I am a big fan of sports, and summer is typically a slow time of the year for me in that respect. A dedicated follower of baseball would find that an unusual comment, but I don’t particularly care for (The Sport That Was Once) America’s Pastime. I like the playoffs and the World Series, and I end up watching an inning here and there as I flip channels, but with no significant level of attention.
In the past I have tried to manufacture interest in baseball by selecting a team to follow, but none of them held my interest for longer than a few weeks. I started with the Atlanta Braves, moved on to the Boston Red Sox, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the San Diego Padres, and most recently the Washington Nationals. I had specific reasoning for each team, and I tried each one out for at least a year or two, but my interest in Major League Baseball has never existed beyond June of any season. [For the record, the Padres are the closest of any on that list to holding the personal magical status of My Team.]
However, I finally made a breakthrough this late spring sports season, and this summer promises to be just as “sport saturated” as the rest of the year. Not with baseball, which is still impenetrable to me, but with the Beautiful Game, the world’s most popular team sport. I have rediscovered my love of soccer.
I should say I never really lost interest in soccer, although it is typically overshadowed by (American) football and basketball during the fall/winter. By the time summer rolls around there is so much going on that I forget about it, for the most part.
I think this year is different because I am still feeling the aftereffects of a World Cup year in 2006. This is the most likely explanation, as my World Cup fever fuelled an active interest in the UEFA Champions Cup, which carried my attention over to the beginning of the Real Salt Lake season. I have been riding several waves of soccer interest.
All of that momentum would probably have died between the horrifying start to the RSL campaign (they are currently 1-5-6, with their only win since sometime around September 2006 coming just a few days ago) and the Utah Jazz making a surprisingly deep run in the NBA playoffs. Fortunately for me, I remembered to look up the Swedish league, with my favorite team, Hammarby IF.
I went looking for a Swedish league team to follow about four years ago, on the same basic impulse that led me to choose five different MLB teams. I used a quasi-scientific process of elimination that took me the better part of a Saturday afternoon. I looked up records and statistics, I read fan websites, I checked out kits (jerseys, for you Americans), and I studied rosters. I even researched primary sponsors to see which ones I would feel comfortable in supporting. To some people this probably sounds like a tremendous waste of time.
The Swedish soccer league system is performance based, similar to the Premier League in England. This means that after every season the teams with the two worst records are sent down to the second tier league. Accordingly, the teams with the two best records in the second tier league get a shot to play in the top league. I think it works well, but it does mean that your favorite team may find itself in a lesser league for a year or two (or ten, sometimes). It also meant that I had to study up on about 25 teams instead of just the 16 that were currently playing in the highest league.
I am tempted to go through all the teams and try to reconstruct what I thought about them, but that would take a while and be very boring. The short version is that I made a big list, crossed some off because I didn’t like the city or name of the club, crossed others off because of their history, and even crossed a few off because I didn’t like their kits. It came down to a few choices, and after much deliberation I selected Hammarby IF as My Official Team in the Swedish league. I’m sure the good people at the Hammarby organization were happy to hear it.
Anyway, Hammarby – “Bajen” is the common abbreviation – is in the top tier (the Allsvenskan) this year and running in the middle of the pack. They won the whole thing for the first time in 2001 and were runner up in 2003, so there is a good tradition building. They were most recently in the second tier (the Superettan) in 1998, but have been stable in the Allsvenskan since their return.
Bajen is one of a few teams in the Stockholm area, and their most recent league match was a 2-0 victory last Tuesday (June 19th) against cross-town rivals Djurgården. They won a UEFA Cup qualifier the following Saturday, which is great for the team, but doesn’t count in the Allsvenskan standings.
I haven’t been able to figure out how to actually watch the games yet, but I am able to see constantly updated reporting on the internet during matches. My best bet might be to move us to Stockholm, although I may have some difficulty convincing my wife. I’m still trying to get her to agree to let me sign up for Fox Soccer Channel.