Swedish football fans, players and officials continue to look for methods to combat violence in the wake of the death of a Djurgården fan in Helsingborg prior to the Opening Day match between the clubs.
Stefan Isaksson, 43, a father of four, died March 30 outside Olympia Stadium after he was struck in the head with a heavy object during a riot between rival fans. On April 3, Helsingborg police arrested a 28-year-old man in connection with Larsson’s death. However, it was not enough in the eyes of many who work in football. Iconic former Swedish international striker Henrik Larsson, who is now the head coach at Allsvenskan newcomer Falkenbergs FF, was particularly outspoken in the wake of the tragedy.
"What the hell are we doing? I mean, we're supposed to be going to football," Larsson said. "Now there is a mother and a father sitting at home, crying their eyes out. It's awful. We need to get rid of it from Swedish football.”
Larsson is no stranger to hooliganism. He suffered insults and taunts as a player in Sweden early in his career because of his mixed racial heritage. He said the responsibility for stamping out racism or other forms of fan violence rests on the fans.
"It's time for the supporters to take their responsibility, too. They're happy to blame others, but take some of your own damn responsibility," he said.
Larsson was in Helsingborg the morning of the Djurgården-Helsingborg match and said he could not believe city bars were opening early to cater to fans prior to the match.
"I went through town to collect my son. At a quarter to ten in the morning there were a load of Djurgården supporters waiting for the pubs to open. Should we open the pubs for these matches? "Whose responsibility is it? Is it the clubs? Is it the supporters themselves? Or should society go in and take it?" Larsson said. “It's time for someone to start waking up, because I don't want it in Swedish football, or in any football.”
Swedish authorities estimate that there are around 600 active hooligans in the Scandinavian country and they have been unable to eradicate the problem of football violence.
Djurgården sports director Bo Andersson, who was in Helsingborg for the Opening Day match, called Isaksson a genuine football fan.
"It wasn't a hooligan, he was a regular supporter, a father of four who liked going to football," Andersson said.
Björn Eriksson, who published the findings of a two-year investigation into sports-related violence in Sweden and made dozens of recommendations, said it had only been a matter of time before someone died.
"If you've been following it for a long time and note that people regularly hit each other in the head with bottles and fists and weapons and are kicking each other to pieces, the consequences are naturally that it will eventually end very badly, and that's pretty much what happened," he said.
Soccer violence has hit the headlines several times in recent years, with a slew of matches disrupted and abandoned by fans throwing fireworks and other objects at players and officials, and organized fights between hooligan "firms" taking place away from grounds.
"The number of persons involved in this purely destructive activity is around 650, which is the equivalent of about three percent of (organized) supporters," Eriksson said. "That means 97 percent have to suffer for the trouble that three percent cause."
The former police chief said violence threatened the long-term financial health and popularity of soccer in Sweden.
"The problems for football are: number one, it's doubtful how long sponsors will want to sponsor something of this destructive type,” he said. "Number two, if the effect is that families with children no longer want to go to football because they don't feel comfortable, that can be a serious blow to the game in the long run.”
Eriksson said that threats from hooligans had also scared "normal people" away from serving on boards.
"There is an infiltration in that way, and it expresses itself in different ways," he said. "One problem is that 40 percent of club directors and chairpersons are threatened every year, and only 18 percent of those threats are reported to the police. People leave clubs because they don't want to expose those working as volunteers to this. This is a consequence of normal people being scared away, and that's when these dark forces have a chance to come in."
Eriksson said the authorities had to view soccer violence as a much more serious crime, something he recommended in his report two years ago.
"I made around 90 suggestions, but to sum up, I think we need a sharpened toolbox in the form of better laws," he said. "It requires that police upgrade these crimes and see them as a threat, in the same way as they do other kinds of organized crime.”
He also said clubs need to do a better job of policing their own fan clubs, especially through the use of banning violent fans from matches.
“For the clubs, it's about finding ways to get the support of this 97 percent that like football and nothing else,” he said. "The clubs must take a strong stance against these elements, by, for example, banning people and being very straight about it."
Eriksson said he hoped the shock and revulsion of Isaksson’s murder would help bring an end to football violence in Sweden.
"I hope that the people's anger bears fruit in the form of distancing themselves more strongly and actively working against (hooligans)," he said. "And then, at a slower pace, the changing of the laws could become a signal similar to that which was used in England, where they used the expression 'Enough is enough.'"