Stockholm has hosted a World Cup Final, is the regular venue for Swedish national team home games and occasionally stages European club finals, yet it is not a traditional football hub. Ice-hockey, or the local outdoor version, bandy, were often the bigger sport here, and it is only in the past decade that the Swedish capital has begun consistently winning football league titles.
After the war, Norrkoping and then Gothenburg, and Malmö FF were the power bases for the domestic game, with Stockholm clubs nipping in only occasionally to take the championship. But the decline of IFK Gothenburg has allowed Stockholm’s big three – AIK, Djurgardens and Hammarby – to claim six titles between them in the past fifteen years.
Hammarby are the people’s team. They are based in the working-class southern neighbourhood of Sodermalm, though this is rapidly becoming gentrified. Hammarby are known as “Bajen”, a corruption of the word for village.
AIK, the club with the biggest fan base, have their roots in the northern suburb of Solna, where the Rasunda stands, having relocated there in 1937. The club were founded as an all-sports organisation in the 1890s and enjoy royal patronage – a crown sits above their badge.
Before moving to the Tele2 Arena, Djurgardens were based at the quaint old Stockholm stadium, built for the 1912 Olympics. Their fans are drawn mainly from the city’s eastern districts. The Blue Saints have been the most successful club in the capital in recent years, with three league titles since 2002.
We sat down with the founder of Sweden’s biggest football publication, Offside Magazine, Tobias Regnell, to get an objective insight into where the club stands relative to Stockholm’s other clubs.
What is Hammarby’s role as a club?
It is traditionally the working class club, as apposed to mainly Djurgarden, which is the upper class club. I think that the greatest recent success of Hammarby is that it is the club that most watch when they move to the city. Young people want to live in or near Sodermalm, and Hammarby young people a way into the social life of the city. Hammarby were the first to sing chants and bring flags to the terrace, so it has always been a fans’ club.
How does this differ from AIK?
Actually, I think that they push each other. All of the Stockholm clubs have been relegated from the Allsvenskan at one point or another and then the city loses a bit of momentum. When all clubs are playing in the first division, the city really lights up around football. Although Hammarby have the highest number of regular followers, and AIK have the biggest arena, I would not say there is any difference in the kind of support they get on the terraces. It is more of a geographical thing.
How are Hammarby seen in the rest of Sweden?
They are popular, especially with young people. AIK has more of a reputation for being “them against everyone else”, and have more of a big club profile, while Hammarby is the underdog. They have a reputation of playing an entertaining brand of football, and that reputation has carried on for decades. Also, the hooligan problem has never been as big there as in some other clubs, so this has helped them maintain their popularity in Sweden.
What do you see as the future for Hammarby?
It depends a lot on how this season goes. They started off well, but have recently lost a few games in a row. If they manage to stay in Allsvenskan, they could have a bright future, but they have been in that position a few times before, and the club has always messed it up because of bad management. They have a lot of match day income, so the money is there, but I would say that at this point, Malmö FF is by far ahead of the other teams.
So what does Hammarby need to get to the next level?
Many players say they want to play for Hammarby for their atmosphere in the arena, but what the club does not have at this point is a reputation of strong talent development. For instance Malmö FF and Elfsborg have much better track record when I comes to young players moving onto bigger leagues. Perhaps the biggest aspect that is missing from Hammarby is the ability to develop their own talent.