Rumors a teenage star might sign with Djurgården sparked a war of words in Stockholm's tabloids.
It’s a battle sport fans in New York would understand well, especially if they’re either Yankees or Mets fans.
It isn’t just a battle for bragging rights by finishing higher in the standings, it’s a war for the back page. The two principal sports papers in the Big Apple―the Daily News and Post―use the back page of their tabloid-style products as the main sports page, which usually consists of a full-page photo and a snappy, one- to three-word headline.
It’s the same in Stockholm―three teams lay claim to being the Swedish capital city’s top team―Djurgården, AIK and Hammarby. With Hammarby playing in the lower division in both football and hockey, DIF and AIK are left to battle it out for back page glory, and both clubs are happy to oblige.
“I think when one club does something that gets in the papers, the other club feels like it has to do something,” said Djurgården press officer Jonas Reidel. “It’s almost like a game.”
The latest battle The latest headline battle opened the first week of February when Djurgarden announced it wanted to pursue prodigy striker John Guidetti. The 19-year-old former Brommapojkarna player is now with English Premier League side Manchester United. The furor around the player began when DIF general manager Stefan Alven told the Stockholm papers he believed Guidetti wanted to return to Sweden and the price tag would be in excess of $50,000 per week.
Although Alven admitted DIG would need financial help to rope in the Swedish Under-21 international, the story was enough to spark a frenzy among DIF fans and the Stockholm tabloids.
The following day, AIK dropped its own bombshell. The club said it, too, had an interest in picking up Guidetti and, like Djurgården, was looking for ways to put together the finances to sign the youngster.
Both stories, it turned out, were on the optimistic side as Guidetti said on the Manchester City website that he wants to remain with the Eastlands club although he admitted he wanted more playing time and also thought the English team’s recent purchase of Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko put a question mark over his future.
However, City replied by offering the teenager a large contract on Jan. 25, and the first stories about a possible return to Sweden surfaced Feb. 2 when Guidetti balked at signing the extension.
Reidel said while DIF’s interest in Guidetti is real, he’s not sure about AIK.
“I think they were just flexing their muscles a little bit,” he said. ”We had all the headlines, so they wanted to get some, too.”
With a price tag in the millions of dollars, neither club has the financial power right now to sign Guidetti, but that doesn’t stop either team from looking for headlines.
“The thing is, Djurgården and AIK are kind of in the same boat right now,” Reidel said. “The economy is still bad and neither club has that high-profile superstar fans want to come out and see. Headlines help to create some interest.”
Season ticket sales for both clubs are down compared to previous seasons. Reidel said it is both a sign of the times as well as results. Although AIK shocked Swedish football by winning the title in 2009, both clubs had rocky seasons last year. AIK only just managed to avoid relegation while DIF flirted with relegation before a late season charge left the team in the middle of the pack.
Both teams admitted they needed to improve their on-field product, but neither has the money to take major action. AIK faces a deficit of almost $3 million while DIF is fighting about $2 million of red ink.
“Like I said, the interest (in Guidetti) is real, but the problem is the money,” said Reidel.
Not just players The intra-city rivalry isn’t just about potential players. In 1999, former Swedish international Anders Limpar decided to switch sides and move from AIK to Djurgården. The fans’ reaction was so negative―AIK fans allegedly destroyed his night club while DIF fans refused to accept him―that Limpar retired. It is a reaction Yankee fans know well. Although both helped the Bronx Bombers win World Series titles, many Yankee fans still refuse to accept Roger Clemens or Johnny Damon as real Yankees because both played for the hated Boston Red Sox.
Mets fans often lament the fact two of their stars from the 1986 World Series winning team in Flushing―Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry―moved to the Bronx 10 years later and helped the Yankees win the title.
Reidel said those types of player moves are “almost impossible” in Stockholm, where club loyalty and fan frenzy run deep.
“I don’t think there will be a big transfer between the Stockholm clubs,” he said. “The fans just wouldn’t accept it and that would make it very hard for the player to continue in Stockholm.”
Plus, the rivalry between the clubs is such that “it’s hard to really go from one to another,” Reidel said.
Two teams, one arena? One area of cooperation that might confuse Stockholm sports fans is the joint-ownership of the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., between the New York Giants and the New York Jets. The two NFL teams are rivals at least for Big Apple headlines, but play in different conferences and the short NFL season allows for flexibility in scheduling home games.
Although AIK and Djurgården are both looking to build new arenas, Reidel said there was little to no chance of the two teams working together.
“Fans would never accept that,” he said, “but the real reason is teams want to own their own arenas. It is a great source of revenue for the teams and teams don’t want to share that revenue.”
Hammarby is already building a new arena in partnership with American sports conglomerate AEG. However, AEG will have the ownership rights to the stadium, not Hammarby, which means AEG would pocket the bulk of the money the stadium generates.
As for the rivalry between the clubs, Reidel said it was all part of the sports culture of Stockholm.
“I think it’s great for the fans,” he said. “It creates interest and it’s good that when one team gets a big headline, the others try to get them, too. It makes everything fun.”
by Chipp Reid
Pontus Engbolm of AIK and Kasper Hämäläinen of Djurgården battle for a loose ball during a derby match last year. Bildbyrån photo