When I first moved to Gothenburg, I only knew one team: IFK Göteborg.So without giving the matter much thought, I bought a blue-and-white scarf and a ticket to their next match. However the second match I went too was against their smaller, poorer local rivals Gais. Their fans made an immediate impression. Despite being outnumbered by their opposition and getting completely outplayed on the pitch, they managed to out sing and make more noise than their IFK counterparts for the full 90 minutes. I arrived at Nya Ullevi that day an IFK man, but I left a Gaisare and have been ever since. Now I’m a season ticket holder, never miss a home game, and even make the occasion away trip.
Gais are one of the oldest clubs in Sweden and one of the founding members of the Allsvenskan. In the 1920s, they were one of the most successful teams in the country, regularly winning trophies and boasting Swedish internationals in their squad. But since the 1950s, they’ve quickly diminished into perpetual strugglers flittering between divisions and frequently on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet, their long-suffering supporters are renowned for their passion and commitment to the team even in the most trying of times. They could travel all the way to some small village club in deep Norrland, spend 90 minutes standing in the cold and rain, watch their team go down 5-0, and yet in the 90th minute they’ll still be singing ‘always look on the bright side of Gais.’
Gais also pride themselves on playing attacking football, and refuse to reduce themselves to the dull, pragmatic, defensive tactics seen at many other struggling clubs. The perception many Gais fans like to have of their club as that they’re the team of choice for the romantics and real fans. IFK Göteborg, in contrast, is for the glory hunters and fair-weather supporters. While IFK were playing the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United, as recently as 2002, Gais were in the third division.
There is another common phase that goes along the lines of: “IFK are disco and Gais are rock ‘n’ roll”. In others words, IFK represents the clean-living mainstream Gothenburg, while Gais represents the city’s alternative counter-cultures, almost like a Swedish version of St.Pauli. Accordingly, Swedish indie-rock star Håkan Hellström is a big fan and one of his songs “Gårdakvar och skit” has been adopted as the club’s official anthem. Ebbot Lundberg from Soundtrack of our Lives and In Flame’s Björn Gelotte are also supporters. There is even one rumour that Frank Zappa performed a gig in Gothenburg in the 1970s wearing Gais’ famous green-and-black stripes.
If IFK is the champagne-sipping ‘stekare’ who spends his Friday night’s in the Avenue’s poshest night clubs, decked out in designer cloths and bragging about how much money he makes, then Gais is the uncouth metal head who languishes in Andralånggatan’s seedier bars spending what little money he has on ‘stor starks’ promising that while he is nearly forty, still living with his parents and has never held down a full-time job, any day now he and his band will get their big break.
Why might I have heard of them?
To be honest, if you’ve never been to Sweden, in fact if you’ve never been to Gothenburg, I’m not really sure why anyone would have heard of Gais. There green-and-black scarves are a common sight here and they have a strong cult-following, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t extend beyond the west coast of Sweden.
Gais have qualified for Europe twice. The first time was in 1975, when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the first round by Polish side Slask Wroclaw. The second time was in 1990, where a torrid 4-1 thumping by Torpedo Moscow probably put them off European competitions forever.
At some point in the past decade they played a preseason friendly against Celtic at the old Gamla Ullevi, but otherwise they’ve had no reason to leave Sweden’s shores.
Any players, past or present, I might know?
Roland Nilsson, who used to play for Helsingborg, IFK Göteborg and Sheffield Wednesday, began a successful career in management with Gais in 2003. He successful got the side back into the Allsvenskan, and even took the field himself a couple of times, including the final 25 minutes in a promotion play-off match. In 2007 he joined Malmö FF, and after a successful stint there, he was appointed the new manager of FC Copenhagen last summer.
In the early 1990s, IFK legend Glenn Hysen also joined Gais on a free transfer from Liverpool, with the club promising to build him a house as part of his signing on fee. To this day, he is still accused of nearly bankrupting the club due to his massive wages – an allegation he disputes claiming that he ended up paying for the house himself.
Colours: Green and black vertical stripes, white shorts.
Nicknames: Grönsvart (Green and Blacks), Makrillarna (The Mackerels.)
Ground: Gamla Ullevi, Göteborg