WORDS: PAUL CONLON
Two of Stockholm’s best-supported football clubs are moving on from their spiritual homes this summer. We take a look at the beloved old grounds that Hammarby and Djurgården are leaving behind, and the memories that will live on as they take up residence in a newly built stadium together…
On Sunday 23 June, Hammarby IF will play for the last time at their legendary home, Söderstadion, before they make the move about 50 metres south to the newly built and, as is the norm nowadays, corporately sponsored Tele2 Arena.
A week later, across town on the pretty wealthy east side of Stockholm, Östermalm, their rivals, Djurgården IF, will also play one last game at their old home, Stadion. They will have to move a little further afield, though – about 5 kilometres across the city, in fact – to Södermalm (Southside), where they will join Hammarby at the newly built and corporately sponsored Tele2 Arena.
It’s a bit like Millwall and Arsenal moving to the Olympic stadium to groundshare, minus the huge capacity of course (although a 30,000 capacity is not to be sneered at in Sweden). So how have two rivals come to be, as the Swedish say, “sambos”, or flatmates. And what do the supporters think of this arrangement?
Djurgården’s current home, Stadion, was opened in 1912 as the centrepiece for that year’s Stockholm Olympics. Designed by Torben Grut, the stone stadium had a capacity of 20,000, although that was decreased after the Olympics to about 13,000.
The old-fashioned structure hasn’t changed much since that heady summer and, looking on from outside you could be forgiven for thinking that there may just be a small medieval village inside with the likes of Robin Hood or Ivanhoe hanging about sipping mead – it has that kind of old rampart charm.
Sadly, having being built for the Olympics, it obviously needed to include a football fan’s worst nightmare, the running track separating the crowd from the pitch.
Djurgården moved into Stadion in 1936, taking over residency from the other Stockholm side, AIK – traditionally Stockholm’s biggest club – who moved to the then-newly-built Råsunda stadium over in Solna at the same time. This would become both AIK’s and the national side’s home venue right up until the completion of the neighbouring Friends Arena last year.
However, a move to a bigger ground from Tranebergs Idrottsplats, which was the equivalent of playing your home games in Battersea Park, did little for Djurgården’s fortunes. In 1945, they were promoted to the Allsvenskan – the highest division in Sweden – but they struggled to cope and were immediately relegated. It wasn’t until the arrival of influential Englishman Frank Soo that the tide turned for the team from the East side.
Born in Derbyshire, of mixed Chinese and English parentage, Soo played for Stoke City and Luton before moving to Italy, where he coached Padova in his first managerial role. He then moved north, to Scandinavia, originally to Norway, and afterwards to Sweden.
He took over at Djurgården after managing Eskilstuna and Örebro, gaining instant respect and instant results. He was known for pushing his side to their physical limits and it seemed to work as they powered to the Allsvenskan championship in his first season. However, that first title-winning campaign proved to be the English coach’s only year at the helm. He left an indelible mark on the club, who became known for the physical style he had introduced throughout the Fifties and Sixties. They would be Swedish champions again in 1959, 1964 and 1966, highlighting the foundations that Soo had laid down.
Djurgården’s final flurry in the era that had started with Soo’s championship winning heroics coincided with the application of the finishing touches to Söderstadion, across town in Södermalm. Back in the Sixties, these two districts of Stockholm could not have been more different – the upper crust east and the working class south, which was even called kniv söder (knife south) by some, due to its rough reputation. Nowadays the areas are not poles apart – Södermalm is not a poor cousin anymore, they just dress differently. It’s Gucci versus Converse. Think Hoxton in London, media-tastic.
If you looked at Söderstadion and were asked which decade you thought it was built in, your answer would be, unequivocally, the Sixties. It has that typical industrial/post war/pre-Eighties yuppie-love feel. It also looks like someone has dumped a load of executive boxes on top of the stadium and run off. This was to be the new home of Hammarby, or as they are known in these parts, Bajen.
The organisation had actually formed in 1889 as a rowing club, and it wasn’t until 1915 that the club began to play football. Söderstadion was completed in 1966, whereupon Hammarby moved into what would become their long-term home.
It may not have seen as much glory over the years as its cross town rival, Stadion, but Söderstadion has its own special magic and, had it not been for this stadium, perhaps Swedish football would still be being playing to silent crowds. As it is, the atmosphere at Söderstadion is rocking regardless of the opposition.
Since the Seventies, Hammarby have become renowned, if not for their football, then at least for the voices of their support. It is a great ground at which to watch football, with the crowd very close to the action and the atmosphere generated by the voracious North Stand reverberating all around. Not that they have had much to cheer though – over the years they have been a bit of a yo-yo team, yet Söderstadion did have its moment of glory.
On 21 October, 2001, Bajen took on Örgryte at Söderstadion on the penultimate weekend of the season, knowing that a win would clinch the title for them. A 12-year-old boy outside the ground was offered 4000kr (about £400) for his ticket, but he politely declined. Nowadays, Jonas Tigerstrand is glad that he did. It was to be Hammarby’s only Allsvenskan title to date as they won the match 3-2.
Wild celebrations took place around Södermalm, the like of which have not been seen since, with large parts of the area being closed down due to the sheer mass of people out celebrating. As Tigerstrand reflects, “Big clubs will never get the same feeling. All victories are better if you are used to doing shit.”
Sadly for Hammarby they were relegated to the Superettan in 2009 and still currently languish there, the lower league proving as difficult for them to manoeuvre as the Championship in England has been for numerous clubs.
Over in Östermalm, it was in the year after Hammarby’s solitary Allsvenskan success that their neighbours began to assert their presence over the league. Under the stewardship of Sören Åkeby and the Bosnian, Zoran Lukic, Djurgården brought the title back to Stadion for the first time in over 30 years in 2002, also winning the cup that season for good measure.
They defended their league title the following season, making it three in a row for Stockholm clubs. However, in Sweden top players will be picked off and the club lost the likes of Kim Källström and Andreas Isaksson to bigger and brighter lights around that time. They did win the Allsvenskan again in 2005, but once again lost their main man of that season, Tobias Hysen, who went onto have an unsuccessful spell at Sunderland.
At the end of a disastrous 2009 season, Djurgården finished 14th and faced a relegation playoff with the third-placed team from Superettan, Assyriska. The team from Södertälje won the first leg at home, 2-0, leaving Djurgården an uphill task for the second leg at Stadion. At half-time in the second game, the jaws of the Superettan were staring firmly up at Djurgården like a sarlac pit, but remarkably they managed to fight their way back, scoring twice after the interval. Then, with only three minutes remaining, the veteran Matias Jonsson popped up to give the team in blue the extra goal needed to save them.
Magnus Orneklint was at Stadion that day and describes the events beautifully:
“The joy in the stands was unbelievable,” he recalls. “Tears in the eyes, and you just hugged everyone around you. When the referee blew the whistle for full-time, the pitch was invaded by the euphoric fans, but me and my friends stayed in the stands and I don’t think we said anything to each other. We just sat there gathering our thoughts on the emotional rollercoaster we had just been part of over the last few hours.”
Hammarby had already been relegated a few weeks previously and, to rub salt in the wounds, AIK became Allsvenskan champions. For the two smaller Stockholm clubs it had not been a happy time, but the fans kept coming.
In 2009, when Djurgården survived the tense playoff, their average gate was 9,395. The same season, Hammarby had the fourth highest average in Sweden with 10,381 as they were relegated. Despite a drop during their first season in Superettan to an average of 6,864, Hammarby have had very respectable attendances for the lower division since then, averaging 9,315 for 2013. The supporters must be admired for keeping the faith in such numbers.
Hammarby are a huge club by Superettan standards. They have wanted to rebuild Söderstadion for quite a number of years now, but it was only in 2009 that a decision was made to build the new arena between Stockholm Stad (Stockholm council) and AEG, the American entertainment group who are heavily invested in Hammarby IF and who run several huge arenas in the US, as well as the O2 in London.
Despite there not being a huge rivalry between the two clubs, the stadium may become a bone of contention for some, especially Hammarby fans.
“I have no problem with sharing,” says Tigerstrand. “Inter and AC Milan share, Roma and Lazio as well. But I would not be that happy if I was a Djurgården supporter – moving to the other side of town, knowing Hammarby made this arena possible and fought for it for 10 years.”
It seems that the club feels the same way as well. On their homepage, the Tele2 is constantly described as “vår arena”. Our arena. They make no bones over the fact that Djurgården are merely tenants renting space.
To be fair to Djurgården, though, it is probably not their first choice to move to Södermalm, the area described by local rapper, Petter, as Bajenland. For starters they don’t have the outside financial backing of an AEG, despite playing in the higher division. The club is owned 100% by DEF AB, Djurgården Elitfotboll AB, with two subdivisions in Djurgården Fotboll Förening AB and DIF Invest AB. They may have had a successful last past decade or so but compared to the likes of Malmö, Göteborg and AIK, they still cannot compete financially.
Secondly, it was not their choice to move from Stadion. Quite simply, the stadium no longer meets the Swedish FA (Svenska Fotbollsförbundet) regulations. Its status as a protected building forbids the club from making changes and, although they have had dispensation from the FA for a few years, Allsvenskan football will no longer be permitted at the ground after the current campaign.
It was inevitable that at some point they would have to move and now that moment has arrived, although the club had initially discussed building their own ground.
“Djurgården tried for a while now to find a place to build their own ground in the area around Stadion,” Magnus Orneklint explains, “but it wasn’t really a realistic proposition with two new arenas in Stockholm already under construction.”
That they have had to move to Södermalm was a simple case of accepting the lesser of two evils for the club.
“The choice in the end was accept either the Tele2 or Friends arena, a simple choice for a Djurgårdare,” says Magnus, hinting at the more heated rivalry with AIK. At least they can look back with fondness at the years spent at Stadion, the titles won and relegations avoided.
As far as the ground itself is concerned, this summer it will play host to a diverse selection of sport, including a Diamond League athletics event and the Summerburst music festival including Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, perhaps not quite as charming as the sounds of the Djurgården fans on a Sunday afternoon.
Image: Peter Ekbäck (Hammarby Foto)
Over in Södermalm, the Bajen fans will not be so happy to leave their legendary home of more than 30 years. It will be hard to see them recreating the famous atmosphere of the Hammarby klack, but at least they can console themselves with the fact that it is next door and it is all theirs.
June 23 will be the day of this emotional goodbye on Södermalm, that is if they are still capable after the weekend’s mid-summer festivities – the biggest party of the year in Sweden. Sadly, Söderstadion will not be around for much longer after that, it is scheduled to be demolished at the end of the season to make way for flats and offices, and there will surely be some Hammarby fans rushing out as quickly as possible to purchase themselves a new home on that sacred ground.
What both teams will have to get used to very quickly at the Tele2 is Konstgräs. That is UEFA and FIFA approved Astroturf. A strange choice you may think for a new football stadium, but the arena has to be financially viable throughout the year, as the Swedish football season only lasts from April until November. Impossible the rest of the year, thanks to the long and white Swedish winter. For AEG and Stockholm Stad that means events, as many as possible. Obviously these are not too kind on natural grass. Over at the Friends Arena, where the first football game was played in November 2012 – a 4-2 victory for Sweden over England – the turf has already been replaced on several occasions and there have been discussions about switching to Konstgräs there as well. At least these stadiums won’t be accused of becoming white elephants!
The Tele2 Arena actually looks very nice, a sort-of mini Allianz, with a retractable roof for those winter events. The first visitors to the new arena will actually be Örgryte, the team that Hammarby clinched their only Allsvenskan title against back in 2001. Shortly after that, Swedish hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paris Saint Germain will visit for a friendly. Let’s just hope that the atmosphere inside the ground lives up to the structure itself.
They may both have lost their legendary homes in a single summer, but these two classic Stockholm clubs haven’t lost their memories. Now it is time to embrace the future and start a new chapter in their respective stories. Lycka till.