• Sweden's news in English

Gaelic invasion: It's football, Sven, but not as we know it

Patrick Reilly · 27 Nov 2009, 17:19

Published: 27 Nov 2009 17:19 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

It's estimated that over 1,500 Irish natives currently reside in Sweden with many of them following the 'blonde girlfriend trail' overseas.

Plenty settle in and adapt to Swedish culture but, not content with learning the language and stealing the women, the exiles have started to export Irish culture too with GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) clubs springing up in Malmö and Gothenburg.

The rivalry between these two Swedish foes is up there on the Man Utd v Liverpool scale for the players involved, with Stockholm looking set to join the fray in the near future.

There are even organised tournaments with other international GAA teams participating with new players including Aussies, Belgians, French, Swedes and the odd Icelandic convert to the popular Irish pastime.

In the country where the game was invented, Gaelic football is a national passion which peaks the popularity of soccer during the Championship season, which runs from May to September.

This year's final between the all conquering Kerry side and their habitual rivals, Cork, was played in front of over 80,000 fans in Dublin's Croke Park, which will be familiar to Swedish sports fans as the temporary home of the Irish soccer team. Oh, and unlike their football contemporaries none of the GAA players get paid a cent. It's all about the pride of representing your home county.

The sport can best be described to newcomers as a hybrid between soccer and rugby although as devotees will tell you Gaelic has been around for far longer. Played with a round ball with posts similar to a rugby pitch, players can pick the ball up with their hands and earn a point for kicking it over the bar and three points if they score a goal.

It's played at a frenetic pace and isn't for the faint hearted. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson, who was amazed at the physical nature of the game when he was a guest at a match in Croke Park several years ago.

Here in Sweden the game has been growing steadily since the first club was established by some Irish exiles in Gothenburg back in 2004. Founder Billy 'The Kid' Finn got in contact with the European GAA board enquiring how to establish a club and the rest, as they say, is history.

"At the start it was just a bunch of lads having a kick around. Although we founded the club in 2004 it has only been in the past two years that things have really started to kick on," Finn tells The Local.

The founder, who hails from Limerick in Ireland's midwest, moved to Sweden over a decade ago for work reasons. Now firmly established in the Swedish way of life, Finn has been at the helm in transforming Gothenburg's team into the finest international GAA side in Europe.

Finn's charges recently scooped the Pan-European title in Copenhagen after edging past the hosts in a dramatic final. Proof of Gaelic football's expansion overseas was plain to see at the event with teams from Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and the Channel Islands competing against the cream of Scandinavian talent.

"The central European teams were lording it over us for a while but now Scandinavia has several quality teams who are more than a match for them. Our team on the day was made up entirely of Irish lads though we've had Aussies and Swedish players turn out for us also in the past," says Finn.

He is complimentary of the efforts of the locals, who have embraced the rugged Irish game in his adopted home of Gothenburg.

"Most of the Swedish lads have played Aussie rules in the past so they fit right in once they get to grips with the style of the game. We help each other and have been fortunate to find a good place to train at a local rugby club in the city," he adds.

European GAA has expanded dramatically in recent years and the standard is quite high. Events such as the Copenhagen tournament are affiliated with the GAA and receive funding from the home of the national sports in Dublin's Croke Park. Official match referees are even sent over from Ireland to handle high profile matches

But Gothenburg are unlikely to have things entirely their own way now that their southern Swedish rivals Malmö have put themselves on the map with an international lineup featuring Irish players and a star forward from Iceland.

Team Captain Mark Rattigan left Drumree, Co. Meath four years ago and has made Malmö his home with his girlfriend and daughter.

"My brother lived here for ten years and I came over for a short visit to play golf. Like every Irish fella over here I met a Swedish girl and ended up staying.

"We established the club a few months ago as we had a bunch of lads playing Aussie rules who fancied playing Gaelic too. Our first match was against Gothenburg and we got slaughtered but when we played them again a while later we beat them and they certainly didn't like being turned over by this bunch of upstarts," he says.

Malmö Chairman John Noonan has been instrumental in the club's growth since they played their first match back in May. Having lived in Sweden for a decade he was inspired to start a Gaelic team after reading about the development of the Irish sport abroad.

"Over the last few years there were articles about GAA tournaments so I figured let's get a team together. We discovered there were many more Irish here in Malmö than we expected and we basically knew we had a team about two days before our first tournament in May.

"We'd done preparation work a few months earlier to generate sponsorship and organised training sessions for the players. Much to our surprise we became Scandinavian champions in our first year after a tough game against Gothenburg in the summer. They are our main rivals now and we're always out to beat each other."

While the Malmö side is made up mainly of Irish ex-pats their ranks have been joined by their star full forward, Sigmundur Arnar Jósteinsson, who hails from Iceland. Known as the 'Iceman' by his team-mates, Sigmundur only learnt to play Gaelic in the summer and is already a key member of the cosmopolitan Malmö side.

He struggles with English and is helped by colleague Noel Grehan who speaks perfect Swedish with barely a hint of his Longford accent.

Story continues below…

”I play soccer and was asked by Noel to try Gaelic one day. I've never seen it on TV before but I love it and the Irish lads have made me very welcome,” says the Iceman.

Team-mate Grehan praises the new convert's ability as "fast and lethal," adding: "Simmi has improved so much. Considering he started from nothing and hadn't seen the game before. Now he's one of our better players."

With Malmö and Gothenburg flying the flag for Ireland's national sport abroad the game is set to expand nationally with a new club planned for Stockholm next year. With new sides from Oslo, Bergen and Helsinki also set to join the fray, soccer may have some competition on its hands for the title of the world's global game.

Billy Finn concludes, "There are serious plans for a club in Stockholm to compete with ourselves and Malmö. Gaelic football is only going to get bigger and bigger in this country in the years ahead."

For more information on Gothenburg and Malmö GAA sides and how to get involved log onto: http://www.gothenburggaa.se/ & http://www.malmogaa.com/

Both clubs also have Facebook groups and always welcome new members.

Patrick Reilly (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

18:47 November 27, 2009 by corkboy
Cork, not Tyrone in the final
15:43 November 28, 2009 by Nemesis
This could be interesting.

A few friends of mine are planning on moving to Sweden over the next year. One is a gaelic coach in his spare time.

Gaelic can be fun to watch. Hurling, Camoguie, Gaelic and Rugby can be good to watch, unlike the pathetic football.

My oldest brother is one of the few people from Ulster who has played both gaelic and rugby at various times in his life.

I just wish they had left the GAA back home.
23:57 November 28, 2009 by karex
Ha! Live and learn... I had no idea this style of football existed.
09:43 November 29, 2009 by Nemesis
@ karex,

I would suggest you never say that to anyone Irish, as they could take offense. It is an easy mistake to make though for people who do not know what it is.

Gaelic is not football. It is a completely different type of game.

In Ireland games such as Gaelic, Rugby, Hurling and Camougie are played and are quite rough.

Unlike English style football where everyone is a male Paris Hilton, players do not go to the hairdresser beforehand and have to be quite tough to play.

There is no lying on the ground at the slightest excuse trying to get an oscar or standing ovation for acting.

Gaelic, Rugby, Hurling and Camougie are all fast moving games. There is no nonsense such as stopping every five minutes such as American football or being covering in armour as in American football.

They are contact sports. They are fast and furious.
16:17 November 30, 2009 by irish lad
hey all im planning on moving too sweden on a year out as work is very quiet in ireland i,ve played senior club football in cork and im a carpenter but i also do a good bit of barwork so need a club or even a job,
13:17 December 1, 2009 by inallsincerity
"many of them following the 'blonde girlfriend trail' overseas."

Why is this relevant to the story?

Many also come for work reasons or study. Not to mention many Irish immigrants are gay men and straight women. And the majority of Swedish women are blonde? Oh right homos and girls don't like sports and only blonde women are beautiful, I forgot about stereotyping.
18:44 December 1, 2009 by Kerryman
If anybody is interested in playing Gaelic Football in Stockholm please email stockholmgaa@gmail.com.

We hope to set up to compete in the scandinavian championship next year
00:22 December 2, 2009 by laurittcha
Interesting artcile...

Although I am not Irish, I'm a HUGE fan of Gaelic Football and had the chance to see a few matches of this year's season!

If possible, I'd love to be informed if there is any match taking place here in Stockholm. I'd love to watch it again...

I'm glad to know Irish culture is more present in this country than I thought..it's not just Irish pubs... :)

Oh Kerryman..you could invite Thierry Henry to play Gaelic Football as apparently he loves using his hands while playing football...:P
11:30 December 4, 2009 by red.king

"Oh Kerryman..you could invite Thierry Henry to play Gaelic Football as apparently he loves using his hands while playing football...:P"

...... simply brilliant!!!!! LOL :)...... def quote of the year on TL....

I'd be more interested if they brought Hurling to Sweden....... (Kerry suck at it so it must be a better option)... :)
21:20 December 4, 2009 by mcbrazile
@ kerryman

hey il play gaelic and hurlin for ya.......

if youll fly me out to stockholm from knock.
12:36 December 7, 2009 by thekid

Billy Finn here from Gothenburg GAA .Thanks for all the comments on the article - lively discussion.If anyone is interested in getting more details about the game and is possibly moving to Gothenburg in the next while or would love to give a game a try , my e-mail is billy.finn@gmail.com

For those interested in the Stockholm area ,please send enquiries to Philip O Connor at philipjoconnor@gmail.com.

Next year promises to be a great year with the addition of new clubs so welcome.We will have a Gotheburg Ladies team also with the possibly of having a combined Nordic Ladies team so ladies welcome as well .

Thanks for your time

16:04 December 8, 2009 by irish lad
swedish women playing football, serious..!!! that would fill croke park any sunday..!!!
Today's headlines
Why the Pope is visiting Sweden next week
Pope Francis in the Vatican. Photo: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Pope to nail reconciliation agenda to Lutherans' door in southern Sweden.

The Local Recipes
How to make no-knead sourdough bread like a Swede
No-knead sourdough bread. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food

Swedes love their sourdough bread. Food writer John Duxbury shares his favourite Swedish recipe for a no-knead loaf.

Meet Sweden's lonely Donald Trump voter
A Donald Trump campaign button. Photo: Rogelio V Solis/AP

The Local talks to an American Donald Trump supporter on what it is like living in progressive stronghold Sweden.

Forgotten Ingmar Bergman script to be made into a film
It's thought the script was part of an ill-fated collaboration between Bergman (left) and Federico Fellini (right). Photo: AP

Written in 1969, the script is 'up to the standard of his best', according to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.

Sweden's consumption footprint 'among the worst'
Trucks transporting goods on a Swedish highway. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden has been criticized for its unsustainable consumption of the planet's resources in the latest edition of a major WWF study.

Video: How to be Joel Kinnaman for a day
Kinnaman with one of the camera rigs that will allow people inside his head. Photo: Tele2

The Swedish Hollywood actor will strap a camera to his head, stream it live and allow viewers to interact with him this weekend.

Presented by Invest Stockholm
How Stockholm's cold climate boosts creativity
Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Do long, dark winters actually make Swedes more creative and more productive? We spoke to Stockholm startups to find out.

Sweden to keep record-low interest rate in 2017
Sweden's landmark negative interest rate will continue towards 2018. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The Swedish central bank said that it will take longer than expected to reach its inflation target.

Presented by Stockholm University
9 unexpected programmes at Stockholm University
Photo: Niklas Björling

Did you know Stockholm University offers 75 master's programmes taught in English? And some of them are programmes you won't find anywhere else...

Creepy clown messes with the wrong dog walker in Sweden
Not the clown in the story. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A dog helped its owner fight off a creepy clown chasing the pair in southern Sweden.

Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 26th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast
Is Game of Thrones coming to Sweden?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available