Sweden flagThere’s one match in Sweden that is generally anticipated more than all others, especially in Stockholm: the Tvillingderbyt between AIK and Djurgården.

The match doesn’t just rule the capital; in a country where the two giants have national support, the Tvillingderbyt also attracts eager eyes from every direction. And the derby doesn’t get much bigger than when there is more than just pride at stake.

The final derby of the 2011 season was played on Monday 19 September and if AIK were to have any chance of catching Helsingborg, the Allsvenskan leaders, they had to win. Djurgården were battling away against relegation and the three points for them were an absolute must. An air of nervousness stretched across the city during the hours leading up to the match. Yet inside Råsunda, when the game kicked-off, there was only silence.

For fifteen minutes there were individual, muted shouts when a fan became excited by a goal chance, with the hastily emitted groan being as quickly met by a “ssshhhh” from fellow supporters. For the most part, there was a deathly silence, other than the shouts from the players on the pitch and the coaches on the sidelines while banners fluttered in the stands stating: ‘This is what football without supporters sounds like’. And then as the illuminated ‘9.59’ flicked over to ‘10.00’ on the scoreboard, there was an eruption and Råsunda jolted into a crackling of feverish, built-up for so long and bursting to get out, noise. The fans were back.

That night was the climax of a two week campaign in Sweden that had started with months before with meetings between fans’ groups representing many Swedish teams. The agreement reached during these meetings was that fans had to do something. Positiv Läktarkultur (Positive Fan Culture) was born and their ‘Nu säger vi stopp’ (Now we say stop) campaign was launched.

Swedish football has suffered from problems of hooliganism over the years with three examples being from early in the 2011 season. In April the match between Syrianska and AIK was abandoned after an assistant referee was hit by a firework, the incident occurring just after AIK had been reduced to ten men and were a goal down. A large number of fans at the game claimed that the firework was thrown from outside the ground, over the small stand that housed the AIK fans.

A month later brought the abandonment of the Malmö v Helsingborg match after the visiting ‘keeper, Pär Hansson, was first injured by a firecracker thrown from the stand and then punched by a pitch-invading Malmö supporter. Again at Malmö, this time in July, the match against Djurgården was abandoned after six fireworks were thrown onto the pitch, from various sections of the ground.

While fans do not dispute that this behaviour is unacceptable, they feel that the punishment imposed by Svenska Fotbollförbundet (SvFF), along with the media reporting of such incidents, is disproportionate to the actual number of events and the volume of people who are involved in them.

While the 1980s, as in many countries, was marred by a real hooligan problem, fans say that modern day football has far fewer incidents, yet when one occurs it is reported as being more serious than it should be.

Positiv Läktarkultur state that there were a total of 1.3 million fans attending Allsvenskan games during 2010 with only 29 incidents within stadiums that were reported to the police. Yet during the same year new legislation proposed by the Socialdemokraterna party sought to inhibit displays of fan culture inside football stadiums, such as the use of flares.

During 2011, regardless of which team the troublemakers support, the applied logic of the SvFF was to punish the club allocated the area of the ground from where the trouble arose. This logic fails when it becomes impossible to identify the perpetrator, as it was during the Syrianska game and the second match at Malmö.

Swedish football fans had reached their limits of feeling marginalised. Dan Blomberg, chairman of the Djurgården fans’ group Järnkaminerna and spokesperson for Positiv Läktarkultur explained that the two-week protest was necessary because the “SvFF and the media are painting a picture of Swedish football as something [that is] filled with problems and violence, when in fact the only really good thing in Swedish football are the supporters. The quality of the game is pretty much shit but the fans of the major clubs are of high European standard. We want SVFF and the media to realise that the fans are the solution, not the problem”.

The fans in Råsunda made a secondary protest on that same evening: when the teams kicked-off for the second half, both the North Stand, where the AIK fans are based, and the South Stand, which houses the Djurgården supporters, lit flares which covered the stadium in dense smoke and caused the referee to take the players off the pitch for a short period of time.

Blomberg explains this was “to show how weird SvFF’s rule of stopping matches because of flares is”, especially in light of the reforms sought by Socialdemokraterna. Both groups of supporters made their views clear on the matter while the game was temporarily halted, with one stand chanting “Svenska Fotbollförbundet” and the other replying with “Fotbollsmördare” (Swedish Football Association – football murderers).

Since the protests, the SvFF have reversed their instruction to halt matches when flares are lit in the stands, but Positiv Läktarkultur want their voice heard louder.

“We want to take part in the public discussion in Sweden regarding football and football supporters. We have shown the importance of fans; now we hope that SVFF, the media and politicians will note that importance and let us be part of the discussion and public debate”, Blomberg goes on to state.

Swedish football fans have shown that they can work together, free of club rivalry, in an effective manner. An overwhelming majority of fans have shown a change in attitude from the darker days of the ‘80s and ‘90s and they have joined the attempts to drive hooliganism from the terraces.

Supporters now see beyond football and are looking at society; they see inclusion and not exclusion, which creates one-sided debate, as the way forward and this, in a democracy, should also apply to the politicians.

By Andy Hudson

This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona