Djurgårdens 3 Örebro 0 (21/07/03)
Gefle IF 1 Reading 3 (22/07/03)
IK Brage 1 Reading 1 (24/07/03)
After the fleeting visit to Malmö a year earlier, Reading’s decision to tour Sweden for the pre-season offered a chance to see a little more of the country.
Like most of the small band of Reading fans who made the trip, I initially based myself in Stockholm, despite it being a long way from the venue of either Reading friendly. It offered the chance to see a few sights, as well as taking in another Swedish top flight game.
Stockholm isn’t really blessed with too many sights. The old town, Gamla Stan, is quite adorable, it has to be said. Many cities have an old town, but few have that old town stuck in isolation on its own little island in the middle of a harbour. It does have the Vasa museum, with the Vasa being 17th century warship that sunk in the harbour, before being brought up, Mary Rose style, in the 20th century. Unlike the Mary Rose, this is virtually a complete ship, immacuately preserved. Other than that you are quickly into the “hmm, maybe” selection of things to see.
One that really should be on the list is the Stockholms Stadium, venue for the first match I’d planned to see. The stadium was built for the 1912 Olympics, and it’s hard to think of a stadium quite like it. The stadium is essentially “U shaped” around an athletics track. The top of the “U” is finished with two striking brick towers topped with battlements, as if the designer really wanted to build a castle instead. You almost expect unruly visiting fans to be picked off by bowmen firing from the parapet. Open benches fill the breech between the two towers. The rest of the ground is a single tier of covered bench seating, which could be dull if the architect hadn’t continued in the same theme. The support pillars are decorative, which is just as well considering the number of them, and the royal box is covered by its own special roof. Suspended like a tent over the area, it’s easy to get the impression that the architect thought any royalty present would no doubt be feasting on boar with bare hands while watching a knights on horseback jousting below.
It simply wasn’t like any other football stadium I’d been to, and that made it all the more appealling. There was also a much bigger crowd than I expected. The game can’t have been more than a thousand or so of selling out, and seeing an expectant crowd in the setting just seemed all the more strange. It’s just a shame my camera at the time was so bad, which would generally only make a token effort at minor details such as focussing. And although it wasn’t completely hopeless at night, anything beyond full daylight would leave the pictures with more grain that the Hovis factory.
Of the game itself, sadly little remains in the memory after all this time. It seemed to be a fairly routine home victory. Looking up the details, the third goal was scored by a young Kim Källström, and all three were scored in a 15 minute spell straddling half time. The stadium is one I’m not going forget in a hurry though.
Reading’s first friendly was against Gefle IF from the town of Gävle, about 100 miles to the north of Stockholm. Not a big town, its biggest claim to fame appears to be based around a large Christmas decoration. Every year the people build a large model goat in the middle of the town square, and nearly every year, despite the best efforts to prevent it, the goat is burned down by arsonists. 24 of the 45 goats have burned down. Two were kicked to pieces. One collapsed through sabotage and one was destroyed by being driven into by a car. In the early years, one couple were said to have consumated a relationship inside it.
It was summer when I was there though, so no goat, and not a great deal all round. I don’t wish to damn the town with feint praise, but “nice” would be a fair description of the town. There was a tiny “old town” area of wooden houses, away from the centre, but it wasn’t a town used to tourists.
Until recently, when they remarkably rose to Sweden’s top tier, the town wasn’t really used to football fans either. Gefle’s ground, just on the edge of the town centre, looked like it had been designed in innocent times, a million miles away from the modern world of football. The ground was made entirely out of wood. Wooden bleachers that would give English Heath & Safety officials a cardiac arrest were found at three sides of the ground. The two at the ends were quite low, but the side stand was about 15 rows deep with a press box stuck in the middle. I’d be nervous to be in it if someone the size of Johnny Vegas climbed the steps, but it’s seemingly safe for top flight football in Sweden.
The main stand was also completely wooden, and looked like it dated back to a time when the PA system would have been a gramophone playing that new ragtime jazz. To be fair, it did its job, and just because overzealous safety inspectors would have razed it to the ground in England doesn’t mean it should have fallen to the same fate also.
The game was typical friendly fare, with Reading easing to victory over their hosts who apparently fielded a weakened team. Reading were 3-0 up before the hosts got their late consolation.
Reading’s 2nd friendly was also up near Gävle, in the city of Borlänge. This was also a small obscure town, without even a burning goat as a claim to fame. Some locals did try to convince the Reading fans that the main street of the town was the most violent in Sweden – spoken with some pride, it has to be said – but it looked about as violent as Marlow on a Sunday afternoon. In fact the only criminal thing there was the beer prices, which seemed to vary alarmingly with every round.
IK Brage’s ground was out of the same design book as Gefle’s but more substantial. There was quite a large seated stand at one end, again wooden, that offered a decent view. For some reason it was completely ignored by the crowd, who took up less favourable vantage points instead.
Again, this match was a typical friendly, with a rather lacklustre performance from Reading, scraping a 1-1 draw against a team from Sweden’s 3rd division. Reading were caught out by Brage’s tactic of looking like they were interested, and it took a late goal to save face.