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Sunday 2nd June 2013 ko 17.00

Division 3 Östra Svealand

BELE BARKARBY 3 (Tollerup 47 Samosky 50 Heneidy 66)

TÄBY IS 1 (Higgs 90)

Att 82

Entry, 3 monthly magazines, information sheet, badge and pennant included in hop

Plenty of sunburn and that horrible feeling of “Is this really the last game?” was in evidence, as Thomas drove the coach into Veddestavallen in Järfälla, to the north-east of central Stockholm. The Swedish hop visited another club in the area, Järfälla IF, on the second hop in 2008, and visited Täby’s ground Tibblevallen on the very first hop but watched IFK Täby, a lower level side.

The area can trace its history to the Stone Age and has some ruins from that time. After conversion to Christianity in the 11th century, Järfälla continued to be of importance in the Middle Ages as several important roads went through it, on a route from Uppsala to Stockholm used by pilgrims.

Its coat of arms, rather reminiscent of Preston North End’s badge, which depicts a golden lamb carrying an archbishop’s cross, can be traced from 1568, but was created in 1955. They may symbolize that Järfälla is situated on the road from the capital Stockholm to the seat of the archbishop in the nearby city of Uppsala.

The district of Barkarby lies within Järfälla, and is best known as being where the equestrian events were staged during the 1912 Olympics. The Bele football team was formed in 1929, but no one seems to know what the Bele actually means or even if it’s an acronym! They merged with Barkarby SK in 2001, and the club features Ice hockey and Innebandy, a version of ice hockey played indoors with a ball on wooden flooring.

For a small club, who have never played higher than the Swedish third tier, the club has a history of producing good players. Coach Putte Ramberg represented Sweden 27 times at football and once at Bandy (imagine 11-a-side ice hockey on a rink the size of a football pitch). Current Malmö FF head coach Rickard Norling started at Bele, as did Johan Mjällby whose career has included stints at AIK, Levante and Celtic. It made me remember a feature of Swedish football you don’t see in the UK.

Every player has a “Moderklub” or “Mother Club,” where he or she first started playing football. Many programmes, or football magazines will carry this information alongside statistics such as height, weight and position. For the Mother Club, there’s a practical benefit, as every time the player moves the Mother Club is paid a small fee, thereby rewarding their investment in the player, and encouraging investment in youth. I’ll leave you to work out whether the Premier League would allow such a system in England!

That investment in youth was there for all to see as we arrived. On a smallish gravel pitch a huge children’s tournament was just finishing off its group phase, and the finals took place as the first XI kicked off. It meant the queue for food and drink was a little longer than expected, but it did demonstrate the club’s clear aims of investment in youth, and later on investment in Veddestavallen.

At the moment, the ground consists of a rather bumpy grass pitch with the inevitable set of bleachers, an artificial pitch, and the gravel pitch. What sets the place apart from the vast majority of Swedish football grounds is that it isn’t under local authority control, a fact that the club are rather proud of. They see the future is being in Division 2 with all that entails, and there was none of the reticence we encountered at Hille, the day before. It was all rather refreshing, and it put what at first looked like a dull ground on the outskirts of town right into context. I for one will keep an eye on their progress! Mind you, I think many of the British contingent will remember the place for the multiplicity of cranes in the background, including one sporting a rather unseasonal Christmas tree!

Maybe it was my own tiredness, or perhaps the heat, but the first half wasn’t easy to watch. Neither side seemed capable of imposing themselves on the game, and it really was one of those game where you could have turned up at half time, and have missed nothing! Thankfully the second half was a vast improvement as Bele finally took control of matters and rattled in three goals to cement their position comfortably in mid-table with the visitors in real relegation trouble second-from-bottom.

From there it was a simple drop-off for the others back at Arlanda. On the way we dealt with all the little things at the end of a hop. One of those was the traditional collection for the driver, people never cease to amaze me with their generosity, but Thomas is a much valued part of the team, ever-present for the 7 years of this hop. He dropped us off back in Solna; Kim and I dumped our bags back at his flat then walked into Solna Centrum to grab a sandwich. We flopped down on a bench near the fountain there, ate and reviewed the madness of the last 3 days. As ever, we’ve learned, and we’ve got some great ideas for next year. We’ll have to work hard, this was a joyous hop, perhaps the best yet, due in no small part to all those who attended. We’ll announce the 2014 hop next March; don’t you dare miss it!