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Multicultural football team unites Malmö

Multicultural football team unites Malmö

Published: 05 Nov 2010 12:43 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Nov 2010 12:43 GMT+01:00

With Malmö’s football club poised to win Sweden’s top-flight Allsvenskan football league, The Local’s Peter Vinthagen Simpson looks at how the team's multicultural make up has united a city that is so often cited as a negative example of the challenge of integration.

A recent spate of apparently random shootings directed at people with a non-traditionally Swedish appearance, has raised concerns about growing racism in Malmö and across Sweden as a whole.

The shootings, which police continue to investigate, have often been discussed in the context of the difficulties of integration and have tarnished multicultural Malmö’s reputation.

Sporting success this weekend will go some way to shifting that negative focus and highlighting one of Malmö’s most shining examples of the successes of multiculturalism: the city’s only professional football club, Malmö FF.

Malmö FF's 2010 squad includes players from nine different nations. It also includes a number of key players who represent the myriad of cultures that make up Sweden's most culturally mixed city, where around 36 percent of the population is registered as having a foreign background.

"It is the team's success that unites people. One goes along and watches the matches and the team consists of a group of individuals, it is those players that you cheer on," Marie Holmberg at the city's tourism office, Malmö Tourism, tells The Local.

"On the pitch (their background) doesn't mean anything, they are individuals."

They are all local men with roots in a slew of various countries and cultures, and on Sunday the likes of Agon Mehmeti, Dardan Rexhepi and Guillermo Molins, will line up alongside talismanic captain Daniel Andersson and goalkeeping stalwart Johan Dahlin, united in their goal of bringing Sweden's Allsvenskan title back to the football-mad city for a record 16th time.

"Malmö has always been a football town, other sports have never meant that much to us. The entire town town revolves around the team, and we have only one where other Swedish cities have numerous," says loyal Malmö FF supporter Martin Palmer.

Malmö FF leads Sweden's Allsvenskan, on goal difference ahead of local Skåne rivals Helsingborg. A win on Sunday will secure the "gold" for MFF for a record 16th time (barring a massive win for Helsingborg).

It will also give a welcome boost to the city, which has been in something of a state of shock after the shootings were classified by the police as a having an apparently racist motive.

The tourist office's Holmberg explains that the success of the women's football team in winning the national title a fortnight ago, followed by the prospect of a title win for the men's team on Sunday, is of great benefit to the city, and its image.

"It is naturally very positive for the city for the women to have won the championship and now if the men can bring home the 'gold'," she says, adding that football is a unifiying factor for the city.

Martin Palmer agrees that Malmö's footballing success has helped local people focus on the positive aspects of integration.

"I think the team's success has definitely helped. There are so many people with different backgrounds within this town. Everyone likes MFF, and everyone likes Zlatan (Ibrahimovic)," he says, referring to the Malmö native son who stars for both Sweden's national side as well as storied Italian football club AC Milan.

The election of the Sweden Democrats to Sweden's Riksdag on a platform to dramatically cut immigration and challenge the multicultural society, has been cited by some observers as a causal factor behind the shootings, having allowed anti-immigrant sentiment to be aired more freely.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson is a keen supporter of Mjällby FF, Malmö's opposition on Sunday. Åkesson, who was born in Skåne, has previously described Sweden's captain Zlatan Ibrahomivic, as a "bought in" player, and has furthermore questioned his "unSwedish" footballing style, despite the Milan star being born and bred in the country.

When Ibrahimovic broke into Sweden's national team back in 2001, he was surrounded by established names such as Larsson, Andersson, Svensson and Allbäck. He was seen as little more than a joker in a pack of Swedish organization and did not establish himself in the team until the summer of 2004, the same year he signed for Italian giants Juventus.

Ibrahimovic's success story from the gravel pitches of one of Malmö's toughest suburbs Rosengård, to the riches of Milan's San Siro, serves as an inspiration for Malmö youth seeking to get ahead and better themselves.

Malmö FF midfielder and playmaker Guillermo Molins, who arrived in Sweden as a one-year-old with his parents from Uruguay, coined the phrase "Zlatan effect" when talking to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily this week.

"Of course there is a Zlatan effect. His achievements have ensured that we all get a chance," Molins told DN.

"There is a cockiness among players with foreign roots, another belief in themselves. One should believe in yourself and not listen to much to what others say."

Palmer, who will take his normal seat alongside a packed house at the Swedbank Stadium in central Malmö on Sunday, says that the players' backgrounds matter little to the average MFF football fan.

"They are very much seen as Malmö players first, immigrants second. Of course there is the foreign element. But there is such a broad variety of backgrounds. In the end people don't care, they are so fanatical about the football," he says.

Malmö's multicultural players have all been schooled in the Swedish footballing system, with a focus on solid technique, teamwork and organisation. Swedish clubs tend to look to Brazil and Latin American countries when seeking to bring a little flair to their teams, and Malmö's purchase of Wilton Figueiredo is a case in point.

But the rapid globalisation of football in recent decades, and the changing face of Malmö's diverse population has had its impact on how the proud residents of the city view their "Himmelsblått" (Sky Blues) and, with half of the national side now made up of "new Swedes", how the nation views its footballing future.

"It works because it has to work, people are working for the same objective, together. It is a lesson for the city as a whole," Palmer says.

Malmö FF entertain Mjällby FF at the Swedbank Stadium in Malmö on Sunday, while Helsingborg host Kalmar FF. Both games kick off at 4.30pm.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:49 November 5, 2010 by double concerto
Football, the opium of the people, it used to be religion. Propoganda article that refuses to accept that in the words of german leader Merkel, multiculture "HAS FAILED COMPLETELY" and if you doubt that, then just take a look at what is happening in the real world, right now on the streets of "wild west" Malmo and countless other cities across the world.
14:08 November 5, 2010 by bear79
yes lets play football ,and try an ignore the racsist neo nazi scum that are riddeled through this land since ww2 and shooting people becase there not swedish.FUBAR,you swedes should be asshamed of yourselfs.
14:11 November 5, 2010 by shame, shame
Nice read. Great to see not only an article about Malmö, but one dwelling on such a positive and successful side of the city. Sure Malmö has its challenges but it is fantastic place, filled with optimism and one Sweden's most interesting places to live.

Heja di blåe.
16:39 November 5, 2010 by bravedave
The team may have foreign players but how does that unite a town?

Most of the foreigners who live in Malmö probably don't even attend the games. This being due to high un-employment and intergration problems within Malmö.

It's a nice idea but it's fiction im affraid.
16:50 November 6, 2010 by Iraniboy
Thumbs up :)

@double concerto

If you have failed in multiculturalism, it is your problem. It is like saying we have failed in math and bragin on it!! It doesn't belittle or discredit math it simply shows our lack of ability to comprehend it. If you, Merkel and some others have failed in multiculturalism, it is your problem to fix it.
18:13 November 6, 2010 by Kevtravels
"new Swedes"?

why are not all Swedes referred to as just Swedes? Who cares where their parents are from. I mean would a guy from Kiruna with Swedish parents be referred to as "old Swedes"?
22:06 November 8, 2010 by Njal
@ iraniboy

Your analogy is a flawed one just as is the model of multi-culturalism itself.

We have the same problem here in Canada, in fact Pierre Trudeau, a Canadian prime minister said multi-culturalism was a total failure just before he died. Now there are places where white Canadians(the people who are responsible for the building of Canada, whether you will agree or not), just don't go in major citites largley because their physical safety would be threated.

Multi-culturalism is in fact a failure, and many world leaders in the West would agree, (though not publicly).The net benefit of those immigrants who actually have something to contribute, is not necessarily out-weighed but the majority of immigrants who don't have anything to offer.

I mean really, why does Sweden need more Africans or Iraqis or Iranians? Or anyone for that matter who can't en-rich Swedish society? I would have thought that the failure of multi-culturalism in the West was self-evident, but perhaps there are those who claim otherwise for good reasons of their own, which are not necessarily good reasons for Sweden.
23:16 November 8, 2010 by jack sprat
From what I've seen of football fans the World over, most of them would happily accept mass murderers and serial rapists into their team, if it brought them instant success.

Therefore I would doubt if the success of the present Malmo side has any bearing at all on the huge problems within the local society.
19:16 November 9, 2010 by jbat
Whoaaa... Whoaaa.. Whoaaa..

so many many frustrated "foreigners" living here complaint about other "foreigners"... yeah.. these racists people have nothing to lose..

cause they already lost.. either in their own country (thats why the move here) or here (in his dream country) !!!
19:35 November 10, 2010 by immigrant-girl
Immigrant, not immigrant, Swede, new Swede, whatever. We are human. I get so tired of Swedes obsession with where people come from but I guess that is the curse of being a homogeneous society for so long.
07:26 November 11, 2010 by Alf Garnett
@immigrant-girl: where do you come from?

I don't think it's a Swedish obsession, the amount of "immigrants" that ask me where I come from belies that theory.

I've been here for 11 yrs now, and I have found that there is more racism among the immigrant populations than the "Swedes".

@Editor: which fantasist created the headline?
12:05 November 11, 2010 by jbat
Agree with Alf Garnett...

immigrant-girl maye a TROLL as what she said is totally untrue!

Those racists people here are mostly immigrants.. where they believe they are special immigrants...
13:09 November 14, 2010 by Syftfel
In no place on earth has 'multi-culturalism' succeeded. Examples abound. The Soviet Uion is now 18 separate nations. The czechs and the slovaks. The French Canadainas are breking loose. Belgium is about to be divided. The United States is a cauldron waiting to separate into its various cultural pieces. Tibet wants to be freed from China. Sri Lanka and the Tamils. The Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Iran. I could go on. As for Iraniboy, a frequent commentator in these forums, he has another agenda. He is using the ruse of 'multi-culturalism' as a tool to establish a Nordic kaliphate. Isn't he happy he can comment without risking arrest? In his brave new world, we would not be permitted to disagree. Hence this tory is nothing but feel-good invective, when the reality is something entirely different.
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