Hammarby IF, from the south of Stockholm, are one of Sweden’s most passionately supported clubs. Malmö, IFK and city rivals AIK all have a far bigger name internationally, but what Hammarby lack in titles they make up for in dedication. Last season they played in the distinctly unglamorous Swedish second division, yet still managed to sell out the 30,000+ capacity Tele2 Arena on several occasions. By comparison, top-flight side Djurgården – with whom they share the ground – averaged around the 15,000 mark or thereabouts.
That dedication was ultimately rewarded with Hammarby gaining promotion to Allsvenskan (the Swedish first division), but not so long ago they were rewarded with something far greater. In 2001 the green and whites won the Swedish league for the first and only time in their history, taking the title by a single point over Djurgården. It wasn’t the Tele2 Arena, but Söderstadion, Hammarby’s old home ground, that witnessed the finest season in the club’s history. I made a trip that historic ground last Saturday for a very particular reason.
Söderstadion is only a stone’s throw away from the Tele2 Arena but the two grounds are worlds apart. Built in the 1960s, it holds around half the capacity and lacks many of the modern comforts of its newer neighbour, but in my opinion it captures the spirit of the club far better – above all because of its simplicity. Like many older football stadiums it catches you by surprise upon approach, springing up in a narrow gap between office and residential buildings. Not so long ago my other half could even watch Hammarby train on the Söderstadion pitch from her office window which looked on to the ground – there are none of the huge protective walls that guard the secrecy of modern stadia.
Hammarby left the ground in 2013 for their new stadium, with club (and Football Manager) legend Kennedy Bakircioglü scoring the last goal there. Inevitably, the ground will soon be demolished, with the land used for shops, flats or other such boring, soulless things. End of story, except not quite. On Saturday the club opened the ground one last time and invited supporters to come and take what they wanted. Benches, tiles, taps, signs, billboards, hooks, and of course, the sacred turf. Everything was on offer – first come, first serve.
I turned up and played amateur photographer for the day and have to say it was pretty touching. I have no connection to Hammarby at all, yet I couldn’t help but feel quite sad as I stood back and watched what was once the thriving heart of a community being stripped to its bare bones. Allowing the fans to take what they wanted as a memento was a nice touch from the club. Quite soon there will be no remnants of this place on its original site, so it is fitting that the memory will live on in countless homes. Below are some of the better pictures I took along with a description of the varying amusing, moving or in some cases, baffling sites I saw.