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Saturday 20th August 2022 ko 16:00

Ettan Norra

GEFLE IF 2 (Rauschen-Broben 61 Yakoub 87)

Lundin sent off (2nd booking) 90

SANDVIKENS IF 1 (Mohammed 20)

Kouyate sent off (2nd booking) 82

Mohammed sent off (violent conduct) 90

Att 4,142

Entry 150 sek (approx. £12)

The bus heading back into Gävle from Testbovallen stopped at Gavlevallen and we had reason to be relieved. The whole point of Robyn and I being there, was that Swedish Hop organiser Kim Hedwall had built this Saturday around visiting Gefle IF’s new home. But there was a question of lexicography to answer first. 

It’s as simple as to say why is the town called Gävle but the football club Gefle? They are of course different spellings of the same name, pronounced “Jev-Lee.” The town’s name was spelled Gefle when the club was formed in 1882, and when the town decided to change the spelling back to the traditional Gävle around 1900 the club decided to keep their name as it was.

It is worth making the comment that Gävle is very much an ice hockey town. Next door to Gavlevallen is top flight Brynäs IF’s rink Gavlerinken. That has a capacity of 7,909, while Gavlevallen’s is 6,500. By the way if you’ve heard the name Brynäs IF before, the football section play in Division 4 today, but were formerly merged into Gefle IF and played under the name Gefle IF/Brynäs between the 1979 and 1981 seasons.

The club did have a dispute over their colours. The club originally played in all white, but switched to all sky blue in the 50’s. But when in 2009 management decided to switch back the fans revolted, and the blue and white stripes of today are a 2011 compromise to keep both sides happy!

Gefle IF on their own do have quite a history including being having an English accountant Robert Carrick as coach from 1900-07! While they play in the Swedish third tier now, they’ve played most of their time in the second and third tiers with only two brief sojourns in the Allsvenskan. But the last of those did produce a memorable moment for British groundhoppers!

It was; thus in 2006 Gefle qualified for the UEFA Cup, and drew Llanelli AFC of Wales in the first qualifying round. With Strömvallen not being up to UEFA ground grading standards the first leg was played at the Råsunda Stadium in Solna finishing 1-2. Llanelli’s Stebonheath Park couldn’t fulfill ground gradings either so the second leg was played at Stradey Park home to Llanelli Rugby Union club and was the first, and only Association rules game ever to take place there. I was there, the game finished nil-nil and one hopper who won’t count the ground unless he sees a goal scored has still not quite lived it down!

But that odd little tale points to an issue Gefle had; that Strömvallen was neither good enough for European football, or more significantly to allow Allsvenskan football.  The local municipality agreed and Gavlevallen was opened in 2015. Blogger Peter Miles managed to see a game at the old ground in its last season, and while Strömvallen does still stand, no club save for the odd walking football match seems to use it, and the site is slated for housing. Some tragedies are international it seems.

In the here and now we did have a problem, Gavlevallen had sat under the same deluge that Testebovallens IP had and through the wonders of social media we knew that despite the 3G pitch there was a pitch inspection; don’t let anyone tell you artificial pitches are “All-weather surfaces!” 

We waited outside for while standing water was swept from the pitch and its surrounds. There was massive incentive to get the game played, Gefle were top of the table, Sandviken were second, and with just 20 km between the two it was a massive local derby to boot! Add into the mix that local television were showing the game live, and perhaps you can see why at no point did I think the game was in serious danger of postponement.

The only fly in the ointment was a peculiarly Swedish habit. Kim had long since bought tickets for the game, and those gave a block where our seats were, but not a stand. It reminded me of a trip to Elfsborg where the same thing happened.

For that small inconvenience it did mean we’d had a good look round Gävlevallen. I’m used to new stadia being functional rather than architecturally interesting and while Gavlevallen is no Strömvallen it is an interesting place, and its capacity is spaciously accommodated. The tip going forward is have prior view of a stadium plan! Once we found our seats Kim wasn’t happy that we’d been placed near the away end. I was quietly pleased with the arrangement; it allowed for spot of people watching at a time when emotions would be running high!

So it came to pass, with a game I’m sure those there, or watching on TV would have found gripping. As a neutral you really cannot criticise a game where both sides led, and where the pivotal point was the dismissal of Sandviken’s Kouyate collecting his second booking for a waist high challenge. The away fans saw a famous victory evaporate, and a shower of plastic Mariestadts beer bottles was their way of showing their displeasure. That was a shame for Robyn and I- we rather like the stuff! The game finished with a dismissal for both sides, Lundin collecting a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Mohammed who in turn collected a straight red for his headbutt reaction!

I’m writing this with a fair amount of hindsight, Gefle are still top of the Ettan Norra and look reasonably certain of Superettan football next season. Sandviken are second, and are in a fight with Vasalund for that position, which will place the runners-up into a playoff series with the Ettan Södra runners-up, and the third and fourth lowest teams in the Superettan for the final promotion spot. Truthfully from what I saw either side would grace the Superettan. 

We caught the bus back to the station accompanied by some students earnestly discussing what is the Beatles’ greatest song, (its “A Day In The Life”) before we arrived back at the station with about 15 minutes before our train back to Stockholm. It was time to say goodbye for now to Kim, the reason Robyn and I have so many connections in Sweden.

He departed and as the train moved off, figuratively I felt our time in his country end. I remembered the last time we’d left, after a game in Holmeja in Skåne I’d felt close to bereft- I didn’t know when we’d be back. This time was different, we’re already planning our next visit, and yes it does involve an overnight ferry!

This piece is dedicated to Kim, Mats, Bettan, Per, Scot and Christian. Thank you from Robyn and I for everything you did for us. We’ll see you soon.