The Ass was on the move. Or rather, THE Ass. He was a large, overly obnoxious Swedish man, and I loved him.
I was with my friend Martin at Olympia Stadium in Helsingborg and, as usual, I was waist-deep in confusion.
It was April 10, and I was at my first Allsvenskan – the highest division in Swedish football – match. Before the match even started, I was more wound up than Tea Partiers at an abortion clinic.
I had been to Superattan matches in Växjö – and even seen the national team play – but I had never seen anything like the madness that is Helsingborgs IF – If Elfsborg.
The whole day had an eerie Heaven-Hell vibe to it: Helsingborg itself was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen in my life (truly, the harbor is a sight not to be missed), but the match itself filled me with feelings of hatred I never knew I had, much less for a team who prior to my friend purchasing tickets a few weeks earlier I had never even heard of.
But there I was, in the madness of it all. Martin and I took our seats, and for 30 seconds all seemed calm. Then the drama began to unfold.
Drums. There were drums in the distance. Sudden, booming, they reverberated throughout the bowl-shaped stadium and back into the sea air, wafting about in a thunderous loop. Chants soon followed, and suddenly I saw an explosion.
As any good journalist would do, I whipped out my camera and started taking photos. What was happening? Was this a riot? There were more explosions, followed by throngs of people waving banners and marching in unison.
These were the Kärnan, Martin told me, the most fanatic Helsingborg supporters. They were entering the stadium with their usual ostentatious show of force, and we were standing right in their section.
Within minutes, we were surrounded.
A sea of red and blue flags surrounded us, flapping through the air seemingly held aloft by the roar of the 12,000+ in attendance. The insanity was all around us, and there was no way out.
And in the middle of it all was the Ass. His voice rose above the others, leading them on, setting the tone which the entire stadium mimicked. He seemed crazy, deranged, a horrible caricature of the leader of a mob and all that is morally reprehensible about humanity.
But I loved him. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy with masterful execution, and for every vulgar chant he started, I found myself joining in. When the fired-up masses began to make fun of the city (Borås) Elfsborg was from, I participated with just as much fervor.
The Ass and his mob had taken hold of me, and wouldn’t let me go. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I was glad before leaving campus back in Växjö that Martin had advised me not to wear my Swedish national team jersey: a seething distaste for anything relating to the mainstream government was clearly evident, culminating in the unfurling of a giant blood red Skåne flag during player introductions instead of the Swedish flag, and the singing of the club anthem instead of the national anthem.
The entire stadium seemed to vibrate with the ebb and flow of the game. For the whole 90 minutes the deafening roar never let up. Like waves pounding against the coast, the sound crashed against me time and time again. Though I could feel my throat tearing as I screamed at the top of my lungs, I couldn’t even hear myself.
It was official: I had lost all emotional control. Shameful as it is to say, if the frenzied mob had decided to storm out and set the entire city ablaze, I probably would have joined in.
Somewhere in the midst of all this decidedly unwholesome frivolity bordering on violent flashpoint was a football match, but in the heat of the moment the fact escaped me. While I managed to join in the celebration when Helsingborg scored to start the second half, and joyously jeered when Elfsborg missed a potential equalizing penalty shot late, these actions were more or less involuntary actions stemming from a severe case of mob-induced sports psychosis.
To my surprise, the match concluded with little disruption. The roar slowly died down, and supporters slowly made their exit – not in one massed army, but in small groups of twos and threes.
Gradually my mental state began to return to normal. I turned to Martin.
“Was that the craziest match ever, or what?” I asked in my usual very broken, very American-sounding Swedish.
“Actually, it’s usually a lot louder,” he told me in a precise British accent so perfect it took me a moment to remember he wasn’t actually a Brit. “Most of the time we’re much more enthusiastic.”
Lord knows what would have happened to me if it had been one of those other times.