Triumph and Despair at Söderstadion

The last two days have been exciting for fans of the Swedish league team Hammarby IF. I proclaimed my own allegiance to “Bajen” (the common abbreviation) a few days ago in a post on this blog, along with a short description of the quasi-scientific selection process I undertook to narrow my choices down.

I know some sports aficionados would claim one can’t just pick a team to follow and be considered a true fan, but I disagree. As such, my allegiance is not borne of an accident of proximity, or because an older, respected family member steered me in that direction when I was a child. It came as a reasoned choice, made in my adult years. That has to count for something, right? Even though “reasonable” and “adult” are words seldom associated with sports fanaticism?

Anyway, Hammarby had a match against IFK Göteborg yesterday (June 27th), which took place in Söderstadion (a home match for Bajen). The season is only half over and both teams are running in the middle of the pack, so it was not exactly a must-win situation. However, every match is hotly contested in the Allsvenskan, and a contending club cannot allow a spirit of complacency to set in.

I do not have access to Swedish television here (of course), but I was able to view constantly updated reports and statistics through Svenskfotboll.se. Following a match in that fashion is anti-climactic at best, especially considering they take place in the evening in Sweden, which means early afternoon here. This inconveniently falls when I am at work, so I really only have time to quickly click on/click off and check the score.

It was all Hammarby in the first half. My score check at the nine-minute mark revealed that Sebastian Eguren (probably the best midfielder in the Allsvenskan, by the way) had already put Bajen up 1-0. By halftime, Louay Chanko and Erkan Zengin had scored as well, giving the home team a 3-0 lead. I was going crazy.

[Which reminds me – I would like to apologize to those who received a capitalized and heavily punctuated e-mail or instant message from me. I got a little caught up in the moment. Thank you.]

The second half belonged to Göteborg. They scored a quick goal five minutes in, but couldn’t convert any of their other chances. Bajen’s keeper, Richard Kingson, was tremendous in the second half and made up for a somewhat shaky defense. The final score was 3-1 in favor of Hammarby.

Perhaps best of all, the victory gave them 18 points on the season, which is good enough for third place in the Allsvenskan standings. Their next league match is on July 4th at Helsingborgs IF, although on Saturday they play a team from the Faeroe Islands – Klaksvik – in a UEFA Cup qualifier.

That was the “triumph” part. The “despair” part came today, when it was announced that Richard Kingson would not be returning for the rest of the season. Kingson was signed to a short-term contract at the start of the season as a substitute for starting keeper Erland Hellström, who was rehabilitating an ACL injury.

Kingson was intended to be a decent, experienced keeper. Someone who could fill in and not make too many mistakes until the number one guy was back. Instead he was tremendous in the net, and Hammarby has allowed the fewest goals (8) of any team in the Allsvenskan this season.

Hammarby was interested in lengthening Kingson’s contract, but he wanted more money than the team was willing to spend. Fortunately, Hellström is now ready to go, so the logical conclusion is for Kingson to move on and try his luck elsewhere. I have never watched any of them play (beyond five-minute highlight videos from the Internet), so I am not exactly qualified to break down the keeper vs. keeper debate. First-year coach Tony Gustavsson seemed satisfied that there would be no slack in the transition, saying: “Vi vet att Erland är en mycket bra målvakt.” But would he really say anything different in that situation? I just hope Hellström knees are healthy enough to keep the defensive momentum going.

In hindsight, I guess “despair” is a bit too strong a word for that situation, and “triumph” probably exaggerates the importance of a mid-season win. Even a fantastic win over a decent opponent. But hyperbole is the mark of a true fan, right?

We’re the ones in green

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