, Makarov 44, Smirnov 64, Bazjukin 68)

Att:41 (at Wismari Staadion)

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There you have it a thoroughly enjoyable extension to the annual pilgrimage to Sweden. Great part of the world to enjoy summer football on warm days!

Northern Skies (Swedish Groundhop 2016)

Twenty odd groundhoppers (as in about 20 as opposed to a comment on mental state or peculiarities) flew into Stockholm Arlanda airport for the tenth annual Swedish Groundhop organised as always by the legendary Kim Hedwall.

This hop for many has become a fine coda to the football season and by and large the glorious weather in the Stockholms region at this time of year has showcased this stunning region in all it majesty.

The bus whisked us towards the capital our first port of call was for a guided tour of Torben Grut’s iconic 1912 Olympic Stadium, until 2013 the home of Djurgårdens IF. Ground grading fripperies mean their Allsvenskan side now has to groundshare at Hammarby’s Tele2Arena. It is my third time at this quite magnificent arena, all carved wood and eye-catching detail, the only real concession to modernity being a large electronic scoreboard. We are guided by a club official called Pelle and he kindly invites us back to the Stockholms Stadion for Djurgårdens’ forthcoming friendlies against Kalmar and Groningen for which plastic tip up seats are not a mandatory requirement!

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After checking in at an old favourite for the hop, the Scandic Järva Krog we are taken to the nearby Ursviks Idrottsplats for the first game of the hop. Typical of its kind a 3G pitch, bleacher style stand and dressing room block. The officials are welcoming and coffee is provided while the team manager gives us a power point presentation on how he plans for his team to win this match. His homework paid dividends as Ursviks triumphed in an entertaining match with Martin Kullberg taking the plaudits with a well taken hat-trick.

Stockholms Div 4 Mellersta (03/06/2016)

Ursviks IK 4 (Kullberg 36, 73, 89, Papathanasiou 81)
Reymersholms IK 2 (Ryckert 54, Höjer 58)

Att: 75 (at Ursviks IP)

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The programme for Saturday has three matches on the agenda and the first is another short bus ride to Danderydsvallen and impressive sports complex where the clearly very proud club officials tell us of the history of the sports club, its ethos of using only local players, and answering our questions. They present us with scarves and other souvenirs and ask us to join in singing a traditional Swedish drinking song with a complementary beer and glass of local firewater.

It’s early and warm and sadly the home side seem a little dozy as their guests and league leaders Husby win far more comfortably than the final scoreline suggests.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

Danderyds SK 2 (Issa 20, Pharmanson 90)
Husby FF 3 (Hien 8, 48, Tsegal 76)

Att: 57 (at Danderydsvallen)

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Next we move onto the swanky suburb of Djursholm wealthy enough to attract Björn Ulvaeus from Abba to its costly neighbourhood. Another welcome talk tells us that Djursholms priority is to produce young players and mould them into professional standard players and recoup coaching costs through Moderclub (“mother club”) which sees a percentage of future transfer fees going back to a players club of origin.

Today the first team, who are mainly aged 19 and under, have a task on their hands against the league leaders, IFK Österåker. The visitors duly flex their muscles and race into a 6-1 lead before the hosts stage a comeback which sadly they just run out of time to complete.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

FC Djursholm 4 (Tollis 54, Linnér 83, Croon 85, 88)
IFK Österåker 6 (Sindemark 27, 35, Tuhcic 40, Sjöstrand 53, Musa 63, 66)

Att: 112 (at Djursholms IP)

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There is then a quick dash up to Uppsala for the Superettan match at the fabulous Studenternas IP, home of IK Sirius. If displays are to be believed around the stadium this venue is about to undergo serious redevelopment so it’s great to catch it in its original state. Studenternas has been home to Sirius since their formation in 1909. The bandy stadium next door is equally impressive. The hosts huff and puff their way to a valuable three points to send most of the modest crowd home happy after this televised match.

Superettan (04/06/2016)

IK Sirius FK 2 (Björkebaum 67, Bergman 79)
Trelleborgs FF 1 (Jovanović 30)

Att: 1,170 (at Studenternas IP)

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Sunday has a more sedate two game programme which commenced with a lengthy drive into the countryside to a village called Kårsta which has a population of around 500 people and whose tiny rail station marks the end of the line for the province of Stockholms Lan. After locating Kårevallen, a glorious oasis at the end of a dusty unmade road a huge voice booms a welcome through a loudhailer. The voice belonged to Staffan Hassius, president of GoIF Kåre and as soon as you heard his infectious Klopp like enthusiasm you just knew this was going to be fun. It seemed most of this tiny village had given up their Sunday morning to welcome their foreign guests. Staffan told us about the club and made us so welcome even hoisting a union jack above the clubhouse. None of us had been to a hop game where musical entertainment had been supplied with a male duo playing a mix of English and Swedish songs followed by a lady wearing odd shoes who played the euphonium beautifully. Kårevallen is one of those idyllic Swedish grounds set into the side of a rocky hill. Spectator accommodation provided by two handmade wooden bleachers and sustenance came courtesy of delicious reindeer kebabs.

The match itself was an attritional affair, Kåre needing a win to take over from Fanna at the top of the table. After much endeavour on a hot day a goal from Daniel Zachrison sealed a very popular home victory. Its clubs like GoIF Kåre, run solely by volunteers that make you realise this is where the true spirit of football lies not in the festering money ruined vortex of the Premier League. Someday more people will see the light.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

GoIF Kåre 1 (Zachrison 64)
Unik FK 0

Att: 126 (at Kårevallen)

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The bus wound its way to Rosersbergs a hefty goal kick away from Arlanda airport for the final match of the hop. The Råbergsvallen is bathed in glorious sunshine. Another warm welcome and some very tasty cake was enjoyed before a tense encounter between the hosts a Fanna ensues. Rosersbergs take a deserved lead when a penalty is awarded when a defender injudiciously clips a home forward in the area. Fanna look a good side but struggle to break down the hosts. That is until a free kick is awarded late on and Rami Abbas sneakily moves the ball back a couple of yards to allow him a chance to get the ball over the wall and down again. He duly accomplished this which was very harsh on Rosersbergs.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

Rosersbergs IK 1 (Lyngbrant pen 34)
Fanna BK 1 (Abbas 88)

Att: 121 (at Råbergsvallen)

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So the tenth anniversary Swedish groundhop, masterfully crafted by Kim Hedwall once again, ended all too soon for many though as usual some had decided to stay on just a little bit longer…

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2015/16

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2015/16 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 244

New Grounds Visited: 200

Total Goals Scored: 885 (Average of 3.63 goals per game, up on 3.45 last season, though still eight 0-0 draws this season!)

Biggest Win: KFC Uerdingen 12 TSV Bockum 0

Biggest Crowd: 46,781 Combined attendance for Non League Finals Day (Wembley Stadium)

Games Abroad: 50 (Belgium 9, Sweden 9, Germany 7, Serbia 7, Romania 5, Malta 4, Estonia 2, Netherlands 2, Spain 2, Italy 1, Finland 1, France 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2015/16

1. AYR UNITED – Somerset Park

A visit to Somerset Park is a 90 minute wallow in the way things used to be. An utterly brilliant ground.

AYR UNITED

2. BARROW – Holker Street

Finally managed to get to Holker Street after several previous attempts failed due to poor weather. Great ground that has retained character along with modernisation.

BARROW2

3. MERTHYR TOWN – Penydarren Park

A weather enforced revisit but a timely reminder of this majestically ageing leviathan, not a minute too soon as bulldozers loom over the old main stand like vultures over roadkill.

MERTHYR

4. BILSTON TOWN – Queen Street

A very well maintained big ground at odds with the declining fortunes of the team. One of the many great grounds of the Black Country.

BILSTON

5. WENDRON UNITED – The Underlane

Not often a ground in the UK catches me by surprise but this one did. Such a welcome panacea to see something different to the usual kit made stands favoured by so many progressive clubs. Built on an audacious scale for the the level club not to mention with sustainable energy incorporated into the construction. Magnificent!

WENDRON

BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2015/16

1. RFC TILLEUR – Stade du Bureaufosse

Massive weed strewn terrace, big pitched roof main stand, sizeable covered terrace. A truly magical place.

TILLEUR

2. KFC BERINGEN – Mijnstadion

Tenant free for a number of years the chance to this fantastic stadium for a reunion match was too good to resist.

BERINGEN

3. RAYO VALLECANO – Campo de Vallecas

Hemmed in among the urban sprawl of the Vallecas, working class, passionate and resonant. An absolute must do venue.

RAYO

4. RRC BOITSFORT- Stade des Trois Tilleuls

Built on a preposterous scale, huge sweeping terraces immaculately crafted. A quite wonderful arena.

BOITSFORT

5. KFC UERDINGEN – Grotenburg Stadion

Built on a vast scale before the club collapsed financially, the Grotenburg is big on concrete and floodlights.

UERDINGEN

BEST ATMOSPHERE 2015/16

Olympique Lyonnias v Angers SCO

LYON

MOST UNUSUAL GROUND VISITED 2015/16

Fratia Bucharest, home to the lost and lonely, seemingly bonded by uncommon blood. An utterly unique and life affirming experience.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2015/16

(Criteria being status, resources, content, effort and value)

1. Whitehill Welfare

WHITEHILL

2. AFC St Austell

AFC ST AUSTELL

3. Elstow Abbey

ELSTOW ABBEY

4. Airbus UK

AIRBUS UK

5. Barrow

BARROW

BEST FOOD IN 2015/16

1. Sporting Khalsa – Chicken tikka wrap

Sporting Khalsa

2. Brackley Town-  Sausage baguette
Brackley

=3. GoIF Kåre – Reindeer kebab


=3.Coventry Sphinx – Pasta and chips

Cov Sp