What is the biggest match in football around the world? Many will say Real Madrid v Barcelona, others AC v Inter whilst some of a more continental persuasion will go for the Boca v River Plate game in Argentina. But what is clear that in most domestic leagues the biggest game tends to be the local derbies. In fact Spain (and to an extent, France) is the exception in that the biggest game is not a inter-city derby.
Germany has all of the passion (and spite) of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke as well as a new rivalry, played for the first time this season in Hertha v Union Berlin. Italy has the Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa variations. Portugal has Sporting v Benfica derby played between the Lisbon sides and then of course there is the Old Firm in Scotland. Childhood friends grow up enemies based on the teams they support, families are split in two over their allegiances.
Parken on fire again
During the past few years I have been lucky enough to experience a few such games. Internazionale 0 AC 6 will always rank up there in my most treasured footballing memories, as will the rampant destruction of Parken, home to FC Copenhagen by Brondby IF fans in one of the fastest growing inter-city rivalries. But one game I had always wanted to see was the Stockholm derby between Djurgården IF and AIK.
Djurgårdens IF and AIK were both founded in 1891 separated by just a month apart and both are originally from the Northern part of Stockholm. Today they are almost in different towns with AIK based in Solna, to the north of the city centre and Djurgården in the district of Östermalm. They are also historically two of the biggest and most successful clubs in Sweden, with 11 League titles each. The Djurgården vs AIK rivalry is considered by far the biggest rivalry in Sweden and maybe even the whole of Scandinavia because of its rich history and the huge animosity between the two clubs and both sets of fans with the Järnkaminerna or Blue Saints of Djurgården on one side and the notorious Black Army of AIK on the other. With this being the first game of the season for both teams, it was guaranteed to be a cracker in terms of atmosphere.
But few people outside Östermalm know that back in 1985, Djurgården IF’s star striker was none other than Edward “Teddy” Sheringham. Teddy was nineteen at the time and pushing to break into the Millwall first team. With Sweden playing summer football it was seen as an ideal opportunity for him to gain some first team football. Thirteen in goals in twenty one appearances saw Teddy become a cult hero here as well as returning back to South London to a first team place for the Lions.
Not that AIK didn’t have their own South London connection themselves. Step forward long term TBIR fan and Millwall fanatic, Kenny Pavey. One of the best English players currently playing overseas, Kenny is down to earth, committed and above all passionate about the game. He was fired up for this one.
For me it would also be a good chance to visit the Stadion, home of the dark and light blues and the only ground in Stockholm that I hadn’t been to. The Olympic Stadion, or simply Stadion for those in the know hosted most of the events in the 1912 Olympic Games including the Tug of War competition. Well, not really a competition actually as only two nations competed (Sweden represented by the Stockholm City Police and Great Britain represented by the City of London Police) and the event was held in less than 30 minutes on one day. If that bizarre fact wasn’t enough then do you know that it also hosted part of the Olympic games in 1956? Yep, whilst the running, shooting, pushing, pulling and throwing was going on in Melbourne some 9,609 miles away in Australia, the equestrian competition was held in the Olympic Stadion due to quarantine issues.
The new stadium
However, I had of course made a simple assumption that the game would be played at Djurgården’s 13,000 capacity stadium. And I would have happily headed off in that direction if it wasn’t for one of the guys in the office pointing out that Solna is only a 5 minute journey from my hotel. Solna? No I am heading out to Östermalm…Well you will be Johnny no mates out there came the answer. It seems that all big games like this are played at the Råsunda, that is until the new Swedbank Arena is finished in 2012 although AIK will not be moving in to the new superstadium.
Both teams had suffered poor seasons in 2010. The home side’s 10th place finish was at least an improvement on 14th in 2009 but still along way from their domestic double in 2005 and subsequent jaunt into the Champions League. AIK also went through a season of hell in 2010 after winning the treble in 2009, finishing in 11th place. The Allsvenskan is a hot potato that no team wants to hold for more than a season. Six different winners in the last six seasons did not bode well for both of these sides, especially as Huddo Hudson have confidently tipped Örebro for the title this year.
So a full day’s work under my belt I headed north up to Solna ready and waiting for what was about to hit me.
Djurgården IF 0 AIK 0 – Råsunda – Monday 4th April 2011
The journey to the stadium should have been straight forward. Five stops from T-Central straight to the stadium. But those little rascals the AIK fans decided to trash a metro train so we weren’t going anywhere fast. What was obvious was the railway workers had recently been on a customer experience course hosted by SouthEastern railways as the confusing messages being relayed to the thousands of football fans on the platform was a great help in getting us all nowhere.
Still, thanks to a helpful policeman I did a little shufty one way, a shimmy the next and before you could say Martin Kayongo-Mutumba I was at the stadium. One end was rocking. I will give you a clue which one. They play in black and yellow. AIK had almost filled the “away” end, which was actually the same end they have when they play at home. At the other end the “home” fans had a decent turn out (many were stuck on the train incident I mention above), but it did beg the question why not play this at home in the first place.
The bad news was that “our Kenny” was only on the bench. He consoled himself by giving fellow sub Ibrahim Bangura a piggy back race around the pitch as you do. The good news was the atmosphere was cracking (you can see some footage on YouTube here, here and here). A little bit too cracking for the referee and the police because minutes after the teams came out and lined up they were ushered back down the tunnel as the smoke engulfed the stadium. I’ve seen some fireworks before but this put London on New Years Eve to shame. Add in AIK’s fans singing a version of KC & The Sunshine Band’s Give it up and the Djurgården X-Factor style ticker tape and I think I can only give you a fraction of the picture.
Five minutes later the referee appeared again. He chatted to a few people and disappeared again just as more loud bangs reverberated around the stadium. If this was a “tame” derby in terms of games around the world I cannot imagine what a “lively” one would be like. The noise was cranked up to ten as we had to sit and wait….Eventually some nine minutes late the home side got the game underway to almost silence as both sets of fans regrouped and planned their next move.
Two minutes in and the home side nearly got the dream start when Sebastian Rajalakso’s drive from the edge of the box narrowly went past the post with Turina in the AIK goal well beaten. That brought the blues fans into song. Ah if Teddy was here tonight – the Djurgården fans broke into a chorus of “No one likes us, we don’t care” but in Swedish (well that is what it sounded like to me) so send a message to their favourite English son. AIK responded with “We’re on the march with Alm’s army, we’re on the way to Gefle”.
Chances were few on the ground in the first half with both keepers tested from distance and their catching ability from corners, with the bulk of the play being seen in the middle third of the pitch. Half time saw a few exchanges between the fans and the police as missiles were thrown down from the Djurgarden fans behind the goal onto a small group of AIK fans in the stand along the side of the pitch. For the first time in the evening I started noticing how chilly it had become. Just because April is here does not mean winter has disappeared here in Stockholm. Snow is still on the ground in outlying areas and some of the rivers are still frozen. What we needed to warm us up was 45 minutes of decent football.
“One Kenny Pavey” sang the AIK fans as he was brought on at the start of the second half to inject some pace down the right hand side for the “visitors”. With both teams attacking their opposing fans it was going to be 45 minutes for the brave. The noise was cranked up to 11 and it was difficult to keep an eye on what was going on on the pitch for fear of missing something either set of fans was doing. There was an almost constant stream of flare smoke, syncronised bouncing, fire crackers and songs with English tunes. Do the Premier League officials not look at games like this and wonder where the passion and spectacle come from? This cannot be bottled and sold as part of your monthly subscription. These are fans who haven’t been priced out of the game and a football association who respects the supporters as more of a part of the game than the teams themselves. Nearly 29,000 were in the stadium. Less than half you would get at The Emirates but I bet twenty times as loud and passionate.
Inevitably the game ended nil nil. With so much at stake in the opening game of the season both teams will claim the bragging rights from the first battle of the season.
Football was not the winner but passionate support was. Would I want to see supporters like this every week? Hell yes…”Oh Teddy Teddy, he came to Stockholm and all he won fuck all….apart from a second division championship medal.”
All of the pictures from a memorable night can be found here.