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Saturday 1st June 2013 ko 18.00

Division 2 Norrland

STRÖMSBERGS IF 2 (Parling 34p Hägg 56)

SKELLEFTEÅ 0

Att 235

Entry, Programme, Pennant Included in Hop

Baseball Cap – Supplied by club sponsor

In many respects this article is a cautionary tale about travelling. We’d moved south from Hille, back across into Uppland, but to the kind of location you can’t place unless you look it up on the internet when you’ve got home! On the way, on the E4 we passed the gigantic Dragon Gate, a white elephant of a development originally mooted as a Chinese cultural centre and hotel. The money ran out amidst rumours of planning permission not being gained and now is merely a museum and huge restaurant. I wonder if they ask you to make a reservation first?

I’ve looked up Strömsberg on a map, and it really is an isolated place, even Gävle is a 40 minute drive away. In short its the perfect place for a groundhop to visit, it isn’t the kind of place you’d visit independently. As if to emphasise the point Strömsbergs IP Heden doesn’t appear to be in the town itself, tucked away prettily amongst the trees outside. It’s the first football ground I’ve seen that doubles up as a centre for Barn Dances too! The clubhouse has a circular annexe with a view of a separate outdoor stage, so bands can play and patrons dance even when it rains. It really is quite an extraordinary place.

It was also clearly an attraction for mosquitoes too! We all got bitten, and the arrival of a sharp shower during the second half did at least dampen down the insects’ feast. And let’s be frank, I don’t think there’s ever been a Swedish Hop where it hasn’t rained. I think we’re well used to it!

What Strömsberg aren’t used to is the travelling. In my last article I pointed out the sea-change that exists between Divisions 3 and 2 in Swedish football. Without meaning to Hille and Strömsberg illustrated the point perfectly. The club was expecting to play this season in Division 2 Norra Svealand, and face trips south to a majority of Stockholm-based clubs. However Junsele withdrew from Division 2 Norrland so as the most northerly club eligible, Strömsberg were shunted North.

Now any club official who complains about travelling should consider this division. Skellefteå faced a 7 hour 405 mile journey for this fixture, and Strömsberg’s trip to Assi IF in Risögrund, just 30 miles from the Finnish border, will involve a 9 hour 30 minute, 530 mile trip ONE WAY! To describe the club as unhappy with these arrangements is an understatement. I’m not sure that even the Swedish hop’s legendary driver Thomas Nybom would fancy that assignment, although as he knows sooner or latter we’ll probably ask him!

Despite the travelling Strömsberg are making a good impression on the division, this win over the previous top-of-the-table Skellefteå put them second to Anundsjö. I just wondered what the impact of promotion would mean to the club. There are just two Division Ones- Norra (North) and Södra (South), then border usually being around Nyköping, 60-or-so miles south of Stockholm.

The game itself was settled on a controversial penalty. There was no doubt it was a foul, but referee Linn Andersson was quite a distance from play and members of our party in line with the incident were convinced the correct decision was a free kick on the edge of the box.

Still, the game was made safe with Marcus Hägg’s second half strike, and sentenced the visitors to a journey home that was as miserable as it would be lengthy. Our journey back to Uppsala was a more realistic 45 minutes, but after dumping our bags in our rooms, several of us took another bus journey.

This journey was a short one, on the local bus into central Uppsala in search of a meal. It took some effort finding a reasonable restaurant, but our little adventure did produce arguably the moment of the hop. We’d caught the bus back to the hotel when an elderly couple asked the one and only Martin Bamforth whether he was English? Slightly taken aback he confirmed his nationality, and the couple replied, ” We’ve seen you on the news!” Obviously Kim, Martin, and I’s appearance at Månkarbo had been well received. Of course when you see Martin next, please address him as “Mr Swedish Superstar.” It was one of those joyous little incidents that made an already successful hop into something special. The next day was to follow, in a similar vein.