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!

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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…

The Råsunda’s Last Hurrah (AIK)

When one of FIFA’s official ten classic world stadiums was having its last game, I felt compelled to be there. Even if AIK (Allmänna Idrottsklubben) somehow qualify out of their Europa League Group F, the first knockout round home tie would be played at their new home in the Friends Arena, all shiny and new and with a liberal splashing of UEFA-sanctioned santiser no doubt.

A little over 75 years old the curtain comes down on the Råsunda Stadion, a much loved institution, it’s 36,000 capacity deemed too low for UEFA’s liking and Sweden’s hosting of the 2013 Women’s European Championship. Situated in the suburb of Solna, the stadium is a saucy melange of single tier, double tier and triple tier stands the result of periodic piecemeal redevelopment. The miniature roof mounted floodlight pylons are redolent of the white plastic Subbuteo lights that allowed evening kick offs on the hallowed green baise of my childhood.

I wondered what the atmosphere would be like on the final encounter, would it be a teary farewell or would there even protests against moving to the Friends Arena. After scaling the stairs to the vertiginous upper tier of the North Stand, I realised it would be neither, AIK were in the mood for a party to send the Råsunda off in style. Banners lay at the front of the stand and every seat had its appropriate piece of coloured plastic waiting for lifting at the appropriate moment.

Just before kick off the decibel level rose, AIK anthems were sung ever more lustily and the “Legends of Råsunda” banners enveloped the upper tier. Fireworks crackled and soared into the cold night sky. It was a total joy to be part of it.

The match was almost secondary to the occasion, Edison Cavani, the star Napoli striker, lissom of movement and fleet of foot, spoilt the occasion somewhat by bagging an injury time winner.

It was terribly sad to see tractors and demolition gear lined up outside, preparing to raze this historic stadium to the ground with seemingly indecent haste. However, AIK sent the Råsunda to its imminent demise in fine style. Now one more time, with feeling!…Na na na na, Na na na na, hey hey hey Aw Ee Koi!

A.I.K. (1) 1 (Danielsson 35) SCC Napoli (1)2 (Dzemaili 20,Cavani 90+4)

Attendance:28,552

AIK:

27.Ivan Turina; 16.Martin Lorentzson; 3.Per Karlsson; 2.Niklas Backmann; 4.Nils-Eric Johansson(c); 15.Robin Quaison; 20.Ibrahim Moro; 7.Helgi Danielsson; 28.Viktor Lundberg; 10.Celso Borges; 75.Mohamed Bangura.

Subs: 5.Robert Ahman Persson; 6.Daniel Tjernström; 13.Kenny Stamatopoulos; 22.Kwame Karikari (for 15,76 mins); 24.Daniel Gustavsson; 29.Gabriel Özkan; 45.Daniel Majstorovic.

Napoli:

22.Antonio Rosati; 55.Alessandro Gamberini; 5.Salvatore Aronica (c); 5.Miguel Britos; 16.Giandomenico Mesto; 4.Marco Donadel; 85.Valon Behrami; 8.Andrea Dossena; 20.Blerim Dzemaili; 7.Edinson Cavani; 9.Eduardo Vargas.

Subs: 1.Morgan De Sanctis; 11.Christian Maggio; 13.Omar El Kaddouri; 17.Marek Hamšík (for 20,73 mins); 18.Juan Zuniga (for 16,64 mins); 28.Paolo Cannavaro; 88.Gokan Inler (for 4,62 mins).

Yellow cards: Backmann and Moro (AIK), Cavani and Behrami (Napoli)

Red card: Aronica (Napoli)

Gallery

And the morning after the night before

Time Travelling at the Stockholms Stadion (Djurgårdens IF)

Simon Inglis’ epic tome on European football grounds had long made me hanker after seeing a game at the Stockholms Stadion, venue for the 1912 Olympiad. It’s been the long held thesis that athletics tracks should not and cannot be enjoyed as a football venue. As with most things in life there is an exception to every rule and this venue knocks holes in that theory big time.

Designed by architect Torben Grut, this fine venue with crenulated roofs, flag poles galore, tented royal box and carved roof supports is little changed a century after it’s inauguration. However, the footballing future, at least, of the Stockholms Stadion looks uncertain as the resident club, Djurgården IF, decamp to the new Stockholm Arena with Hammarby at the end of the 2012 season. With AIK taken up residency in the new national stadium it means that in one season the Söderstadion, the Råsunda and the Stockholms will be lost to football.

Arriving at the stadium is easy, tunnelbana to the simply titled Stadion station gets you in the mood, proudly displaying a 1912 Olympics poster and the crests of the resident clubs past and present.

The stadium greets you with a retro board advertising the latest Allsvenskan clash for the home club against Gothenburg based BK Häcken. A circumvention of the exterior is a must to fully appreciate the workmanship in this construction. Tall towers in the corners, two with roof mounted floodlights, statues of athletes contorting in Olympian performance, weather vanes, ostentatious lamps and vintage turnstiles. The Stockholms Stadion has it all.

Armed with a free programme I take my place in section O a few sections away from the flag waving Ultras. The seats are numbing wooden planks but I don’t care as the full beauty of this stadium grabs me. It’s a rare and true beauty that can only be obtained from the patina of old age.

On the field Djurgården are little match for their title chasing visitors and Häcken stroll to a comfortable 3-0 win in front of 5,594 people.

If this season is to be the last for football in this grand old stadium then it is a truly sad time, but I am glad to have seen a game in one of my all time favourite venues.

(First published with extended gallery by In Bed With Maradona)

Djurgården IF (0)0 BK Häcken (1) 3 (Anklev 35,Williams 54,Majeed 82)

Attendance:5,594

DIF:12.Kenneth Hohe;6.Peter Nymann;20.Andreas Dahlen;2.Joona Toivo(c); 13.Emil Bergstrom;5.Petter Gustafsson;11.Daniel Sjolund;16.Kasper Hamalainen;31.Simon Tibbling;8.James Keene;10.Erton Fejzullahu.

Subs:4.Yussid Chisbah;15.Brian Span (on for 8,86 mins);23.Tommi Vaiho; 24.Daniel Jarl;25.Sebastian Rajalakso(on for 5,54 mins);27.Kennedy Igboananike (on for 31,67 mins);28.Alhaji Kamara.

Häcken:1.Christoffer Kallqvist;6.David Frolund;15.Kari Arkivno;4.Mohammed Ali Khan(c);12.Oscar Lewicki;5.Emil Wahlstrom;14.Martin Ericsson;18.Waris Majeed;17.Bjorn Anklev;9.Dioh Williams;24.Rene Makondele.

Subs:7.Jonas Bjurstrom;8.Josef Elvby(on for 24,86 mins);16.Tibor Joza; 19.Leonard Zuta;20.Dominic Chatto(on for 5,11 mins);26.Damir Mehic; 41.Nasiru Mohammed(on for 9,77 mins)

Yellow cards: Sjolund, Keene (DIF); Chatto (Häcken)

GALLERY:

Arriving at Stadion station by Tunnelbana

1912 Olympic poster

Pointing the way to Djurgården IF and the Stadion

Match Board

The entrance

The main stand and royal box