The Swedish people are known for their reserved and polite nature. Indeed, the Swedish capital of Stockholm exudes a sense of peaceful tranquility with its therapeutic waters and charming old buildings. St Andrews on a larger scale, you might put it. However all of this is forgotten when any of the three Stockholm teams meet, as fans of AIK, Hammarby, and Djurgården show their support in the most enthusiastic and confrontational ways possible; more Old Firm than Auld Grey Toon.
Hammarby and Djurgården share a stadium in the south of the city in the stylish, 30,000 capacity Tele2 Arena opened in 2013. Despite sharing a ground, the teams are anything but friends. Hammarby was founded in 1915, gathering the support of the workers residing on the island of Södermalm. The club moved into the compact Söderstadion in 1966, becaming one of the most well-supported football teams in the country despite mixed success on the pitch. Their only title in the top division came in 2001, while they have spent sustained periods of time in the second-tier. Their supporters have remained loyal despite this lack of silverware, and have still turned up in their tens of thousands to every match. While traditionally made up of more working-class fans, the supporter base is now more mixed than ever before as Södermalm has become more gentrified and celebrities have pledged their support to the team. The “Bajen fans” are particularly renowned for their deafening chants (Söderstadion was ranked the 11th loudest in the world by Setanta Sports), elaborate tifo displays and wide use of flares.
Djurgården have quite a different background from their Stockholm rivals. Founded in 1899, the team moved into the Stockholm Olympic Stadium in 1936 which was located in the upper-class area of Östermalm. Unlike Söderstadion, the Olympic stadium has the worst feature of a football stadium: a running track. This detracted from the viewing experience of the fans, but they still showed up en masse to cheer on their team to 11 titles (the joint highest in Sweden). Like their Hammarby neighbours, Djurgården have several supporter groups who chant throughout the game and light up the stands with smoke bombs symbolizing the teams’ yellow, red and blue colours.
Naturally, the historic geographic and socioeconomic differences between the two teams would lead to the development of a fierce rivalry. However for many years these teams were not in the same division. As a result, Djurgården established a closer rivalry with AIK, a team from the northern municipality of Solna. Nevertheless, matches between Hammarby and Djurgården remained tense, aggressive occasions. When it was announced that both teams would share a stadium in the southern area of Johanneshov, tempers flared from both sets of fans. An operational bomb was found at the stadium a month before the opening of the stadium, after which both sets of fans blamed each other for the incident.
At the end of August I attended a meeting of these two teams that was only the second in six years. Djurgården were still in the hunt for the title (along with five other teams), while Hammarby were only a few points off the relegation places, making this match vital for both teams.
As I made the short walk along the narrow pathway from the underground station, I found myself in the midst of a horde of enthusiastic Hammarby fans who had been chanting throughout the train ride. As soon I saw Djurgården fans in the pubs near the pathway, I knew there would be trading of insults between the two sets of fans. Sure enough, not only was there back and forth singing, there was even a fight only a few hundred meters from me as two fans of the opposing teams had a go at each other. This activity outside the stadium made me expect even more antics from both sets of fans once inside. Technically a Djurgården home game, about 10,000 Hammarby fans were in attendance, most of them in the safe-standing, segregated away section. However, one of the sections next to the designated “away section” was full of Hammarby supporters, which promised for plenty of noise from the Bajen faithful.
As the players made their way out of the tunnel for the beginning of the match, the Djurgården ultras behind one of the goals brought out hundreds of flags, threw streamers and lit flares along with yellow, red, and blue smoke bombs.
As was the case outside the stadium, the Hammarby fans responded at the other end of the stadium replacing their massive tifo display (which honoured some of their most well-known deceased supporters) with a multitude of green and red flares.
The amount of smoke within the stadium now resembled a warzone, and kickoff was subsequently delayed for about 30 minutes while both sets of fans sang at deafening volumes about how much they loved their teams and hated their cross-city rivals.
Once kick off did finally take place, it was immediately clear that this game was going to be played at a frantic pace. Hammarby started stronger and duly took advantage of sloppy Djurgården defending as midfielder Fredrik Torsteinbø slotted past the Hammarby goalkeeper Kenneth Høie .The Hammarby fans went berserk, as strangers embraced around me and plenty of impolite hand gestures were made towards the Djurgården players and fans. The rest of the half was played with passion and aggression by both sides, but there were no more goals. Kennedy Bakircioglü, the Hammarby captain and a club legend, strung some high quality passes together despite his tender age of 34.
During half time the Hammarby fans continued their antics as they burned Djurgården scarves and flags, while the Djurgården fans lit more flares which delayed the second half by another fifteen minutes.
Eventually the game restarted, and Djurgården stepped up their game. Their pressure was rewarded with a penalty when a Hammarby defender clumsily pushed over Djurgården’s Liberian striker Sam Johnson. The penalty was converted by Jesper Arvidsson, resulting in pandemonium in the home stands as the Djurgården fans found their voices again. Only ten minutes later Hammarby regained their lead when substitute Erik Israelsson’s shot went through the goalkeeper’s hands. The whole away end roared in delirium as several Hammarby fans tried to get on the pitch to celebrate with their heroes.
However Djurgården kept up the pressure and with 10 minutes to play, Djurgården’s on-loan striker Nyasha Mushekwi, affectionately known as “Mush” by the fans, expertly headed a cross into the near-post to set up an enticing finale. The rest of the game was played like much of the beginning, with frenetic end-to-end play by both teams. Neither team could find a way through as the game ended in a draw, a fair result given the amount of chances each side had.
As I left the Tele2 Arena, I reflected on what a spectacle I had just experienced. Thrilling, passionate football on the pitch and incredible support from the stands far surpassed my expectations for a Stockholm derby. It’s fair to say that Scandinavia and Scotland have an awful lot in common.