No one who ever met Klas Ingesson can forget the impression the lumberjack, farmer and fierce midfielder made.
Ingesson was the quintessential fighter, on and off the field — and he proved that for the last five years as he battled the incurable form of cancer, multiple myeloma, which affects the bone marrow. He became the co-head coach at Elfsborg last year, leading the team to third place in the 2014 Allsvenskan despite crippling pain that confined him to a wheelchair. Klabbe finally succumbed to his disease on October 29, dying at his home. He was 49 years old. His wife, Veronica, and children Martin and David, were at his side.
I first met Klas in 1994 when I was the English-language press aid for the Swedish national team during the 1994 World Cup. I had put together the team’s media guide, which has become a standard format for all clubs since then. Many of the Swedish players were a bit confused as the book was very “American.” It had stats on top of stats — just the thing sportscasters with little knowledge of the team wanted when broadcasting matches. One of the players who took to the book was Klas Ingesson.
I can remember sitting with him and Anders Limpar in Detroit, unaware at the time of the rivalry between the two for playing time on the left side of the midfield. Anders was his usual self — outgoing, humorous, always asking questions. Klas wanted to know how I was able to figure out so many details of the national team. He was a rising star on a team that defied the odds to finish third in the World Cup. He asked me about Italy, New York, and the heat in Texas. We talked a little about my days in the military, the stories I had covered and football. More than that, we just sat and had a good old-fashioned conversation.
That was Klas. He was good-natured and down-to-earth, until you had to play against him. Then, all bets were off. Even in training — and I had the chance to play in goal briefly during a training session — he had no fear and no mercy. My hands still sting from blocking one of his shots.
Klas was by no means the most talented player on any field. He was, however, the hardest worker on the pitch. Long after other players gave up, Klas continued to run, continued to fight. It was this indomitable spirit that made Klas something of a cult icon and earned him his nickname of “Klabbe.”
He played in Sweden, Holland, Italy, Belgium and England before finally retiring in 2001. After year of working in his woods, which he purchased with money he made as a player, and running his lumber business, the hunger of playing was still there. He began managing, and last year, despite the cancer, became co-manager at Elfsborg.
The players loved him. The club loved him. The fans loved him. He was fighting spirit personified. Even though he had to use a wheelchair to maneuver around the sidelines, he was there. He broke a thigh in April in a fall during Elfsborg’s match against IFK Goteborg but refused to have surgery until he knew the outcome of the match. (Elfsborg won 1-0).
His condition worsened this year and there were those who suggested it was time for Klas to step down. He had a ready answer. In an open letter he posted on the Elfsborg club website, he blasted his critics, saying: “The talk about my cancer has to end. Elfsborg and I have an agreement that I am manager for the first team. Physically and mentally I don’t have a problem to do my job. I should be judged as anyone else to determine whether I am good enough for the job but then I should be judged on my competence, not my physical status.
“It is every person’s right to be judged by who you are and what you do —not because you have an illness or handicap.”
Klas’ impact on Elfsborg was immense. He imparted to everyone a sense that anything was possible. Club director Stefan Andreasson called Klas “the best man I've ever known and met.
“He has affected all of us in the most amazing ways. A person with unique values, also long before he became ill. Despite all the great successes as a player in Europe, he has always been standing with feet on the ground and soundness throughout. He became one of my best friends. I'm extremely happy and proud of what we have done together and will remember him as the best man. Now, my thoughts go to his family, Vicki, David and Martin. Then I hope Klas Ingesson gets the gold ball.”
More than that, he deserves to be remembered as an inspiration to all.
by Chipp Reid