Descending down the steep set of stairs off my calm and relaxing Norwegian Airlines flight at Stockholm’s quiet Arlanda Airport, the smell and taste of fresh air struck me immediately. Invigorating, it was a crisp, refreshing hit that instantly calmed the body. Bitterly cold, it was still a welcome respite from the gloomy, miserable drizzle that had soaked me in Manchester hours earlier.
Four days later, my first ever trip to Scandinavia had me heading back home feeling like I had been cleansed, ready to attack another stint at work. Three football matches, one of the most captivating gigs I’ve ever been to as well as trips to the Vasa and ABBA museums meant I had crammed as much as I could into my short stay… but it left me wanting to experience even more, which shows how much I loved the place.
Walking through the airport, everything was the definition of efficient. In fact, everything in Sweden seemed to be. This is the home of Ericsson, Spotify and IKEA. Efficiency and ease is at the forefront of everything. Within an hour of landing, I was relaxing in my hotel room and I hadn’t had to speak to a single person. My rucksack beat me to the luggage reclaim, the train station was directly underneath the airport terminal (the service was already waiting) and check-in at the hotel was completed in a matter of seconds on an iPad with contactless payment. Stress free but it did make me wonder whether we were heading for a civilisation where human dialogue was a thing of the past.
As any of you who have ever travelled to Scandinavia will know, the cost of everything is high. Friends did warn me before I went… and I was getting quite tired of people suggesting I should have gone somewhere cheaper. Extortionate costs weren’t going to affect my experience in Sweden’s capital; I had saved up and if I wanted a pint nothing was going to stop me. After all, it was a Friday night and the ‘well-off’ were bracing themselves for a night out in the city, wearing some of the most luxurious clothes, in a completely blasé manner.
Would I be joining them? Well, no, not on this particular occasion. I was off to catch some live music and this was to be another first, as I had never been to a gig on foreign soil.
In town tonight were Vök, an Icelandic ‘dream pop and indietronic’ trio that had just released their second album. Strangely enough, I had stumbled across In The Dark in York’s HMV a few weeks beforehand, instantly grabbing it and playing it on repeat to the point I knew pretty much every word to their latest release, which baffled the mixed Scandinavian crowd who were in close proximity to me.
The gig at Obaren itself was free, which was a bonus. A pint was the same price as the admission for their upcoming Manchester show which was taking place three weeks later. It took me 20 minutes to find the glitzy venue – despite walking past it three times. Tucked away above one of the many posh restaurants in the Stureplan area of the city, it had, what I assumed to be, the feeling of a gentleman’s club to it as I made my way up the darkened stairs. Completely out of place in my jeans and Lambretta parka, the locals were dressed as I would for a job interview. This was after all, ‘Stockholm’s playground for the upper-class youth’.
To make me feel even more out of place, the queue for the gig actually trailed through the most exclusive restaurants I have laid my eyes upon. A bit like that one out of First Dates, but on steroids. So, as couples sat feeding each other lobster, caviar and pie-peas-and-chips they had to put up with me lounging about in my jeans and battered Adidas gazelles, whose suede exterior were faded representations of their past selves.
It goes without saying, Carlsberg was the accepted drink of choice, which was fine, as this was the proper stuff and not the chemical-filled, gaseous nonsense that dribbles out of bleach tainted pipes in undesirable pubs back home. By the time the support act Nava – who had joined us from Italy – had warmed the crowd up, I was on my fourth pint of the stuff.
Stuck for space, I ended up perching on a table with a group of girls, around my age, who it turned out were all from Iceland. They were here to support one of their favourite bands from back home. One member of their party – who was clearly the loose cannon of the friendship group – took great delight in running on to stage to convince the crowd to join in an Icelandic style clap. They took great delight in doing this in front of me, reminding me of the time Iceland beat England at Euro 2016. I had forgotten all about it.
Vök, complete with their light show and transcendental style, mesmerised the small but lively audience. The whole experience felt totally Scandinavian and as I stood there drinking yet another pint, which had been bought for me by somebody with far deeper pockets, I imagined the Northern Lights dancing above us.
Hammarby (sorry, I forgot I was writing about them) weren’t at home until the Sunday. So in the meantime, I managed to cram a further two matches in on the Saturday, with the first being a spontaneous arrangement. A (women’s) friendly between Sweden and Germany at the national stadium, which I had seen advertised in the toilets at the gig was first up. But, it was only when I woke up on the day of the match that I realised I had booked myself a ticket when recollections were somewhat hazy.
Following up the match at the National Stadium was a dart over the city to watch FC Stockholm Internazionale, who played on a battered artificial pitch above a metro station. Imagine how surprised I was to rock up and see them being managed by former Celtic defender and Bolton Wanderers assistant manager, Johan Mjällby.
On the day of the Hammarby match, I woke up a lot earlier than usual and headed over to the supermarket to grab some breakfast. Everything I picked up was healthy; fruit was cheaper than alcohol and the addictive Marabou chocolate that I had gained a soft spot for. Vitamin C was frantically pumping through my veins as I made my way over to Djurgården, the island where the ABBA Museum and Vasa Museum are both found.
Walking through the city centre, close to my hotel, there was a tangible somber mood, as people mourned the victims of a terror attack that took place at Åhléns department store two years ago to the day. Flowers were laid outside, by the window that a truck had piled into. It was a poignant reminder that even the most peaceful and beautiful places in Europe, and indeed the world, can be targeted.
Around the corner, Spotify’s headquarters showed no signs of it being home to one of the most important tech innovations of the 21st Century, while over at Vasa, I tried to admire the immense Swedish war ship that was built in 1626. It’s one of the nation’s most visited attractions, despite the boat only managing to sail 1,300 metres before sinking in Stockholm harbour on it’s maiden voyage. Personally, I found celebrating the abject failure of something a little bit odd. At least the Titanic nearly made it to another continent.
From failure to success, I really was in my element when I made my way into the ABBA Museum further along the coastline of the island. From the costumes used in the Mamma Mia! films, to a room which was dedicated to the band’s Eurovision success in Brighton back in 1974, I loved every single second of it, although I did feel I looked a *little bit sad* standing in the queue on my own tapping my feet to ‘Does Your Mother Know?’, which I must declare, is one of the greatest songs ever written.
With the 17:30 kick-off finally approaching, I made my way down to the south of the city on the tram. Passing through the Södermalm district, which the football club considers to be it’s spiritual home, I soon found myself in Johanneshov and jumped off at Globen. Down the vast stretch of platform, supporters were in loud voice, waving green and white flags, drinking copious amounts of Carlsberg and disposing of their litter carefully in the recycling bins provided. Posters that were plastered everywhere advertised the upcoming appearance of potential pop star Michelle Obama at the Ericsson Globe.
The Globe itself sticks out in the local landscape, protruding upwards with it’s distinctive golf-ball like appearance. It represents the Sun in the Sweden Solar System, the world’s largest scale model of the Solar System. More importantly, it sits next door to the impressive Tele2Arena, the sparkling new home of Hammarby which glistened and danced with it’s arrangement of warped metal and LED lights. I was excited already.
Opened in 2013 and known by fans as Nya Söderstadion, the arena has a retractable roof and is home to both Hammarby and their city rivals Djurgårdens, hence why there wasn’t much in the way of individualised branding around the stadium. A pop-up marquee acted as a club shop, as supporters tried desperately to pick up any tickets that were going spare. There were none.
Booking this trip months earlier (with little research) I had wrongly assumed that it would be quite easy to get tickets for a league game against Kalmar; a side who finished 10th the previous campaign. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As it turned out, this match would attract Hammarby’s largest crowd of the season, with more supporters attending this fixture than their derby games against Djurgårdens and AIK, although that was probably down to less tickets being available for segregation purposes.
An obvious explanation was that it was Hammarby’s first home match of the 2019 season. With some pleas for help on Twitter, I was pointed in the direction of a Hammarby supporters group on Facebook, where some of their fans kindly provided me with some links to what appeared to be hidden parts of the club’s ticketing website. This would be a recurring theme; their fans were kind and welcoming and genuinely interested – and baffled – in the fact I had travelled from Manchester to watch their club.
Around the back of the arena, which straddles the neighbouring motorway, I found the correct entrance gate and made my way up the steps to the concourse which was packed, despite it’s modern and open design. Large windows and glass doors allowed views into the arena itself, where the atmosphere was building.
I took my seat to the left hand side of the inflatable tunnel and the blokes either side of me shook my hands. It appeared this was some form of tradition at Swedish matches, along with hugging those around you when a goal is scored regardless of whether you know them or not. Feeling slightly guilty for getting hold of a ticket when plenty of true supporters didn’t, I felt it was only right to appease those around me by joining in with these intricacies and traditions.
Kick off was upon us. The packed crowd rose to it’s feet in anticipation, unfurling a sea of green and white scarves which were proudly stretched aloft. Ultras behind the goal unfurled their large display which covered the full stand and then silence fell before the club’s anthem, ‘Just Idag är jag stark’ began to blast through the arena’s immense stereo system. Translated into English, the opening lines of the song seemed more than fitting for Hammarby’s first match at home in five months.
Exactly today I feel good,
I have the belief in myself by my side,
I have waited so long for exactly this day,
And it’s so nice that it finally comes.
The atmosphere was phenomenal and for a few moments, I was completely lost in the moment. A couple of years ago, I had watched Hibernian beat Hearts at Easter Road and their fans singing Sunshine On Leith will always be a pinnacle of ‘goosebumps at football’ but this came pretty close.
As for the match, it was even more pulsating than the build up. Bajen, as Hammarby are known, should have opened the scoring when Icelandic striker Viðar Örn Kjartansson scuffed the ball wide from a matter of metres. Perhaps he had been at the gig the night before too? The vocal home support weren’t happy at all with their latest signing, slamming seats and throwing a collection of objects to the floor. He lasted just the season in Sweden, before being sent out on loan again by his parent club FC Rostov to Yeni Malatyaspor in Turkey.
Typically, Kalmar punished their hosts midway through the first half, despite having had a lack of possession and no real clear sight of goal. Striker Nils Fröling, who boasted appearances for Sweden at U21 level despite being American born, was the player on the score sheet.
Nikola Đurđić brought Hammarby back level on 68 minutes. The bustling Serbian proved a handful throughout and was well worth his goal, heading in at the front post from a curled Simon Sandberg cross. The blokes either side of me grabbed me, forcing me to jump up and down with the rest of the crowd. Flags were flown across the arena, while red flares were set off in the stand behind the far goal.
The home side now had the supporters willing them to attack every single time they had possession; Kalmar could do nothing but defend and hope to cling on for a point.
Controversy overshadowed the whole game when three minutes into stoppage time, Sandberg once again crossed to Đurđić who turned the ball over the line. He ripped his shirt off and charged towards the corner flag celebrating as you would in front of a packed house. The linesman then raised his flag to rule the goal out, resulting in a scene where he was surrounded by Hammarby players shouting in his face. Stewards had to try and prevent supporters from charging on to the pitch to lynch him, kicking over advertising boards in the process.
Đurđić, Sandberg and Vladimir Rodić were all booked for their protests, while Kalmar saw Fidan Aliti and Mahmoud Eid also cautioned for getting involved. It was all a monumental mess and things got no better whatsoever when for some reason the club replayed the action on the big screens, clearly showing that Đurđić was in fact – as we all thought – in an onside position. Pints of beer reigned on to the pitch, showering the officials but they were mainly thrown in the direction of the linesman who had single-handedly cost Hammarby all three points.
Unfortunately the action came to and end immediately after all that excitement and it was time to head back towards the city centre. In search of a pub, I settled for the Bishops Arms, which seemed an easy option when I found it sat the top of the stairs leaving the main train station. Set out just like a ‘stereotypical English pub’ it wasn’t really my cup of tea but there wasn’t much choice. Even the barman informing me they had Samuel Smith’s beer straight from Tadcaster – which was probably meant to impress me – made me feel even more uncomfortable. He frowned when I asked for a Carlsberg.
Back in the comfort of my bed, which was in an economy room with no windows, I watched the highlights from the match I had been at, mainly just so I could watch back that disallowed goal once more. My beers had been chilling in the sink all day, so I finished those off before getting to sleep ahead of the flight back home.
The disallowed goal proved to be incredibly expensive to Hammarby’s season when it came to it’s conclusion. They finished in third place, just one point behind champions and rivals Djurgårdens.
Malmö were sandwiched in between them both, clinching second having three goals more than Hammarby on goal difference. Hammarby settled for a Europa League spot, which was great but it could have been far greater.
A few months after this match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic purchased a 23.5% stake in the club leading to his newly unveiled statue in Malmö to be vandalised and eventually torn down.
Apologies for the lack of photographs; the majority have all been lost unfortunately.