The Djurgarden of Eden

Just over a year ago I was lucky enough to attend one of the final football matches played in the Olympia Stadion in Stockholm.  In normal circumstances, clubs move elsewhere because they have outgrown their grounds and they can gain greater financial rewards by moving to the out-of-town, identikit stadiums.  In the case of the Olympia Stadion, and its then tenants, Djurgården IF, it was a case of them being told they could no longer play games there.  The iconic stadium is a legacy of a past era of watching football, with wooden benches, poor sight lines and a creaking infrastructure and the Swedish FA, after giving them a few stays of execution, finally told them that 2013 would be their final season in the ground.

8900669783_0e4f02f888_zFast forward twelve months and the Järnkaminerna are now firmly at home, with their slippered feet well under the table at the Tele2 Arena in the Johanneshov area of the city.  Average attendances have gone from just below 9,000 in the last decade to over 15,000 in the first year, with over 25,000 for the explosive derby matches against AIK.  As you would expect from a brand spanking new arena, with thousands of shiny metal plates attached to the outside and a sliding roof that moves with the action of a CD player at Tandy’s (Partridge gag).  Transport links are excellent, with a number of train stations around the ground – who would have thought of that when building a stadium eh!

After numerous troubles on and off the pitch in recent years the club is at last able to look up.  Coming into this game, nearly at the half way point in the season, they seventh, one point and one place behind the visitors, BK Häcken.  A little run of form now and they could be putting pressure on city rivals AIK who sat in second place, jut six points away.

10837676685_f17af0b580_zWork done for another day I took my place in the new arena which looked relatively similar inside to the stadiums in Cardiff and Düsseldorf.  Three things were lacking for me. One was a beer (Swedes and their crazy alcohol rules for you), two was any flares from the home fans – especially as I had seen their displays in the past at the good-old Råsunda and last year in the game at the Stockholms Stadion and finally was any away fans.  In fact there were 8 of them, with a flag between them, perched in the upper tier.  Whilst it is a fair way from Göteborg, it wasn’t a school night.  Still, at least there was probably room on the team bus for them to get a lift back home.

Djurgården IF BK Häcken – Tele2 Arena – Monday 21st July 2014
After collecting my media pass I followed signs to the press seats which takes you up a tunnel and onto the edge of the 3G pitch which was enjoying a liberal watering.  With ten minutes to kick off the DIF fans were in full voice and it was tempting just to stand there and get a close up of their pre-match display.  Alas, a friendly steward pointed out to me that I was likely to have things thrown at me if I did so I took refuse up in the stands.

14730122413_5f5d42bebb_zTen minutes on the clock and with their first attack the visitors forced a corner.  The ball bobbled around the 3G pitch before Carlos Strandberg häckened (too good an opportunity to miss) it home from close range. The DIF fans behind the goal didn’t miss a beat, simply turning up the volume a notch, launching into the Swedish version of “Build a bonfire” (well, the same tune at least), bouncing choruses between the Ultras behind the goal and a section standing under a banner that said Östermalms Gentlemannaklubb, which Google translate told me was not family friendly nor was it open for breakfast.

Twenty minutes later and another mix up led to Martin Ericsson being allowed to sneak behind the defence (as they were all positioned to look the other way – fact from my scouting course) and he side-footed into the corner of the net.  Two-nil and for a full thirty seconds the stadium was silent.  The truth was that the visitors had only had two forays into the DIF area and scored on both occasions, whilst at the other end the Häcken keeper, Källqvist had to be on his toes to keep out chances from Jawo, Radetinac and Tibbing. The noise slowly built again and the whole stadium rose in unison, with a symphony of “ooohs” as Stefan Karlsson’s rocket was tipped the bar.  It looked like being one of those nights for the home side.

As you would expect, DIF came out fired up for the second half and created a number of chances in the opening fifteen minutes.  But try as they might, and willed on by a wall of noise they simply couldn’t break down the stubborn Häcken defence.  It’s also fair to say that the half-time substitute Prijovic had an absolute stinker, somehow managing to connect with every part of his body bar his head or foot when in a dangerous position.

14709960342_461a2c57ee_zFinally in the 74th minute they got their slice of luck.  Martin Broberg beat the offside trap and with only the keeper to beat managed to slice his lob sideways into the path of Fejzullahu who walked the ball into an empty net.  What effect would that goal have on the team? In short very little.  They took the tactic of trying to stretch the visitors, looking to get in behind them and to the by-line but the pace of the artificial surface often took the overlapping runners by surprise.

So in the end it was a missed opportunity to gain some ground on those above, whilst the visitors closed the gap themselves with AIK to just 2 points.  However, there is more to football than just a result and it had been an entertaining game, in a very impressive new stadium.  With a loyal fanbase that oozes passion and now a brand new home it can’t be too long before DIF will be challenging for the major honours again.

 

 

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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”