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With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.

Saturday 18th June 2011 ko 10.15

Division 6A Stockholm

ÅKERSBERGA 2 (Marcus 2 (Marcus Eriksson 56 66)

Dennis Wik sent off (2nd booking)

F.C.PLAVI TEAM 2 (Todorov 27 Makoimovic 88)

Att 52

In the 4 years that had passed since the Swedish Hop had made its debut in Nyköping so much had changed. For a start we’d more or less made a base for ourselves in Stockholm and had started picking out the unexplored gems in Stockholms Lan – Stockholm County. Organiser Kim Hedwall had realised that Interbus, who supplied the coach and Thomas the driver also did the coaches for many of Stockholm’s professional sports clubs. So with ice hockey being out of season we spent this weekend being ferried around in the Djurgården’s ice hockey team coach.

We’d lost many of the people who’d come on that first hop, some I’m sure saw that trip as a means of visiting once and having done so and had no interest in returning. That was a source of regret, but we’d replaced those who’d stopped coming, and we’d lined up 5 excellent games that weekend.

But then Kim sent me an intriguing email. Those 5 games didn’t include a Saturday morning game, so he suggested a trip to Åkersberga. We’d visited the club on the 2nd hop and since hops don’t generally do revisits I did wonder whether it would work. But we looked at our manifest and discovered that, Kim and I excepted, only 3 people would be revisiting, so why not? I’m so glad we did.

But I was close to not being there. The previous year I’d seen my marriage end, my career finish and my savings nearly wiped out. I was slowly rebuilding after a terrible year. I managed to scrape together the funds to be there but I knew I’d be trying to laugh my way round the 6 games while round inwardly still hurting. Then Kim told me we’d have two pressmen embedded with us for the weekend, which was the last thing I wanted.

For Kim and the hop in general having “Offside” magazine there was a godsend. Its the Swedish equivalent of the British “4-4-2” magazine so the publicity was welcome for the smaller clubs we’d visit and for the hop in subsequent years. My misgivings were of course completely selfish and in ways I couldn’t have predicted, the two chaps that turned up changed everything.

The reporter Christian Daun did what so few reporters do when they get an assignment like us, he engaged, and was engaging. So I stepped on the coach at Skavsta airport and by the time we’d reached Stockholm 2 hours later I saw speaking to him as a catharsis. In the end I managed to return the favour, a year later Christian was in my home town Oxford doing a piece on places to visit that aren’t in the guide books. I took him for a beer (or three) at the Turf Tavern and gave a resident’s view, the knowledge he was looking for- and maybe a hangover! We’re still in contact, and we met up 4 years after this game for fewer beers after a Djurgården match at the Tele-2 Arena.

Back then if you’d introduced photographer Lars Tunbjörk I’d have assumed Offside had sent the staff photographer. I suspect Lars was happy to remain anonymous, we even ending up nicknaming the Ood, his spherical flash slightly reminiscent of the Dr Who character’s external brain. But, and I’ll never quite know how and why one of Sweden’s most important artistic photographers was tasked with photographing a group of British and German groundhoppers watching obscure Swedish football matches.

Tunbjörk’s work has been shown all over the world, Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” described his work as ” Deadpan portraits of office spaces and suburban lifestyles” and that style certainly worked beautifully with what he did with us. His work in that article was exemplary, and I speak as someone who featured in quite a few of his pictures! Sadly I didn’t work out who he was until I got home, and tragically he died in 2015. If you’d like to see more of his work, click here. It really was having the equivalent of David Bailey at one of my UK hops.

But the match will be remembered for yours truly ending up running the line for the first half! In Stockholm County Division 6 is the lowest-but-one level of football, so games tend to have an appointed referee, but club linesmen. But as kick-off loomed it became obvious that the visitors were objecting to Åkersberga’s choice of linesmen. It transpired that they thought he was “Biased” and wanted someone else to take the flag!

I made the suggestion that it that someone could be someone who spoke no Swedish, and no Bosnian (Plavi is Bosnian for “Blue”) and so couldn’t be possibly be biased. It got me the job, but I misunderstood my duties rather! I approached the job as an appointed linesman would, giving offsides, corners, fouls and so on. What the referee wanted was someone to stand at the half-way line and give throw-ins only. I was replaced at half time by Åkersberga’s first choice of linesmen, and pensioned off with a hot dog and a coffee!

An entertaining game finished 2 each, and would I suspect have meant little more than the byline of a groundhopper running the line, but I completely failed to predict the impact me running that line, and a nationally published magazine would have.

For one we expected the hop article to get 9 pages, we got 27 and clearly the circulation was large. I got a series of Facebook friend requests but easily the best was from Per and Bettan, the parents of one of the Åkersberga players. Two years later the hop visited nearby Österåker they spotted where I was, interrupted their Sunday lunch and came to meet me! Since then whenever I’ve visited Stockholm we meet up for a meal, and they’ve proved to be great friends to Robyn and I.

So looking back 9 years it was was odd how a lower league game in a small town north of Stockholm could end up being so significant. It all was based on chance, me dipping into savings to be there, then volunteering to run the line and all in front of 2 people who gave it all publicity. It all conspired to proved that sometimes if you are in the right place at the right time interesting things can happen!