A wall of scarves covered the entire northern section of Stockholm’s Söderstadion. I immediately understood that I was going to participate in a very special match. This was not your normal Sunday afternoon match. This was the final match that Hammarby IF would play in Söderstadion.
The stadium is being retired and Hammarby is moving into the newly constructed Tele2 arena. Stockholm is entering the world of “modern football.” Where stadiums are filled with restaurants & bars, and built next to adjacent shopping centers. But there is no “modern football” in Söderstadion. It’s an English style stadium built in 1966 with a capacity of 13,000. When you attend a match you are completely exposed to the elements. Be it rain, wind, or snow. There are no bars, no lounges, and no luxury boxes to retreat to. And yet for all it’s outdated simplicity Söderstadion plays host to one of the best football atmospheres that Stockholm has to offer.
The fans that have made Söderstadion their home are some of Stockholm’s most passionate. And on any given match day they will put on a show that beats most other teams in Sweden. Then again this wasn’t just going to be just another match day. This was one final opportunity to show what this arena means to a generation of fans. One final opportunity to show people that this is Söderstadion.
Completely sold out, excitement and tension were definitely in the air. As the players prepared to make their entrance onto the pitch the entire length of the northern section was covered in a huge banner that read “Söderstadion” with the Hammarby logo flanking it on both sides. Within a few minutes the top layer of this gigantic banner was carefully peeled away exposing a second banner underneath. This time with the likeness of Söderstadion painted in the middle and surrounded by some of the players that left their mark in the arena. And when that final banner came down there were just the fans, screaming and ready for one final 90 minutes.
The match got underway and sound was deafening. It took all of 5 minutes and the visitors took the lead. I sat on the short side with Hammarby attacking towards me. They had just had an chance on goal. I was looking on the back of my camera at images and sound in the area changed drastically. I brought the camera to my eye just in time to see the visitors celebrating on the other end of the pitch. It seems this final match was not going come easy.
The first half progressed and the home side seemed to have the bulk of the opportunities, but they could not seem to conclude their chances and bring the match back on level terms. The fans however would not be shaken continuing their signing and chanting undeterred. Then the half closed and as the second half was about to get underway the flares came out. The referee attempted to wait the flares out before kicking off the second half, in vain perhaps. Flares would be a recurring element of the second half.
The second half progressed, the home team had their chances but so did the visitors. I began to wonder if this final match would close out in a loss. A final reflection of these last couple of years where Hammarby has found itself lingering in the second division. Unable to return to the top flight where the fans in this sold out arena felt they belonged.
Then in the 85th minute Hammarby’s number 10 did what a good number 10 should do and brought the match back on level terms. The party, it seems, would not be ruined. With 5 more minutes to play Hammarby continued to push forward. Two minutes of recovery time were added. There were chances created, and even appeals for a penalty but the referee was not having it. Blowing his whistle and retreating into his dressing room. Refusing to look any players in face with that smug air of entitlement that only a football referee can convey.
And so it was that the final match at Söderstadion, played between Hammarby IF and Ängelholms FF ended with a draw of 1-1. The final goal scored by Hammarby’s number 10 and captain Kennedy Bakircioglü. While it wasn’t a victory the fans can at least take some consolation in having the last goal ever scored at Söderstadion.
This coming Sunday I will be back in Stockholm Stadion and photographing Djurgården’s final match in the arena, they too are moving into Tele2 Arena. After yesterday’s display I can say that Djurgården’s supporters have their work cut out for them.
These images and more available via Pic-Agency.