Only one of five cities to host a World Cup final, the Olympics and the Euros, the Swedish capital of Stockholm is home to the national stadium and the most enduring cross-city rivalry in the domestic game.
Opened in 2012 when Zlatan Ibrahimović scored all four for Sweden against England, including a spectacular 35-metre bicycle kick, the Friends Arena replaced the nearby Råsunda Stadium, where another famous goal, by a 17-year-old Pelé, helped defeat the host nation at the 1958 World Cup Final.
Built in 1937 to replace 1912 Olympic football venue Råsunda Idrottsplats, the traditional old ground welcomed England as guests for its first international and Brazil for its last, in 2012.
In between, like the Friends Arena today, the Råsunda had a permanent tenant: AIK. The first Stockholm club to be crowned national champions, the Allmånna Idrottsklubben (‘General Athletics Club’) quickly formed a rivalry with Djurgården. Each was founded as a multi-sport association in 1891 and created football teams later that decade. Each has since won 11 titles.
While Djurgården fans, the Järnkaminerna (‘The Iron Stoves’), like to play up their working-class credentials, the club was created at an address every bit as smart as AIK’s on the mainland. The Behrings brothers gathered their mates at their mum’s house at Biblioteksgatan 8 in Norrmalm to form AIK. The house where Djurgården’s founders met stands at what is now Djurgårdsvägen 124, near the Italian embassy and major museums, including ABBA’s. The island of Djurgården (‘Deer Park’) was once royal hunting grounds.
The location of the Friends Arena, and site of the former Råsunda, is suburban Solna, part of Greater Stockholm and north of the centre.
Djurgården traditionally draw their support from Östermalm and the eastern parts of the city, AIK and their Black Army from Solna and north-western Stockholm.
AIK and Djurgården clash in the Tvillingderbyt, the Twin Derby. In the modern era, social and geographical lines have become blurred yet derby day is still a fiery affair, with a heavy police presence all over the city. Malmö may have long surpassed these venerable clubs for silverware, Gothenburg may be the cradle of Swedish football and claim 35 league crowns since 1896 – only 23 have gone to the capital – but Stockholm has the prestige.
AIK’s venerable heritage and royal connections made them the most hated club outside the capital.
During the 75 years that AIK played at the Råsunda, Djurgården were based at the Stockholms Stadion, an ivy-clad museum piece built to stage the Olympic Games of 1912. Unlike the Råsunda, ‘Stadion’ remains in place – in fact, the Djurgården office is still in the chiming, castle-like clock tower, Klocktornet.
The team moved to the new-build Tele2 Arena in 2013. Whereas the Djurgården heartland – and Stadion – are in densely populated Östermalm, this 30,000-capacity multipurpose venue centrepieces the contemporary business and leisure quarter of Stockholm Globe City in Johanneshov, across the water from Södermalm.
Once working-class and now sought-after bohemian, the island of Södermalm is the spiritual home of Stockholm’s third club, Hammarby, who now groundshare the Tele2 Arena with Djurgården.
Far and away the best supported club in Sweden – with a 2016 average 5,000 above Malmö, eventual champions ten league places higher – Hammarby have a fan culture unlike anything else in Scandinavia. Even when removed from their long-term home of the Söderstadion, on the site of the Johannovs Idrottsplats, the Hammarby ultras – aka Bajen – simply carried on marching further south, in one mass, communal, pre-match, green-and-white unit, a little further south, to the Tele2 Arena.
The starting point of the march is also significant: the street of Katarina Bangata, where 1950s cult hero Lennart ‘Nacka’ Skoglund has his statue, round the corner from Greta Garbo’s likeness on the street where she grew up, Blekingegatan.
One of several Swedish stars exported to Serie A in the 1950s, Nacka Skoglund was the George Best of his day, a mercurial winger who married a beauty queen and soaked himself in booze. He died a lonely cult hero at 45.
While Hammarby have been the least successful of Stockholm’s key trio, the role of underdog part of their charm, lesser clubs, Brommapojkarna have also reached the top-flight Allsvenskan in recent seasons – and, in 2014, Europe, thanks to their Fair Play record. Representing the green, residential community of Bromma west of the city centre, ‘BP’ are best known for having one of the best youth academies in Sweden, and the largest number of players, some 3,000 in nearly 250 teams, in Europe. Home ground is the 5,500-capacity, recently renovated Grimsta IP in Vällingby, at Gulddragargränd 100, a 15min walk from Hässelby Gård T-bana station on green line Nos.17, 18 and 19.
Stockholm’s main international airport, Arlanda, is 42km (26 miles) north of town. The Arlanda Express train (280Skr, 540Skr return, every 15mins) runs to Central Station in 20mins. Advance sales online allow you to buy a single for as little as Skr154. Trains depart from Arlanda South (terminals 2-4) and call at Arlanda North (terminal 5).
The cheaper Flygbussarna (every 10-15min, Skr119 single/Skr 99 online, Skr 215 return/Skr 198 online) also terminates at Central Station, journey time 45min. Buy tickets online, from machines at stops by each terminal. On board, it’s credit-card payment only.
The Swebus is similar in price, frequency, journey time and payment procedure.
Taxi Stockholm (+46 8 15 00 00) has a pre-booking airport service and a fixed price into town – around Skr630 depending on your destination.
Bromma Airport is close to town 7.5km (4.5 miles) away and is mainly used for domestic flights plus, currently, Brussels. A Flygbussarna bus (every 20min, Skr85 single/Skr75 online, Skr 155 return/Skr150 online) takes 20min to reach Central Station.
Flygbussarna also serves the two distant airports mainly used by Ryanair, each 100km (62 miles) from Stockholm: Skavsta, near Nyköping; and Västerås. Online tickets are 139Skr single, Skr278 return, journey time 80min. A taxi should cost at least 1,400Skr, journey time 70mins.
Stockholm Central is the main train station, nearby T-Centralen the transport hub. Stockholm city transport consists of buses, a three-coloured seven-line metro (Tunnelbana, indicated with a T), commuter rail, regional and light rail and tramlines. You’ll need the T-bana or local rail, or a taxi, for both main stadiums.
An SL smartcard is Skr20, which you charge up to access station barriers and touch in on buses. Minimum credit is Skr100, each journey costs Skr30. A single journey without an SL card is Skr43. There are also travelcards for one day (Skr120) and three days (Skr240).
The Friends Arena has its own hotel, the Quality Hotel Friends, with its own gym, sauna and restaurant. For major events, such as the Europa League final in 2017, rooms are quickly booked out.
Within easy reach of the Friends Arena 2km away and Solna station, and right by Solna T-bana, the business-friendly Park Inn by Radisson Solna. Again, all 256 rooms and suites will be occupied on big match nights. Also close to the T-bana is the comfortable 2Home apartment hotel, with a sauna, kitchen and 90 modern studios.
One stop up from Solna on the commuter line at Ulriksdals, are the gym- and jacuzzi-equipped Scandic Järva Krog and the more affordable chain ibis Styles Stockholm Jarva, both on Vallgatan the other side of the rail tracks from the stadium, a 20-minute walk or 100Skr taxi ride away.
Convenient for the Tele2 Arena about 1km away, the Clarion Hotel Stockholm offers a bar, spa and restaurant, as well as 500-plus mid-range rooms. Also in Södermalm, the Scandic Malmen has an in-house barbers and hires out bikes for the leafy surroundings.
In Stockholm city centre, among the plethora of bland chains, the family-run First Hotel Norrtull was built as a booze warehouse in the 1920s and now offers affordable guestrooms next door to the stop for the airport bus. Alongside, the mid-range Elite Palace features the Bishops Arms pub, a spa and gym.
Sport-friendly spots in Stockholm are mainly based on the model established by US-style chains or on the local variety of pub, more upscale and restaurant-like than your corner local.
With 20-plus branches in Stockholm, including two in Arlanda Airport alone, O’Learys has long established itself as the classic after-work place, offering superior burgers and European beers – as elsewhere, though, you’re looking at a bill of 500Skr for a meal and drinks for two.
The other sports-bar-and-burgers chain is Retro, with city-centre branches on Sveavägen, one the Retro Vasastan, the other Retro The Crib. Given the predominance of O’Learys, Retro tries to price itself lower to lure in punters.
Also in the bar hub where Sveavägen crosses Odengatan, the Flying Horse puts the focus on TV sport and its 100-plus beers, including 16 on draught. Scores of single malts, too. Nearby Bryggeriet is another popular sports bar showing Europe’s main leagues, including the Premier.
There are more pub-like bars around Södermalm, near Medborgarplatsen T-bana station, such as Big Ben, football-friendly Brother Tuck, the Bishop’s Arms, also with several branches in town, and the Charles Dickens. More Eastern European in flavour, the Prague-themed Krogen Soldaten Svejk has seven Czech beers on tap. By Hötorget T-bana, The Dubliner is a long-established, Irish-owned pub with TV sport, regular live music and happy hours on weekday afternoons.
Closer to Skanstull T-bana, Polhem Söder is a classic local pub/eaterie with screens a-plenty.
Over in Östermalm, the Tudor Arms was the first of its kind when it opened in 1969, a Brit-style hostelry whose origins link to a language school on the Isle of Wight. As well as providing pints of Guinness, Strongbow and Newcastle Brown, lunch specials, steaks and TV football, the place also runs its own pub first XI.