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'The Swedish hooligan disease' - a case of footballing déjà vu

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'The Swedish hooligan disease' - a case of footballing déjà vu
11:54 CEST+02:00
As Swedish football reacts to the latest of a string of hooligan incidents in recent weeks, The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson looks back at the case of the “drunk Dane” who attacked the referee in a Euro 2008 qualifier and wonders if any lessons have been learnt.

The local derby between Malmö and Helsingborg was abandoned on Tuesday night after a pyrotechnic injured the away team goalkeeper and a teenage Malmö FF supporter invaded the pitch.

The incident is the latest in a string of hooligan incidents at Swedish football grounds in recent weeks and has been met with the usual outbursts of dismay by the footballing establishment and pundits, and condemnation from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

While the cries of “punish the individual not the club” and expressions of incredulity that "it has happened again" continue to do the rounds of the media, the political and football powers that be continue their finger-pointing and buck-passing that only serves to alienate more and more genuine fans from the game.

Four years ago almost to the day “fylledansken” (the drunk Dane) became a household name when he ran on to the pitch at Copenhagen's Parken stadium and attacked the referee during a Euro 2008 qualifier between Denmark and Sweden in June 2007.

The match was also the first time that my then 6-year-old daughter and I had really watched a game together.

When I say watched, I mean screamed, hollered and jumped up and down in excitement as Sweden first raced into a three goal lead and then the Danes clawed their way back into a gripping contest.

In the dying moments referee Herbert Fandel awarded a penalty to Sweden after Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen had punched Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg in the stomach.

Then in came “fylledansken” to put a final stop to a spectacle of the best kind, the kind of game that gets remembered for all the right reasons. The kind of gladiatorial contest that makes 6-year-old kids ask - when is the next game Dad?

The penalty was never taken and the match was subsequently abandoned with UEFA eventually awarding Sweden the match 3-0.

Instead of turning one budding football fan into an wide-eyed admirer of a sport which is often rightly dubbed “the beautiful game”, it left only a sour taste and my daughter wondering what to make of it all with her father unable to satisfactorily explain.

“Fylledansken” became the object of a witchhunt in the Danish media and he was eventually sentenced to 20 days in prison and fined almost a million Danish kronor for his night of madness.

He protested in return that he had a low income and no chance of paying the fine, citing in his defence that “no one tried to stop me”.

Furthermore, as it turned out, “fylledansken” neither knew why he had ran onto to the pitch that June evening, he could hardly remember ever having been at the game.

Yes, hooliganism is a societal problem -- well it is a male societal problem.

And yes, drunkenness is a societal problem.

And yes, this type of behaviour is a common feature of the nightlife in Swedish towns and cities - the country is no different from any other European nation in this respect.

But regardless of who is to blame - the alcohol, the individual, the clubs, the security staff who don't perform their job - it is very much a football problem, and one that only the football community is able to adequately address.

As The Local's own Geoff Mortimore highlighted recently, there are parallels to the situation in England in the 1980s -- a point which has been made by several observers.

When English football experienced its darkest hour in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in 1985, costing the lives of 38 people, similar discussions took place - the stadium was old and ill-equipped, there were only a relatively small number of individuals involved...

But a watershed was reached that mid-eighties May and with the time for excuses exhausted, stringent reforms were introduced which ultimately all but eradicated the curse of hooliganism from English stadiums, if not the broader UK society.

Families duly returned and real football fans could be left to enjoy the game in a secure environment free from the risk of being attacked, and from having to explain to their young offspring why we weren't able to see the end of the game.

Do 38 people need to die before the clubs, the Swedish football authorities, and those in political power adopt concrete measures to begin to stamp out what was once widely known as “the English disease”, but that has clearly found itself a welcoming new patient?

Separately, Malmö's new manager Rikard Norling woke up on Thursday to the news that, with barely disguised menace, “fans” at his former club Stockholm-based AIK, do not “approve” of his decision to take the reins of a rival club.

And so it continues...

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