An early goal, a red card, hurled explosives and an abandoned match were the talk of the Allsvenskan in Round 5 as scandal tore through the league in the wake of the events at the AIK-Syrianska match April 26 in Södertälje.
The literal fireworks began in the 19th minute after AIK striker Ibrahim Bangura received a red card for a foul on Syrianska goalkeeper Dwight Miller. Fans began hurling fireworks at the field. One incendiary device struck assistant referee Daniel Wärnmark in the head and exploded, knocking the official to the ground. Security personnel rushed the field and escorted the referees from the pitch. When they refused to return, the Svenska Fotbollforbundet authorized the abandonment of the match.
Neither team took responsibility for the chaos. AIK claimed poor security procedures at Södertälje Football Arena allowed a “lone wolf” to bring in fireworks. The club also said there was no way of knowing who threw the explosive.
However, videotape from the match clearly showed an AIK fan throwing the fireworks.
Syrianska head coach Özcan Melkemichel had no doubts an AIK supporter was to blame.
“Everyone who was there saw it, plain as day,” Melkemichel said. “There is no doubt the device came from where the AIK supporters were and that an AIK supporter threw it.”
AIK’s notoriously boisterous fans were already restless when the incident occurred. Dinko Felic gave Syrianska a 1-0 lead after 15 minutes as the newcomers to the Allsvenskan swarmed on the attack. Tempers on the field flared when AIK defensive midfielder Kenny Pavey and Syrianska midfielder Agbar Barsom tangled with one another seconds after Felic scored, earning each player a yellow card.
The breaking point came in the 19th minute. Bangura, a Sierra Leone international, raced in alone against Miller, a Jamaican international. The AIK striker plowed into the Syrianska net minder as both went for the ball. Bangura stepped on Miller’s knee. Wanmark signaled for the foul and referee Martin Strombergsson immediately pulled out the red card. Seconds later, fans began lighting off flares and smoke bombs. Seconds after that, the explosives began going off.
“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” said Lars Wilhelmsson, who made the decision to abandon the match. “We cannot have people throwing explosives at our officials or players. It is completely outrageous.”
Now, both teams await the outcome of the meeting of the SvFF Disciplinary Committee, set to convene in early May. Committee spokesman Kenneth Tallinder said the punishment the committee can hand out could be severe.
“In theory, both teams could lose the game 3-0,” he said.
Tallinder ruled out replaying the match at a neutral site or in an empty stadium. He said both teams are equally to blame as Syrianska, as the home team, had responsibility for security. AIK, he said, faces punitive measures because it was an AIK fan that started the incident. He also said Stockholm police are involved in the investigation.
Tallinder said other options include allowing the 1-0 score to stand and/or slapping AIK with a fine and a 6-point deduction in the standings.
Standing by their man
Although the result remains unknown, Tallinder said the red card to Bangura would stand, meaning he cannot play against Örebro on May 2. AIK assistant coach Nebojsa Novakovic called the decision “harsh” and defended Bangura.
“Obviously he didn’t step on their player on purpose,” Novakovic said. “He is not that kind of player.”
Bangura slammed into Miller after referee Strömbergsson called the African offside and whistled a stop to play. Novakovic said Bangura never heard the whistle and when several Syrianska players tried to tell him, he continued playing.
“He doesn’t understand Swedish and didn’t know what anyone was saying to him,” Novakovic said. “He did what he thought he was supposed to do—he kept playing.”
The AIK assistant coach also said Bangura’s momentum carried him into Miller. “There was no intent,” Novakovic said.
History of violence
The black-and-gold clad fans of AIK have a reputation for bad behavior. AIK fans stormed the field last year during a derby match with Djurgården, forcing a 15-minute stop in the game. The Union of European Football Associations fined the club $21,000 last April for fan behavior during a UEFA Champions League match against Rosenborg. In September, UEFA hit AIK with an $82,000 fine after fans attacked the bus carrying players from Bulgarian side Levski Sofia following a scoreless draw in a Europa League match.
AIK officials blame ultra-right-wing gangs that hide among legitimate fans for many of the problems. A secretive group that calls itself The Firm promised violence during the Syrianska match in posts on an AIK Internet discussion board. The group often uses racially charged language in its posts. Södertälje has a large Muslim population while Syrianska is a traditional club of Arab Christians living in Sweden.
The brazen attack reverberated throughout the Allsvenskan as the SvFF moved toward adopting a “no tolerance” rule on fan violence. The federation has yet to work out the details, but a post on the SvFF website hinted that teams with a history of fan violence or that proved unable to control its fans could potentially play its matches in empty stadiums. Such a move would be an economic death sentence for any club.
At the same time, AIK faces the potential loss of six points for the attack on Wärnmark. If the Svff deducts the points, it would drop AIK from seventh to 13th place in the standings and reduce the club’s eight points to two. It could be very difficult for AIK to remain in the Allsvenskan with a points deduction and it would be the latest blow to a club which has endured tumult on and off the field the past four years.
By Chipp Reid