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Gästkrönika "One night with the Bajen"

Gästkrönika: "One night with the Bajen"

Det kom en gästkrönika från en engelsman som haft en kväll med Hammarby. Läs gärna hans reflektioner!

I love Stockholm. I am lucky enough to get there with work once or twice each year but last week was the most enjoyable visit to date. For starters the sun was out all week, with temperatures hanging around the high 20’s. A beautiful city made all the more stunning by the mid-May blue sky. There was a buzz about the place.

One of the real upsides to my job is that I get to travel extensively and on my travels, whenever possible, I go to a local football game. In recent years I’ve been to Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Sporting Lisbon, Orlando City and many more but until May 16th I’d never managed to attend an Allsvenskan game. 

I arrived on Monday 14th May. AIK were at home to Ostersunds FK – a game I really wanted to attend because of Ostersunds manager Graham Potter and also because I’ve never been to the Friends Arena. My flight was delayed just long enough to make it impossible to get to the stadium. I was disappointed but already had my ticket for the game two days later between Hammarby and Malmo.

Wednesday came around and I took a walk from my hotel close to Stockholm Central, over the bridges to Medborgarplatsen. With the sun beating down the square was alive and crammed full of Hammarby supporters in their green and white shirts. The atmosphere was fantastic. I hadn’t been there two minutes when I saw a drunk but happy Hammarby fan pulled in by a policeman for coming perilously close to an oncoming bus! No harm done. Hammarby were top of the league and (at that point) unbeaten. Form would suggest that they were real title contenders. I enjoyed a few beers whilst taking in the surroundings. The supporters were a really friendly bunch – I had some questions about the team and the league which the people I spoke to were more than happy to answer. I even overheard a black-clad, alternative-looking American declaring his absolute passion for Hammarby to an interested group of young Swedes.   

As the match drew nearer I took a walk the rest of the way along to the Tele2 Arena. Even this walk was interesting – two cyclists, one wearing an oversized shark-head helmet, collided and flew from their bikes. They got up, dusted themselves down, checked the other was OK and then carried on. Surreal. In Britain that one may well have ended in bloodshed. And to make things even MORE exciting, I heard the Scorpions classic, ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’, blasting out from a bar on the walk up to the ground.

I absolutely loved the stadium.

I am 40 years old and went to my first football game at the age of six, back in 1984/85. I am a Newcastle fan and back then St James’ Park was absolutely nothing like it is today. As you know, standing is not allowed in Premier League stadiums but back then the Family Enclosure was a seat-free concrete slope with a few scattered concrete structures that the smaller kids could sit on. We LOVED it – half time? A kick around with your friends, sometimes using a stamped-down Coca-Cola can as a ball. I feel sorry for the kids of today sitting down for 105 minutes, forced to watch. It is more difficult to take a six year old now as they quickly grow bored. No more halftime kick arounds. Aaaaanyway….. back to Sweden

I absolutely loved the stadium – compact yet spacious. The safe standing terraces are wonderful and I hope they introduce them to the upper echelons of English football. Standing up and leaning on a metal rail is far better than sitting down. It certainly makes it far harder to fall asleep if you’ve taken a few pre-game beers! I found a space, rested against the metal barrier and took in the crowd.  

The first thing I noticed was how young the people on the terraces were. I was in section A101-106 and I am pretty sure I was one of the oldest in there. This is really encouraging for the future of Hammarby. And the stewards (pitch side security) looked like they had just popped out after a day modelling in an H&M photo-shoot. Very different to the overweight middle aged men who patrol pitch side across England.

Then the atmosphere – absolutely fantastic. The ‘Bajen’ made noise from long before kick off and right throughout the game. Their green smoke-bombs were phenomenal. They had a drum. Actually they had a couple of drums. I HATE drums at football matches but not these ones. The Bajen drummers helped to keep the beat and the atmosphere going.

Oh and you could have a beer too. It is illegal to drink a beer in view of a football pitch in the English leagues (you can drink one down at the concourse at half time) and on a night like it was on the 16th May, a beer on the terraces whilst watching the game was perfect.

I really wanted Hammarby to win, despite their goal keepers ludicrous top-knot hairstyle. The game was a thriller – Malmo took the lead (Rieks, 19’), Hammarby equalised (Djurdjic, 36’). Malmo went ahead again immediately after halftime (Svanberg, 46’) but Hammarby struck back once again (Djurdjic again, 65’).

And then in the 70th minute, two minutes after Malmo were reduced to ten men after Lasse Nielsen was sent off, Dibba struck to win the game for Hammarby and extend their lead at the top. The crowd were thrilled and the players came over to offer their thanks and take the plaudits.

All-in-all it was a fantastic experience. The Premier League has billions. It has some of the most technically and athletically gifted footballers on planet earth but Hammarby Malmo was a reminder that billions does not necessarily equal entertainment. None of the players out there will earn anything like any single player in the Prem, but as a spectacle I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed any neutral game of football in the 2017/18 Premier League season. It was a throwback to the English football I watched as a youth – albeit a much more polished version. And it was very competitive – something that, sadly, is becoming less and less the case in England’s top flight.

From now on I will look out for Hammarby’s results and I really hope they win the league this season. But as a Newcastle United fan (last domestic trophy, 1955) I just hope I haven’t cursed them. I noticed they lost the derby to AIK just before I began to write this!


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@MARCSDUFFY (TWITTER)
2018-05-23 09:30:00


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