Svenska Fotboll

Last week we went to a fotboll match between the Hammarby IF (HIF) and Djurgården IF (DIF). These are two teams both from Stockholm and both in the Swedish premier league. The soccer skills were great. Sure - they are not Manchester United, but passes go exactly where they are planned, things move fast, there is good control and it was very exciting. Hammarby won 2-0. But the real show was in the stands.

We sat at the south end of the stadium, in among the Hammarby fans. Robin's assistant trainer - Bjorn - told me that he was a DIF fan, but that Hammarby fans are famous. They have had years to develop their chants, songs and so forth. The DIF fans were no slouchers, and we were in a good position to watch them in action. First DIF dropped a series of long (30 m) banners from the upper decks of the stadium. Then waves and oceans of confetti. Finally smoke bombs in their teams colors - light blue and dark blue.

In reply the Hammarby fan unrolled a banner which was as wide as the field and went from the first row of seats back 30-40 rows. All the fans in those rows holding it up over their head.

So here we were seated in what is a called a "fotboll derby". A derby is a rivalry between two teams, usually two local teams. Do we have something like this in the US? Well all those classic cross-town rivals (New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers) do not really qualify since there are in different leagues and so rarely play each other. The Boston Red Sox vs. The NY Yankees? Maybe. But the point of a "Derby" is that it is a contest between the fans as much as the athletes, and that means that you need the game to be close to both homes.

I have read that in Stockholm the "real" derby is DIF vs. AIK. I think these two teams have been in the premier league near forever and have had a long time to develop the crash of the fans. But Hammarby has been in the premier league for a dozen or more years. There are fourteen teams in the Swedish primer league, and as of today DIF is ranked 5, Hammarby IF 8, AIK 11. By the way the "IF" = Idrottsförening = "sport association".

What about those bananas? Before the game begin hundreds of bananas were thrown on the pitch, towards the DIF goalie. It was pointed out to me that the throwing of bananas is in fotboll generally a racist act. But for DIF it is a bit more complex. Djurgården is not only where DIF is from (really Östermalms), but Djurgården is the island where Skansen is located with a zoo. Apparently non-DIF fans call DIF the "monkeys" for decades, and rivals have thrown bananas even when the goalie was a white Swed. AIK are called "rats" and HIF "wreaks". The throwing of the bananas onto the field is still not to be excused - but the history is complex.

I think the one thing about Swedish football fans is that they tend to back a team loyally forever. I expect that it may even be hereditary and if you did a genetic study of Andy Capp you could find the Hartlepool United FC gene. I guess that what I disliked about sitting (sitting - we had to stand the entire match to see anything - everyone else was standing) among the Hammarby fans was that the excessive action of the fans (continuous singing, waving of flags, etc.) actually gets in the way of just watching some really good fotboll. What I liked was to see passion. I think so rarely do people really pour out feels and maybe it is only in a crowed, only hidden in a mob, can you display passion.

After Hammarby scoured their first goal one enthusiastic fans a few rows behind us found her tipsy (literally) and jumping in a bit of an unstable manner, and she came crashing down on a tray of beer cups and on Dad (how often do young women fall out of the sky?). Dad was a bit surprised, and the river of beer seemed to by almost completely absorbed by my jacket. But still, I don't think I would have missed the chance to be in that crowed of passionate fans, in the middle of that derby, in the heart of Sweden.