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”

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