Lower leagues across the globe #8: Sweden
Despite an alpine outlook, football remains the most popular sport in Sweden. Most of the focus is on the Allsvenskan, the top flight which runs from Spring until late Autumn, with the winter months being dominated by coverage of the English Premier League. Stuart Fuller tells us all about life in the Swedish lower leagues.
The Swedish football calendar can often lead to confusion as the Allsvenskan champions have to wait seven months to start their European campaigns, by which stage most of their decent players will have moved on into the bigger European leagues. This is demonstrated by the fact the league has been won by six different sides in six seasons. 2009 saw the league, cup and then super cup return to Stockholm as AIK took the honours but, to prove the point of the inconsistency of the league, then spent most of last season battling relegation.
The fact that some of the bigger names are often involved (and lose) these relegation fights every season breathes life into the lower leagues, just like the presence of clubs like Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and Leicester City re-invigorated life in League One in England.
So how are the leagues structured? Below the top league, the Allsvenskan, sits the national Superettan, the equivalent of the English Championship. Below this are two regionalised divisions, then six smaller regional divisions and finally, at the base of the pyramid, twelve local leagues. A classic 1-1-2-6-12 formation if you like, comprising 276 teams.
Let’s start with a look at the movers and shakers in the Superettan, the second tier of Swedish football, made up of 16 teams. Two teams are automatically promoted to the Allsvenskan at the end of the season, with the team finishing third in the Superettan meeting the third-from-bottom team in the Allsvenskan to determine whether they live or die. Similarly, the two lowest-placed teams are relegated to Division 1 and the two winning teams from the two Division 1 leagues are promoted in their place. The third and fourth lowest teams in Superettan play a promotion/relegation play-off against the two second placed teams in Division 1. At the end of last season, IF Brommapojkarna from the Stockholm suburbs and Atvidabergs FF were relegated, being replaced by Syrianska FC and IFK Norrkoping going up. The play-off match saw Allsvenskan’s Gefle IF overcome GIF Sundsvall to retain their position in the league.
Without a doubt the biggest name here is Hammarby IF, arguably one of the biggest teams in the country. They were relegated from the Allsvenskan for the first time in 2009, carrying the title of pre-season favourites into last season but finishing in a very disappointing 8th place. They did, however, reach the final of the Swedish Cup last season, losing to Helsingborgs. The downturn in Hammarby’s fortunes has shelved a project to move away from the Globen area of Stockholm to a new home, although their 15,600 Soderstadion is the biggest in the division.
Focus this season, certainly from the media, will again be on Landskrona BoIS, located in betweeen Malmo and Helsingborgs. The reason for all the attention? Their manager – Swedish legend and all-round Mr Nice, Henrik Larsson. In his first managerial role, Larsson took the Black and Whites to the verge of the play-offs and more of the same will be expected this season.
GIF Sundsvall from the northern town of the same name train in Arctic conditions in pre-season, with snow normally arriving in October each year and not leaving again until the first ball is kicked in anger. Rotund ex-Crystal Palace and Leeds United midfielder Tomas Brolin played here for a couple of seasons, and most likely developed his unique physique as a barrier against the freezing temperatures.
One of the surprise packages last season was Assyiska FF, who finished in 4th place in the Superettan. The club draw their support from the displaced Assyrian people in the country (and across Northern Europe) and broadcast their games live to over 80 countries during their one and only season in the Allsvenskan in 2005. Consequently, crowds at their modest 6,700 capacity stadium are often above average for the league.
Ljungskile SK is located not far from Gothenburg in the north east of the country and last season finished in 5th place. Once the home of AIK’s English cult hero Kenny Pavey, and David Wilson who later managed the club for two spells. They have had two seasons in the Allsvenskan, the last being in 2008 when they were relegated via the play-offs.
Falkenbergs FF are another side from that eastern coastal stretch of the country, vying for attention with Angelholms FF. They are playing at the highest level they have ever played at and are probably happy to stay safe in mid-table. Angelholms, on the other hand, will have been very disappointed with their 7th place last season, especially as they ran cup holders AIK so close in an early season Swedish Cup game, losing eventually to a goal in the last minute of injury time.
The rest of the teams are much of a muchness. This season, there are three newly-promoted teams taking their place in “The Super One”. Vasteras SK may not be known as a football team, but regular visitors on Ryanair to “Stockholm” should recognise the town name as it is where most of their flights arrive, some 60 miles from the capital. Also in the division are Qviding FF from Gothenburg and IFK Varnamo who won the Division 1 South title last season.
With average attendances in the league of just over 2,500, interest from fans is roughly the equivalent of League Two in England at best, and you will never struggle to get a ticket on the day of the game. Expect to pay between 100 and 200 Swedish Kroner for a ticket – around £8 to £15.
Division 1 – North (Norra) and South (Sodra)
There are 28 clubs in Division 1. These are divided into two groups of 14 teams, each representing Northern and Southern Sweden. At the end of each season, the three lowest placed teams of each group are relegated to Division 2 and the six winning teams from the six Division 2 leagues are promoted in their place. The top team in each Division 1 group is promoted to Superettan and the two lowest placed teams from Superettan are relegated in their place. The second placed teams in each Division 1 group play a promotion/relegation play-off against the third and fourth lowest teams in Superettan.
The North (Norra) league covers some huge distances with Boden BK located almost at the furthest northern point on the Swedish coast, while the brilliantly named BK Forward are located in Orebro, some hundreds of miles to the south. There is a concentration of teams in and around Stockholm as you would expect, including Hammarby TFF (the reserve side for Hammarby IF), Syrianska and Acropolis IF.
The South (Sodra) league is more concentrated around the major cities of Malmo and Gothenburg. The former can claim IF Limhamn Bunkeflo and Lunds BK, while teams in the Gothenburg area include IK Oddevold and Motala, both promoted from the regional leagues last season.
Average attendances at this level are more akin to our Blue Square North and South leagues at just under 500 people.
Division 2 – Regional – Norrland, Sodra Svealand, Vastra Gotaland, Norra Svealand, Norra Gotaland, Sodra Gotaland
There are 72 clubs in Division 2, divided into six groups of 12 teams each representing a geographical area. During the course of a season (starting in April and ending in October), each club plays the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents, for a total of 22 games.
At the end of each season, the two lowest placed teams of each group are relegated to Division 3 and the twelve winning teams from the twelve Division 3 leagues are promoted in their place while the third lowest placed teams in the Division 2 leagues plays promotion/relegation play-offs against the twelve second placed teams in Division 3.
The top team in each Division 2 group is promoted to Division 1 and the three lowest placed teams from each Division 1 league are relegated in their place. We are talking about equivalents to our Ryman league here with some clubs barely reaching treble figures for their attendances.