Saturday, 10 August 2013

Experiences of Football in Gothenburg

First of all, it's been a long while since my last blog post (over a year, in fact!) Since then I've moved on from working with Wyrley Rhinos and last season began coaching (and will continue to this season) with Sporting Club Albion Ladies 1st team in the Women's Premier League (Northern Division), a so far challenging, but brilliant experience. However, that's not what this post is about, I wanted to share some thoughts following a trip through work, coaching in Gothenburg in Sweden...

After spending 5 days coaching out in Gothenburg, I wanted to share some thoughts and comparisons on my brief experiences of football at all levels in Sweden, specifically, in Gothenburg.
Despite only being there 5 days, I did get a very good insight into clubs at a number of levels in Gothenburg, ranging from the top flight men’s professional game down to grassroots level and likewise in the women’s game.
Our hosts for the week were Älvsborg FF, who currently play their football in Division 4, the sixth tier of Swedish football – so we shall start with them. The club survive with only 2 paid coaches in the entire setup, all others are volunteer parents of kids who play for the club, as well as Swedish all-time legend and ex-pro Kennet Andersson who voluntarily gives up his time to coach for one of the clubs younger teams, the club has at least 1 boys and girls team at every age group. This may sound familiar with a lot of amateur or grassroots clubs in England, however, as I later found it, it was a fairly common theme throughout most clubs we visited.
The training facilities at Älvsborg were very good, including a club house, and 2 full size “konst gräs” pitches (konst being the Swedish word for art, aka artificial grass, or what we would call 3G), a fantastic facility for such a small club, again something which became an ongoing theme for many clubs we experienced in and around the area.
We visited the ’Gamla Ullevi’ stadium (which means the New Old Ullevi, a name based on the other 2 main stadiums of the city, the Ullevi and the Gamla Ullevi), home to the Göteborgsalliansen (Gothenburg Alliance), which consists of 3 teams: GAIS, IFK Göteborg and Örgryte IS all who use the 18,800 capacity stadium in the centre of Gothenburg, as well as the Swedish women’s national team who play their home games there. 

IFK Göteborg vs. BK Häcken was the fixture we were attending, finishing 3-1 to IFK, who went 1-0 down and came back scoring 2 in the space of around 30 seconds. The atmosphere was very good for a fairly small stadium (by the standards we are used to in England). The fans were friendly, but loud.

One thing I found very interesting about the visit to the Gamla Ullevi and the game was that despite the away fans having their own section of the stadium to sit, there were no issues with away fans (even wearing their team’s strip) sitting in and amongst the home fans, and standing up to cheer BK Häcken’s goal in amongst the home fans with no provocation whatsoever, made even more interesting by the fact that this is actually a local (although apparently not fierce) derby.
Match tickets to this Allsvenskan (the top division of Swedish football) fixture were only 125 Swedish Krona (approximately £12.50) for what was essentially local derby game, probably a quarter of what we would pay for the equivalent in the English Premier League and to add more perspective, cheaper than the price I paid recently to watch a Premier League club’s meaningless pre-season friendly.
I was assured by our guide, Peter, that despite the loud, but friendly atmosphere – that Sweden does have issues with hooliganism and if a Gothenburg team were playing a team from Stockholm for example, then the animosity would be slightly more fierce, but it was interesting to see fans mingling and getting along fine in this instance.
Fans were treated well by the club, matchday programmes provided free of charge (where usually we would pay approximately £3 to 5 per game on top of the extortionate match ticket fee in the Premier League), and at the end of the game, any unsold hot food such as beef burgers were handed out free of charge, whereas in England I can only imagine them being disposed of as waste. I thought this was a nice touch by the club.
We stopped by to watch the first half of a ’Damallsvenskan’ (top flight of Swedish women’s football) fixture between Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC and Piteå IF before our trip to the Gamla Ullevi stadium (finishing 1-0 to the Kopparbergs – a goal curling in directly from a corner), and was fairly impressed with the support, probably seeing approximately 1000 people there to see the game, on a 3G/konst-gräs pitch at a nice looking little stadium, a familiar English face in Anita Asante playing at centre-half for the Kopparbergs during this game. 

My biggest observation about this game, outside of the performance itself was the huge emphasis on sponsorship, which is evident simply in the name of the home team – heavily sponsored by Kopparberg, and the away team, Piteå IF who had approximately 6 or 7 main sponsors and logos on the away strip alone, possibly a way forward for a sport in England which appears (unfortunately) in general to struggle financially.
We spent 4 days coaching youngsters (13 to 15 years old), both male and female, who were mostly players of Älvsborg FF’s younger teams, but some from various other local clubs, at Älvsborg FF’s training facility. Unsure of the ability of these players before we went or of how much of a stumbling block the language barrier would turn out to be before we went made for an interesting build up.
I was pleasantly surprised with the result of the group of 17 lads I had for the week, a mixture of ’98 and ’00 born lads, who were all at least able to understand basic English, and a handful who were fluent (a plus point, but also a moment of realisation of how ignorant the British are in general in learning about other languages or cultures despite how many different ones we hear around us on our own front lawn each day). Not only were the lads able to understand the majority of things I was saying to them (along with the use of demonstrations, visual aids and tactics boards as well as the odd translation to help along the way completed the explanations some didn’t understand) but the ability level of this group of players was very good allowing for more advanced and technical sessions to take place.

The attitude of the lads towards each and every training session was second to none, they had the utmost respect for all adults and coaches involved throughout the week and put 100% effort into each and every practice which was a fantastic attitude to see.
We focused a day on possession, one on defending, one on attacking and finished the final day with some more possession games, with two 2-hour fairly high intensity sessions each day from Monday to Wednesday and one 2-hour session on the Thursday. Feedback from the boys was fantastic, all of them having thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and the week – however they did comment that the intensity of the sessions was higher than what they were used to in their clubs (a sign of differences in coaching methodology and practices between English football and Swedish football, perhaps?)
After one of the days of coaching, we played a 4-a-side fixture vs. some of the parents winning 7-6 which was good fun, and following this all the club’s coaches (including aforementioned ex-pro and Swedish legend, Kennet Andersson) turned up for a BBQ and “clinic” hosted by ourselves where we explained what we were all about and how things work over in England in terms of professional football, academies, women’s football and centres of excellence and coaching in general – from this, after discussions with many of the coaches we were able draw some comparisons with how things run in England, compared with Gothenburg, and in some cases, Sweden as a whole. What soon became evident was that many clubs in Sweden, from grassroots up to even some top division professional sides are ran with a massive reliance on volunteers.
The majority of coaches that we encountered and heard about were coaching on a voluntary basis either for the love of coaching or to help out because their son/daughter plays for the club – this is something we see often in the grassroots and amateur game in England, but to see it happening in some fairly high level clubs across the board in Sweden was surprising.
Now after touring a number of clubs in Gothenburg and the surrounding areas, what became evident was that facilities all around were fantastic at all levels of the game, and artificial “konst gräs” was a regular sight in the suburbs of Gothenburg, where it is quite rare in the UK outside of pro clubs and 5-a-side centres such as Goals, suggesting that there was money and financial sources available for football and local clubs, which made me wonder why coaching was a commonly unpaid vocation.
The biggest surprise was to discover during a trip to IFK Göteborg’s first team, U19 and U17’s training facility (which I will come onto later) that apart from coaches with their first team, U19s and U17s that there were no paid coaches below U17 level within the club. I found this difficult to believe with one of northern Europe’s and certainly one of Sweden’s most successful clubs, with 2 UEFA Cup trophies under their belt and 13 Allsvenskan championships.
It’s nice that the coaches do give up their time to coach clubs on an unpaid basis, and this will have it’s positive effects on the Swedish game, for example, more money apparently being available for facilities, however, I can only imagine it would have its downsides and negative effects on their national game as well – without pay at many age groups, even at the top level. How can coaches be expected to seek constant development in their field and expand their knowledge through further education and courses without money coming in from pursuing what can only be described in this situation as their ‘hobby’?
With this in consideration - and by no means am I suggesting that the quality of coaching is poor, as I did not witness enough of it and would not like to jump to conclusions - however with lack of money to invest into development, one can only assume that the standard of coaching is not as high as it could, or perhaps should be at the highest levels – this could be detrimental to the development of the younger age groups in academy systems in the country, who arguably, need the highest standard of coaching in the important fundamental age groups where the “golden ages of learning” take place.
Back to positives, we were able to visit the facilities of Torslanda IK of the third tier of Swedish football, GAIS of the Superettan (the second tier of Swedish football), and Gunnilse IS of the fifth tier of Swedish football all of whom had fantastic training facility venues. We had an extended tour of Gunnilse IS’ facilities and a chat with their manager, who showed us their indoor konst gräs pitch, as well as their home stadium and pitch (a beautifully well-kept and seemingly big pitch for such a low stature club), and their other grass training pitches, also very well kept and a great facility overall. The club clearly take pride in their facilities and invest heavily into keeping them of a high standard, with talk of expansion into the surrounding scenic wooded area to create even more pitches for training practices on top of all this.

A visit to another club’s training session (the club’s name escapes me) was very eye-opening also, this club was based in what was desbribed to me as a run-down suburb of Gothenburg, with a high percentage of foreign nationals and ethnic minorities, the club had only one player of Swedish nationality and consisted of players from a number of different backgrounds and countries. The players were from areas described to me by one of the club’s coaches as ”ghettos”; players with tough upbringings and not much money, however the clubs facilities were, in line with all others we had seen, ’mycket bra’ (very good)! The players attitudes to the training session that we stayed to watch were fantastic also, giving their all and showing utmost respect to the coach and eachother which was interesting to see, I’ve seen first hand clubs and areas in England which could be compared to this club, and seen how much attitude/discipline can be a problem in such places, so it was refreshing to see these lads taking pride in their football and really applying themselves.
We were lucky enough to receive a tour of IFK Göteborg’s training facility, a complex with 3 high quality outdoor grass pitches, an outdoor konst gräs pitch and an indoor pitch as well as a separate site which we didn’t see with more training facilities. The facility was split into marketing and media on one side of the complex and sports on the other, where the first team changing rooms, the gym, physio room and manager, coaches and scout’s offices were. That’s scout as a singular, too – the club employ one scout who does the entirety of their player recruitment, opposition analysis and performance analysis! Must be a busy guy! Another example of restricted employment opportunities off the field in Swedish football, apparently because of financial constrictions.

Another example of high class facilities (as would probably be expected in a top level club with 2 UEFA cups under their belt and a huge fanbase), but still - to discover that even a club of this stature only had full-time, paid coaches from U17 level upwards was a shocking revelation for me. We were informed that they currently have 69 ex-players who have gone on from their academy level to play all around Europe, some of which in the top 5 leagues in Europe. Does this make the club a breeding ground for players to sell as opposed to the real purpose of an academy, in developing players for the first team? Who knows? Would this change if the coaching model or club employment and career opportunities were a little stronger? Potentially.
Overall, I was fascinated by not only the quality, but the quantity of facilities in Gothenburg and the attitude to training and games of footballers of all ages, levels and abilities I witnessed (quite a lot for such a short space of time). This was absolutely fantastic to see and a great building base for a top national game – in my opinion Sweden has the potential to be a real force in the future. I really enjoyed my stay and learned a lot about not only football, but the general culture (and a very small portion of the language, making me feel a tiny bit less ignorant) and can honestly say that this is a fantastic country I would recommend anyone to visit, and I will certainly be back to see more of Gothenburg, and more of Sweden.