I’ve never been to a live volleyball match before, so was not quite sure what to expect. Despite my lack of knowledge, I must have done something right as the men in suits at LVC, Linköping Volleyball Club, ushered me into the press box at Linköping’s Sport Hall and handed me match stats covering height and reach. I sat next to the other sports hacks but was too afraid to ask about the scoring system or why the ‘Libero’ was wearing a different colour shirt.
These are things you are supposed to know when you enter the world of the sports journalist, but my interest in LVC was much more trivial. I should have been bubbling with excitement that my local team was on the verge of claiming the Swedish championship, lifting the golden cup high and projecting Linköping closer to becoming the ‘sports city’ that the local politicians blow such a lot of hot air about.
But I was here, partly because LVC, according to Aftonbladet, has the tallest volleyball team in the world with an average height of 203.84cm and partly because much of the height and talent that has propelled LVC to the national final comes from Down Under.
Under the experienced Australian coach, Andrew Strugnell, Linköping has managed to build a team made up of young Swedish and Australian talent. Currently, the elite men’s squad boasts five Australians including the man mountain Tom Edgar whose 211cm height boosts the average of the team considerably. His build is enormous and he wouldn’t look out place playing second row in a rugby scrum and he is known to fans as ‘The Spiking King’, due to the sheer power of his unstoppable spike.
As the crowd stood for national anthem ‘Du Gamla, Du Fria’ warbled out by a local singer, I couldn’t help but think a round of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ would have been more appropriate.
The atmosphere at the match was fantastic. LVC fans in fine voice were almost matched by the away supporters from Falkenberg. This was the fifth match in a best of five competition and the educated opinion was that Linköping had thrown away the dominance that they had in the first two games by allowing Falkenberg an easy win in the fourth semi final. Tonight’s final was anybody’s game.
The first set was a close run thing, with Falkenberg scraping a 25-23 win. Things went from bad to worse in the second set, with LVC losing 25-15. Where was the Spiking King when he was needed?
But then something happened, the crowd turned it up a notch, and the team made a couple of adjustments and suddenly Linköping were turning the game around. As each point was announced the names of the scorers were more often than not Australian rather than Swedish: Jasper Boyschau, Aidan Zingel and the Spiking King himself, Tom Edgar. Sets three and four went Linköping’s way, 25-22 and 25-17.
Between each set the commentator introduced the local cheerleading team ‘Linköping Lightning Cheerleaders’. With the Swedish accent it came out as ‘shearleaders’ and I’m still not sure if this subtle reference to sheep shearing was deliberate or not.
The final set was nailbiting stuff. Over the PA system the commentator switched to English. ‘Keep the momentum, guys, keep the momentum’. LVC kept the momentum until they had a six point lead and needed just two points to win the match and then Falkenberg had a late surge, claiming a run of points that brought them to within spitting distance of LVC’s lead.
LVC needed a final play to finish off the resurgent Falkenberg, when Jasper Boyschau launched himself skyward to smash an unreturnable shot into the Falkenberg court.
The Local has already adopted Långholmen FC as their official football team, and after this exhilarating match, may I suggest that if you want to get behind a volleyball team (with a full trophy cabinet) then you could do worse than supporting the Wallabies of Östergötland, LVC.
In the press box, my fellow sports hacks began phoning in their match reports to reach the online editions. Champagne was being sprayed and golden caps donned. I ran down to the court to shake the massive hand of Tom Edgar, the boy from Down under who was on top of the world. Long Live the Spiking King!
Ben Kersley is a writer and performer based in Linköping. He is also Sweden’s only Svengelska stand up comedian. Read his blog ‘110% Lagom’ on The Local.