On the road with the Black Army
Elfsborg 2-2 AIK (17:04:11)
Regular EFW contributor Andy Hudson hooks up with the Black Army of AIK.....
Sweden – the country of cold winters, yellow football shirts, England World Cup opponents, beautiful ladies and expensive beer. Now, pick out the reasons why this fine country makes, for me at least, the perfect location for a European Football Weekend. You’ve all said the beautiful ladies, haven’t you? Now come on, I’m not that obvious. Honestly….I’m not.
This was my first trip of the year to Sweden, a country that I visit as often as I can (including every Midsummer – second only behind Christmas in the Swedish celebration list and a time when everyone spends the whole day amongst friends and family drinking far too much alcohol and eating far too much herring) to see friends, spend time with my Godson and to cram in watching football. OK, it helps that some of my friends are beautiful ladies and I get to spend Saturday nights out in their company, but there’s more than that behind my trips. One of those reasons is the greatest club in the land, the club with the greatest football fans in all of Sweden: AIK.
The reason I follow AIK, and for that matter Swedish football, can be traced back to the evening of Monday 2 June, 2003 and the Stockholm derby at Råsunda. With the final minutes being played out and AIK three goals adrift of their rivals Djurgården, they mustered the strength to score the three goals needed to equalise the game. I was standing behind the goal amongst the Black Army, AIK’s vociferous and fearsome supporters. With the noise they were making it was to be expected that the Gnaget players on the pitch would never give up. From that moment, jumping around in that Swedish stand whirling my top around above my head with the rest of the delirious fans, I was hooked.
My five day Sweden trip was to take me from Stockholm to Gothenburg, coast to coast, with the main event being a Sunday trip for the match between IF Elfsborg and AIK – my first away game after many visits to AIK’s home stadium, Råsunda. With the (expensive) trains booked, we had an early start on the Sunday morning to travel from Örebro to Borås. An early start being more to do with the late night the previous evening.
Of course, this wouldn’t be EFW without some kind of beery story-telling, right? So here goes. After too many ales in the fantastic Wirströms Pub (located in Gamla Stan, Stockholm), where I had left sober friends to go to the Djurgården match and returned to find them caned drunk, we had ventured to the edge of Gamla Stan and Slussen to another pub. The pub, that shall remain nameless, was one of those bars where the old ladies go to pick up younger, much drunker, guys. I wasn’t that drunk (or maybe the ladies were too fussy…whatever, I’m sticking with the former). Getting to bed after 3am and being out of my friend’s apartment by 8am meant that I had tiredness and a hangover to fight throughout Saturday. Bravely I ventured on.
A Saturday evening out in Örebro was the perfect antidote. True, the town may be a little on the quiet side, but given my numerous visits there it does feel like a second home to me. An early evening Easter Dinner Party (serving ‘herring cheescake’ – sounds awful but it tasted fantastic, as did the rest of the food) before hot-footing it to the pub to meet more friends in time for the El Classico kick-off. I really should be telling you about going clubbing with the very beautiful Ida and Emelie, but I shunned loud music and gorgeous girls in order to talk football with other friends (not that Johan, Niklas and Mats are ugly, they just aren’t female and in their twenties). Anyway, Emelie would have the pleasure of my company at Örebro SK on the Monday night! But yes, I know, it’s a poor excuse and I do feel slightly shamed!
So, Borås. Located over towards Gothenburg, it’s a quiet town. We were one of the first of the AIK fans to arrive. We grabbed some food and looked for a pub. And looked for a pub. And then found one…that was full of Guligan (Elfsborg fans). We decided against going in, not because we had AIK tops on and thought that there might be trouble, but because I wasn’t going to travel all this way and not have a beer with a load of Gnaget fans – so off we went looking for a bar that would have the travelling Stockholm fans in. We needn’t have worried – they would soon find us.
We followed the noise of fire-crackers and the sight of flares up Allégatan, where we could see some of the supporters’ coaches arriving, beyond the line of Polis (or, in English, Police – though if you’re a Geordie you don’t require the translation). We decided to grab a beer just before the Polis line and grabbed a table in the outside area of Torget. The barman wore an AIK top and the beer was the cheapest I can remember in Sweden for at least four years – what could go wrong?
Well, the sight of about fifty staggering youngsters is what could go wrong. Swedish football has a problem within society of certain people attaching themselves to clubs in the same way that English football had in the 80s. This is something I have only read about (including a mass organised fight last year involving fans from all three of the main Stockholm clubs), and one incident at the Stockholm Derby aside, is not something that I’ve observed before. But as pissed Swedes, buoyed by cheap alcohol from the System (the state owned off-license where you buy alcohol), filled the small square the atmosphere quickly turned tense, the air of imminent trouble enveloping and then suffocating. This wasn’t because of all of the fans, merely a small percentage of those present. The Polis carted one fan away, and then when one of his mates ventured down to their van to remonstrate he too was bundled into the back. Arguments flowed as to why the second lad had been allowed to go down, his friends letting him through instead of pointing out what would obviously happen. Arguments continued and then one guy took an absolute pasting – people rushing out of the way as fists flew under a parasol.
But then the singing started back up and we headed to Borås Arena for kick-off. Amongst the fans walking up were a few ‘civil’ Polis – polite and also in plain clothes so as to ensure that there was no trouble. An example of their work being that as we stopped at a rail crossing and a lad started banging the barrier, the officer was straight in telling him off. As we approached the away end it became glaringly obvious that the right decision to leave early had been made. Airport style security awaited us. As the queue eventually deposited us at the front, I had to empty my pockets of all contents: coins, notes, phone, voice recorder, camera, cigarettes, lighter, snus, assorted train and bus tickets and handkerchief. Once I had been frisked for the first time I walked through the detector and set it off having forgotten to take my belt off. Another deeper frisk down later and I was loading my pockets back up and heading to the back of the stand with only minutes to spare before the teams came out of the tunnel. I looked back down towards the long queues snaking around behind the stand as those who had left the pub after me were still minutes away from the security. The Elfsborg fans just walked straight up to their turnstile, had their ticket scanned and were inside.
As the AIK fans filtered in, flags were dished out like hamburgers at a McDonald’s kids birthday party (or it might be better to use Max instead – the Swedish equivalent and also the reason why this stadium was not used for the Euro Under 21 Championship in 2009; Max refused to close the restaurant at the stadium following an internet poll completed by local residents and so due to the sponsorship deal Ronald has with UEFA, games were moved elsewhere) and before me suddenly resembled a carpet of yellow and black, with the AIK fans again proving why they are the best in Sweden as they sang and waved these flags for the full game.
Other notes to make about the fans, and the source of a longer list compiled between me and Johan during the course of the day, were different things you can do at football instead of watching the match. Number one was the Black Army guy who spent all day making sure the fans were OK. This went from telling everyone where they had to go for the bus, clearing up any problems people had, getting people inside the stadium who were too drunk to walk, setting up the t-shirt stall, selling the t-shirts and just about everything else that prevented him from watching the match. Respect, sir. Number two on the ‘things to do at football’ list (and please, feel free to add other examples in the comments box below) was the guy who spent almost the entire match standing behind the away stand arguing with people. Number three belongs to the sleeping beauties – those fans that just had to sit down (or in the case of one, lie down on the terracing) and sleep the booze off.
The match was the age old tale of two halves. AIK bossed the opening 45 minutes with Mohammed Bangura scoring twice, the second being a sublime finish from 25 yards out catching the ‘keeper off-guard as there seemed little chance of him getting any kind of shot away, never mind one of such quality that pierced the bottom corner. Elfsborg, through Niklas Hult, got a lucky goal back just on the stroke of half-time. The home side came out for the second half and pushed Gnaget back, the visiting defence creaking under the pressure, and then David Elm scrambled an equaliser in just after the hour mark. The away supporters responded with more songs.
The loudest singing to strike up came just after the equaliser with the sight of London’s finest player, Kenny Pavey warming up. Ganget fans talk of the AIK spirit and in Pavey this is firmly represented. AIK highlights of recent times include Pavey going berserk when scoring a vital goal to beat Hammarby in 2009 and then the way he celebrated the winner, scored during the final minutes of the Allsvenskan winner-takes-all game that same year in Gothenburg against IFK. With every away fan singing “There’s only one Kenny Pavey” his first act when getting on the pitch was a crunching tackle to win the ball. If Andreas Alm had introduced him earlier then AIK might have got back on top; if he had have been introduced later then AIK might have found themselves behind. As Elfsborg pushed forward Pavey was a constant outlet on the right and cut-off the home attacking threat down his flank. AIK also had their ‘keeper, Ivan Turina, to thank for keeping them level as he made a number of top class saves.
With the final whistle came a quick exit. As the AIK players applauded the brilliant support, we slipped past the line of Polis and coaches that were blocking the away end. Fans were quickly transported away from the stadium in a controlled environment as we walked back into the centre of town to kill time before catching the train back to Örebro. For a while we struggled to find a pub that was open and then when we returned to the train station we found plenty of away fans still in great voice. AIK – I still haven’t seen you win a game during my visits but you are the best in Sweden.
Andy is the editor of Gannin' Away
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