If The Kids Are United

1.FSV Mainz 05 v FC Ingolstadt 04
Saturday, 15th August 2015, 3.30pm
Coface Arena
Entrance €13.50, Programme (sadly not found)
Distance 237 miles, Attendance 27152
As the referee blew for the interval, fans about me twitched involuntarily as nervous delirium coursed through their veins. Bouncing about in unison, their gaze seemed totally detached from reality. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES… Forty-five minutes and still all square. How could this be? In hindsight, I imagine in the other stands Mainz’ fans were thinking something not too dissimilar…
An hour earlier – clearly hoping for little more than a great day out – those Schanzer I spoke with, were almost uncontrollable in their delight at actually seeing their club in Die Erste Liga. Naturally I endeavoured to dampen their tragically modern misconceptions of the superiority of any top flight football at all but – having none of it – repeatedly this was met with high-pitched squeals through exaggerated grins, “BUT IT’S THE BUNDERSLIGA!!!”
After an hour’s preparation in the away end – affixing banners, hoisting flags and organising terrace positions – the warm-ups gave way to (someone other than Gerry Marsden) singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and then, a very impressive three-part, full stand, eulogising tifo display from the Mainz ultras opposite us (something that was equally appreciated by die Gäste) as the teams entered the field.

150815 Bundesliga Mainz 05 v Ingolstadt 04 (30)   150815 Bundesliga Mainz 05 v Ingolstadt 04 (33)   150815 Bundesliga Mainz 05 v Ingolstadt 04 (39)

Suddenly, the Springsteen covers from our Robert-Elms-podcast drive down were blown from my ears as the nearby drummer thundered headlong through countless southern chants. Pre-match nerves gone, the Schanzer settled quickly into the pace of the new division. No longer were they overawed, either on or off the pitch. This was theirs to enjoy whatever the day may bring.
As the players tested respective defences, the first clear opening fell to the visitors as a low drive was rifled wide of the near post. With my view temporarily obscured by one neighbouring flag; whether it came from the foot of 10 (Pascal Groβ) or 16 (Lukas Hinterseer) I’ll probably never know. Still it was a sign; an indication that all things may well be possible.
Mainz countered with two free-kicks in quick succession, both of which flew over the intended target. Without any recognition of such good fortune, increasingly voluminous songs continued to flood the space about the away end. The drummer was now so close, I could hardly hear myself think. Fortunately such sense was unnecessary to appreciate – Ingolstadt captain – Marvin Matip’s spectacular interception on Jairo Samperio, who was tearing down the left.
Whilst Matip’s was a leader’s performance throughout the afternoon – from kick-off to post match celebrations – the huge day for the visitors wasn’t going quite to plan up front. On the half hour, a stunning outside-of-the-boot strike swept past the target, closely followed by a free-kick, on an almost identical trajectory. This brought with it the bonus award of the first yellow card for the hosts who were having similar sight-setting issues, both with and without the ball.
Though the eventual halftime whistle was greeted with a rich blend of congratulatory noise and anxious giggles; honours were very much even on both the goal and card front. On the performance alone however, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim Ingolstadt had just edged the proceedings.
Underneath the stands, you could still taste the nervous anticipation in air. The enormity of the day was obvious but, was the game actually relevant in comparison? Did the score actually matter? It was hard to tell; the last time I’d seen such elated faces Anthony Knockaert had just missed a penalty, twice. Breathless visitors quenched their thirst whilst I pleasingly managed to reacquaint myself with The Scottish Schanzer (entertainingly they’re always about somewhere) and then in no time at all we were all back out there; the game rushing by at a hundred miles an hour.
This was a first. Savour the moment. Enjoy every bit of it… It was impossible.
In the weeks preceding – with national media rightfully pawing over romantic tales of phoenix-like Darmstadt regaining top flight status – it seemed Ingolstadt were allowed to slip in under the radar. Did that afford them better preparation? Maybe. Were they able to relax and play now; the pressure off? Probably not but, the end to end action of the second period gave away little as to which were the new kids on the block. What time did the all-important goal go in? Without double checking, I’m buggered if I know.
The half started with a brace of yellow cards as both sides pressed, desperate to seal the points. Mainz were rejuvenated; initially much the stronger side. On seven minutes, Die Nullfünfer had the ball in the net. It all seemed inevitable. The singing from the away end continued throughout the stadium’s jubilant eruption and also, through the subsequent complaints, as the linesman flagged for some aberration up the far end. Between the yellow cards, the disallowed goal was followed by a stunning save from Ramazan Özcan and, a quick substitution as Ingolstadt attempted to reverse the trend.
Elias Kachunga came on for Moritz Hartmann and five minutes later, Lukas Hinterseer ran down the left, cut inside, and curled the ball deftly round the keeper. Suddenly all the pent up adrenalin of a small corner of the Coface Arena burst its defences. Even the drummer, hindered by a halftime injury was dancing about again.
Twenty-four minutes were left on the clock. Twenty four long minutes for the little team – who’d scored against the run of play – to hold on. TWENTY-FOUR MINUTES of substitutions and reorganisations and tense close shaves at either end. The drum pounding beside me, mirroring the chants and heart-beats of those souls in the away end. Twenty-four minutes was an eternity hurtling past at the speed of light… Then, as it curtailed, another three minutes were added before an almighty explosion as pent-up relief collided with sheer disbelief. The united celebration of the few would be etched forever.
Back through the away entrance underpass, loud mantras rang out, as selfies captured the moment that little Ingolstadt won their very first ever Bundesliga match, at the very first attempt.
Final score: 1.FSV Mainz 05 0-1 FC Ingolstadt 04

150815 Bundesliga Mainz 05 v Ingolstadt 04 (40)   150815 Bundesliga Mainz 05 v Ingolstadt 04 (54)

In a totally honest appraisal of all that had gone before, later that night, one tweet read “Sehr müde, sehr glücklich, sehr dankbar. Gute Nacht”.
It was the kind of day that every sports fan would want for their team; an event to one day tell your grandchildren about. An “I WAS THERE WHEN” moment… A record breaking milestone worthy of undivided praise. So why then is this not universally perceived so in the Bundesrepublik?
As a new-comer to Germany, I survey this issue with an unbiased mind. Yes – like any fan – I have my own sporting prejudices but, try as I might, I cannot understand the serious disquiet over FC Ingolstadt. It’s truly beyond me.
In certainly no reflection on their own club but, witnessing the reaction from two St Pauli supporters in their initial meeting with four of my Bavarian friends last Christmas, wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Here they all were, six Germans, all in London to watch football. When it was established two were pro-Bayern and two Schanzer. The latter received little more than curt response. At the time I didn’t probe but could see the resigned look across one of the victims faces.
Among others, after our arrival in Germany; when I first met a colleague of my wife – a passionate life-long Hamburg fan – his disbelief that his side might be replaced, in the top tier, by an upstart outfit almost had him foaming at the mouth.
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From a beautiful walled city on the banks of the Danube, FC Ingolstadt 04 are a young club, created by the merger of two other sides in 2004. Both of those clubs had also gone through numerous name changes and mergers in the past but; when ESV Ingolstadt were staring bankruptcy in the eyes, MTV Ingolstadt’s on-off affair with fußball paved the way for the merger. For ESV this meant total salvation (under a new name), for MTV it would be another five years before they’d reformed their own football department (not for the first time in their long history).
Initially playing out of MTV’s Stadion am Kreuztor; FC Ingolstadt 04, began life replacing MTV in level four of the German footballing pyramid. Their second string side took ESV’s sixth tier spot. When they outgrew that stadium, they moved temporarily to ESV’s Tuja Stadion (where the Schanzer’s youth sides still play) and now play in a purpose built, yet modest, 15000 capacity stadium on the outskirts of the city.
Initially crowds were predictably low for the new club – like practically every sporting merger in history, some hostility lingered though time has healed this wound within the city – but last season gates averaged just below 10000. Pre-2004 much of the footballing support went south to Munich – just a short car-drive away – but now local younger fans are finding belief in their own footballing home.
It eleven seasons of steady development; eight managers, three promotions and one relegation eventually lifted Ingolstadt into the Bundesliga, as champions of the second division. As this was only the second major trophy they’d won – the first being the level four, 2006 Bayernliga championship – clearly they’ve not crushed all in their wake.
With the Illuminati being too cloak and dagger, in 2006 one of the four major local employers – Audi AG – became a main club sponsor (with approximately a 20% holding) and financial backers to the tune of about €8million per year. This may seem formidable but in the Bundesliga 2, last season, two-thirds of the clubs had far greater financial muscle.
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In footballing terms all this seems a fairly unremarkable story.
Though the club also plays at Audi-Sportpark one could easily argue that the association of a local employer is far more preferential, for supporters, than the numerous multi-million pound backers of premier league clubs from across the globe (see any number of “socially accepted” and “traditional” clubs like Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, etc…). In the Bundesliga this season, four other clubs have formerly benefited from Audi’s philanthropy, as has one from Bundesliga 2, and at least five massive clubs across Europe. Given Audi are so heavily involved in sport worldwide; if they weren’t also backing their local football club, one would assume there was a bigger debate to resolve than concern over a small club having a local employer as sponsor. Without doubt, there are far more unconnected sponsorship deals and naming rights within the Bundesliga than this one.
Avoiding any discriminate order of preference; reading through the Bundesliga club histories alphabetically, most have similar stories to tell to that of Ingolstadt.
As a starting point for future debate, FC Augsburg came from a merger between cash-strapped rivals TSV Schwaben and BC Augsburg in the 1940s which was dominated by total distrust between the two parties. Bayer 04 Leverkusen were created from within, and now sponsored almost solely by, the major local employer – Bayer Pharmaceuticals – over one hundred years before Ingolstadt and Audi joined forces. Before Bayern bought out the joint owners (1860 München) of their locally sponsored and built Allianz Arena, corruption scandals filled courtrooms and ultras complained of the new-build being “fan unfreundlich”. Though having the unbelievable fantastic Südtribüne, Dortmund have given up naming rights to the enormous Westfalen Stadion to a mobile company (even though you can’t a signal inside) and have had periods of their history littered with financial troubles. FC Borussia (of Mönchengladbach) spent a few seasons as 1899 VfTuR Mönchengladbach when they unsuccessfully merged with Turnverein Germania 1889 and, in the late 40s rose three promotions to the top tier, in almost half the time that Ingolstadt would. The Kickers and Viktoria of 1899 Frankfurt would begin Eintract’s accent to stardom, before they teamed up with the local gymnasts and then left them again in 1927.
Though not having an easy ride at the moment, the massive Hamburger Sport Verein comes from the merger of the Hofenfelder and Marienthaler sportclubs, who then merged with Hamburger FC and FC Falke Eppendorf when all three clubs were severely destabilised by the outbreak of the First World War. Hannover initially tried their luck with athletics and rugby before changing codes and engulfing at least five other club names in their evolution. After beating Southend United, working class BFC Hertha 92 merged with the Berliner Sport Club for extra financial clout, and then had to suffer Hans Pfeifer sticking his oar in. Hoffenheim took just six seasons to rise from eighth division obscurity to the fifth tier in the 1990s, before software billionaire – Dietmar Hopp – returned to his roots, saw a three team “FC Heidelberg 06” merger plan fall through when the other two kicked up a stink, and built a €100million stadium the year before his side were promoted to the Bundesliga. For half that price 1.FC Köln built a stadium which has been renamed more times than New York, after the club was set up by disgruntled gymnasts who then merged their team – Kölner BC – with Spielvereinigung 1907 Köln-Sülz.
1.FC Mainz 05 too merged and rebranded themselves, before doing it all again after World War II and then, more recently getting a swanky new stadium outside of town. Putting SV Darmstadt 98’s two mergers to one side, their club has been plagued with financial concerns throughout its history but still has risen phoenix-like in the past five years. They have a fantastic youth set up but, Schalke’s stadium is named after a brewery located 100km away and shirts are sponsored by Gazprom which lead to fans urging their club to distance themselves from the Vladimir Putin last year. Mergers, lack of foresight and debt crisis have periodically afforded Stuttgart a rollercoaster life, rebranding and disbanding affected Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg have undoubtedly benefitted from the world’s best-selling car.

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This is only a snapshot of course but, what does all this prove? Absolutely nothing more than if you scratch the surface, hidden in the tomes of every single club history will be periods of unrest or local business assistance and intervention. They’ll be moments of instability and financial recovery, kit changes, new stadia, rebranding, sponsorship naming rights and new badges designs, and all these will have caused disagreements both within the club and/or the community. So who is in the right?
When you stand in with the Ingolstadt supporters, the most striking aspect – naturally three Scotsmen aside – is the utter youthfulness of those about you. In most football clubs, the average must be somewhere between forty and fifty. At Ingolstadt… you could probably knock fifteen years off that. When Liverpool were ruling Europe, practically the entire Schanzer weren’t even born. They are – and truly I mean no insult in this – just kids in comparison. They’re still learning how to survive in this footballing universe. Yes, yes, some ESV and MTV fans will have migrated to FCI but – whilst the older city population probably forged strong footballing allegiances to the north, south and west – these united younger fans are being born into a new world, right on their own doorsteps.
Other fans can look at them with misguided prejudicial bile but it wouldn’t be deserved. Unless someone can offer me further evidence I’d suggest it’s probably only out of envy. As fans, we should try to understand our own club histories and shortcomings before criticising others. Maybe then we’d realise that one of us are perfect.
Whatever way you look at their case, FC Ingolstadt’s only crime appears to be being young, enjoying some success and of course, running out the ACDC’s Thunderstruck.

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Got, Not Got

There’s clearly a very fine line between cunning and stupidity, and I am afflicted both.
Luring my wife towards holiday destinations where summer leagues play would, one could suggest, classifies as a wily streak at its most admirable. Fortunately she took the bait.  Not checking first for the local league schedules or the timing of its summer break… hmmm. It all happened so fast there just wasn’t time.
Having endlessly checked and double checked with almost every member of the Gotlands Fotbollförbund; as our plane took off for Stockholm there was little I could do to rectify the problem. As incredible as it sounds, there really was no sport being played on the island for our entire stay. At this juncture, all one do, is to try to consider how to make the most of a rather tawdry situation.
Hastily weighing up a green v yellow options, the Gotland blow was softened with AIK tickets for the initial weekend in Sweden’s capital; a four day stay in Abbaland en route to our island hideaway. More of that another time. As the three-seat wide prop-driven aircraft touched down in Visby, a lightness and laidback calm swept us into a serenity where football was pushed partially from our minds.
For all its strategic importance and conflict influenced past – every single neighbour appears to have invaded this place, at least once – Gotland is truly delightful. Sitting at the heart of the Baltic Sea, Swedish military bases remain though have little more than an innocuous presence. There’s just a welcoming charm; a rugged beauty, that Brits may only have witnessed in places like Skye or Cornwall.
A still independent nation in Gutes’ minds, locals have their own language – Gutnish – which even mainlanders struggle to adapt to. Like most local dialects however it’s gradually being fused with its more dominant sibling; Swedish. Let’s not pretend this will make life easier for ignorant visitors (me); Scandinavian vernaculars are a mystery that without total immersion its unlikely foreigners will ever truly master. Wonderfully attuned to the issue, almost every Gotlander(?) speaks faultless English and they’re thankfully not afraid to use it.
I was expecting an abundance of seafood but, for an island nation, the meal table seems heavy reliant on agriculture and livestock. As local industries go, farming is only dominated by concrete production and a very short tourist season. Second homes abound and Scandinavians flock to them for the summer – when sunlight fills nearly 20 hours a day – although the weather changes are swift even then. It should be noted that there is an almost continual pleasant cloud cover, which sits above the island’s centre, adding incredible dimension to what is already a photographer’s paradise.
Delightful rock formations and pretty fishing huts line the coast, which are home to both quiet beaches and bountiful wildlife. To the north a hardier sort dwells; the south has an impression of more lush pastures. Historic landmarks proliferate throughout, though churches are probably best navigational aid for strangers. Covering enough bases for its magnitude, the island is famous for physics pioneer Christopher Polhem, NHL Calgary Flames’ Håkan Loob and – no relation to THAT Ingrid – Ingmar Bergman, a filmmaker who could give Henry VIII a run for his money in the marital stakes.
Ensuring my marital harmony stayed intact, I had determined to make no extra-curricular trips to search out the islands stadia which lurk within discreet towns and fields and are, somewhat impossible at times to pinpoint. Thus at every port of call – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner – I’d surreptitiously gaze at maps or seek local knowledge… not always with great success.
“We play a game here, where you throw stones a sticks.” one waitress proudly exclaimed, before briskly adding to my surprised expression in wonderful deadpan English through an excited grin “That’s probably doesn’t sound too exciting but we like it,”
Despite noticeable evidence to the contrary, the irrefutably beautiful Gotland is home to a multitude of wonderful sports clubs. As a starting point, this family holiday soon became my reconnaissance mission – a hint at the arenas I’ve got and not got to revisit – to aid both my return and maybe for those who will undoubtedly follow (and there’s a chance my wife didn’t even realise it was happening). I sincerely hope this all helps…
The Golden Rules
1. On google earth many pitches resemble fields.
2. Only those clubs I located are documented below.
3. Local football fixtures can be found here: http://gotland.svenskfotboll.se/matcher-idag/
4. Never drive past a sign reading “Idrottsplats” follow it. There is a sports ground nearby…
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Team: Fårösunds GOIK
Location: At the very top of the island, sits the most northerly port town of Fårösund. Once strategically important to some military types, it’s a pleasant 40min drive north up the 148 from the capital Visby. Just before entering the town of Fårösund, one passes the small village of Bunge with its landmark open-air museum on the right. No more than a kilometre further on, turn right onto Tretvägen. The ground will be on your right.
Ground: This was the one; the one Swedish team that deep down I wanted to see. Once our accommodation had been secured at Fårösunds Fästning – a stunningly interesting old coastal fortress redeveloped into a small yet homely hotel with incredible food, staff and service – my next task had been finding the town’s stadium. A proper four-sided stadium; barriers run true to the pitch on three sides yet curved behind the southerly goal. A swanky gated drive leads to the clubhouse on the west side; a wooden building containing all the refreshment facilities one’s heart desires and an analogue match-time-keeping clock facing the pitch. I’ve been reliably informed that they also serve spectators a mighty fine Fika at the terraced tea bar (if indeed it’s called that in Sweden). Through parking is freely available in all the neighbouring streets, to the north a small area of off-street parking is located on Tretvägen by the turnstiles. Inside the turnstiles team sheets from a previous game were tantalisingly locked away. Once in these gates, numerous changing rooms are on your right, whilst further up, a typically fine open wooden stand is located. This could seat 50-100 passionate locals. Whilst the stand was blue quite naturally, all the buildings are all painted traditional “Any Colour As Long As It’s Gotland Red”.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/FarosundsGOIK/
Nearby excellence: Blå Lagunen (swimming) is a truly wonderful spot, with a warm fresh water pool treasured by locals and tourists alike, Bungemuséet (museum) contains some fine examples of centuries old local architecture, technology and burial sites; guided talks are available. Rute Stenugnsbageri (food) is one of the greatest places to eat in the whole island; miss this at your peril.
Worth a visit: YES, YES, YES. The island’s top of the pops as far as I’m concerned.
Fårösunds GOIK (26) Fårösunds GOIK (22) Fårösunds GOIK (14) Fårösunds GOIK (8) Fårösunds GOIK (7) Fårösunds GOIK (4) Fårösunds GOIK (2) Fårösunds GOIK (1)
Team: FC Gute
Location: As befitting “the best team on the island” (the words of a rival coach) FC Gute have the most impressive facilities on Gotland. South-East of ancient Visby – the island’s stunningly picturesque capital – literally just outside this old city, is a large stadium. Drive up or down Kung Magnus Väg – sandwiched parallel between the medieval wall and the 140 – you can’t miss the floodlights at the home of the Gute.
Ground: It’s not a proper football ground – Gutavallen – it’s an athletics stadium, with a pitch marked out on the luscious turf therein. Changing rooms, clubhouse, and moulded plastic spectator seating arrangements are all located in the main stand; an impressive structure which of course sits along the home straight. Temporary steel framed, polycarbonate dugouts are placed against the grandstand front, just outside lane eight of the 100metre track. Though standing areas surround the advertising boarded-off track, there is no other terracing or stand. There appears to be a gate on the far side but, the main turnstiles are located on Kung Magnus Väg, beneath a stadium-named arch.
League status: Forth tier – (one of six regional) Division 2 – Södra Svealand
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/FCGute-Fotboll/
Nearby excellence: Just about every twist and turn in the walled city is steeped in history and picturesque views but, a few of the choice visits include; The Botanical Gardens, The Gotland Museum (well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time), Surfers (the most in demand eatery in town) and, The Black Sheep Arms (the only British pub in Gotland). Being a British tourist on this island is without doubt a real novelty; the Anglo-Swedish owners are fantastically welcoming offering a fine range of food and drink, thus this pub is special. A Forza Gute scarf hangs above their dartboard.
Worth a visit: Visby is a must so – while you’re there – if you like that big league kinda-stuff…
Footnote: I’ve heard it said that Visby AIK also ply their trade at Gutavallen but I found no evidence of this. Their site is http://www5.idrottonline.se/VisbyAIK-Fotboll/
FC Gute (1) FC Gute (3) FC Gute (4) FC Gute (5)
Team: Hemse BK
Location: When driving back from Burgsvik to Visby all I could think of was that every big town must have a team. Naturally in Gotland terms, “every big town” could mean twenty house, a church and both kinds of flock. Under the guise of “let’s try a different route; see more of the island”, Hemse was always my target. In the centre of town is one major junction, where the end of the 141 meets the 142. Take neither. Instead at the crossroads, head away from the 141, up Ronevägen. As the small urban sprawl gives way to fields, a petrol station is on the left. Opposite this, is a tree lined drive into a tiny car park with gated entrance and turnstiles at the far end.
Ground: Inside Sudavallen feels more like entering village common land than a football club but, once through the gate you’ll find two much-loved pitches (one grass without floodlights, one artificial with). On the immediate right a small area of Nordic pines was being manicured by locals restocking their precious woodpiles; on the left the large storage building and groundsman’s shed was adorned with a digital clock. The drive runs between the two up to the grey clubhouse with training pitch behind. Inside a large party could easily be catered for. The main (grass) pitch is segregated from the fans by a huge oval wooden fence that would once have ringed a running track. The area therein is now completely lawn. Made from local resources, rustic dugouts and stand sat opposite each other on the back and home straights respectively. Though nothing was in use on our visit, there were also impressive tennis facilities within the complex. Gotland Red was the again the colour of choice here.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/HemseBollklubb/
Nearby excellence: The coastal area of Ronehamn isn’t too far away.
Worth a visit: The town was a bit 1978 High Wycombe but, the club looks like the kind of place I could comfortably spend an afternoon or two.
Hemse BK (1) Hemse BK (9) Hemse BK (11) Hemse BK (8)
Team: IF Hansa-Hoburg
Location: Driving up from Burgsvik to Visby – as we headed for bangers and mash at The Black Sheep Arms – an extra ordinary site caught my eye to our right not 25 minutes out of town, between Grötlingbo and Harvdem. I was sure I’d seen an oversized football in a field… Suddenly an Idrottsplats sign flashed by too. We’d already passed another small roadside pitch (on the left) which I’d had no chance to stop for, and now can’t find; I wasn’t missing this one. A little too aggressively for family comfort, I hit the brakes, performed a perfect three point turn and turned down the identified rural track. Greeting us at the end was a vision of real beauty.
Ground: Hansavallen, may not carry the same prestige as Gutavallen in Visby, but it’s a damn sight more attractive venue.  Surrounded by lush treelines, the main gate sits on the 142. Behind it two huge stone footballs hand-painted in traditional black and white design. All the neat club buildings are of matching black design, accented in royal blue. There’s space for at least two pitches, a sandpit, and two tyre swings. Wooden benches and stepped grass banks surround the main pitch, whilst opposite the changing rooms are dugouts and analogue match clock. Get two teams in bright colours playing here and the colour contrast in the photos would be superb.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/IFHansa-Hoburg/
Nearby excellence: Burgsvik (see elsewhere on here), the bays and coastline around Grötlingboudd och Gansviken.
Worth a visit: Without doubt, yes. Fårösunds GOIK aside, this club now tops my Gotland Gotlist.
IF Hansa-Hoburg (1) IF Hansa-Hoburg (6) IF Hansa-Hoburg (10) IF Hansa-Hoburg (16)
Team: IFK Visby
Location: Just outside of Visby, south down the 140, equidistance between Vibble and Vasterhejde is this proper looking club. It sits by a car park on the coastal side of the main road. Suggesting it has links to the local education system, underneath the 140 a foot tunnel joins it to the Vasterhejde Skola opposite.
Ground: A fully fenced off ground (thankfully with the gate left unlocked). Grey rather than Gotland Red all timber buildings line the near touchline, with perfect turnstiles, changing rooms, storage, groundsman’s hovel and a small built-in stand on the back. Not the best pitch I’d seen but, at least it was being watered unlike some other high-profile cases.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/IFKVisby/
Nearby excellence: Visby the stunningly picturesque medieval capital of Gotland and all that resides in its walls (see FC Gute). Leva Kungslador a superb venue for lunch (the eat all you can buffet wins hands down). The resort I’d avoid but, Vattenland at Kneippbyn has some really great water slides where children and immature adults can be unruly.
Worth a visit: Naturally. What’s not to like?
IFK Visby (8) IFK Visby (4) IFK Visby (3) IFK Visby (1)
Team: P18 IK (and IBK Visby)
Location: To the immediate south of Visby there’s a tidy square of major roads, formed by the 140, 143 and 148. Beside the westerly part of the 148 resembles and medical or university campus. Within these grounds is a large sports club – IBK Visby – with impressive facilities. IBK specialise in many pursuits, though Floorball is the priority. To reach the football pitch, take the 140 south from Visby, turn left onto the 148. As “Uncle Joes” Bowling Alley comes into sight, take the first right. “Uncle Joes” is naturally quite unmissable but don’t stop. Follow the road for another half a kilometre and by the next right turn – Visborgsallen – the ground and sports club will be far more unmissable.
Ground: A large oval area – like a Hemse / Hansa-Hoborg crossbreed – fenced off but without a running track. Small timbered constructions make for the stand, beside a sports hall belonging to IBK. There are polycarbonate dugouts, digital scoreboard atop changing rooms, an outdoorsy fitness area in the woods to the east, a shed functioning as turnstiles and, even a scaffolding media tower.
League status: Division 1 Södra Svealand (women)
Website: http://www.laget.se/P18IKDAMER and http://www.visbyibk.com/
Nearby excellence: Visby the stunningly picturesque medieval capital of Gotland and all that resides in its walls (see FC Gute). Leva Kungslador a superb venue for lunch (the eat all you can buffet wins hands down). The resort I’d avoid but, Vattenland at Kneippbyn has some really great water slides where children and immature adults can be unruly.
Worth a visit: Women’s football has always been excellent. Along with Germany, Sweden has been doing it better than most for years. Couple that with the possibility of actually seeing live Floorball (whatever than may be), how could you not give this place a go. The third member of my Gotland top 3.
IBK Visby (13) IBK Visby (7) IBK Visby (5) IBK Visby (1)
Team: Roma IF
Location: In the centre of Gotland, halfway down the 143 from Visby on the west coast to Ljugarn on the east, is Roma. We naturally went for the pizza but found far much more. Take any of the tree-lined roads opposite the whiskey distillery – Kungsallén and Skolgatan are particularly beautiful – and turn left. Head for the furthest point, which should be Kungsallén. At its northern end the ground of IF Roma – Klostervallen – should be clearly visible.
Ground: Again a fenced of ground and, again thankfully with a way in. I slipped through the main gate; a father and son were out on the pitch practicing a few moves. Playing in yellow and black – the only one found thus far – the timber buildings were for once all colour coded in club rather than island tradition. The usual array of club buildings were supplemented with floodlights, announcers hut, fixtures board and a some fantastic benches – one can only assume for visiting dignitaries – high on the grass bank on the far side of the pitch. Sadly no evidence suggests they are twinned with i Giallorossi.
League status: Pajkar 10 (youth) – until last season there was a senior side playing Division 4 but Gotland FF is not displaying that anymore.
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/RomaIF/
Nearby excellence: The town’s skyline is totally dominated by the Gotland Whiskey distillery. I’ve since heard rumours of tastings… The Heritage Railway – Gotlands Hesselby Jernväg – stops in the town, not far from the football ground, at a wonderfully picturesque station on Klostervägen. And last but certainly not least, of course in a town called “Roma” there is a pizza restaurant. Romabrunnen – The food was good, staff friendly and salad bar was totally free with every purchase.
Worth a visit: For all that’s going on in the town, it’s hard to miss out.
IF Roma (14) IF Roma (10) IF Roma (7) IF Roma (1)
Team: IK Graip
Location: On the coast, towards the northern end of the 147 – which runs from Visby to Lärbro – Slite is home to the biggest cement factory I’ve ever seen. Obviously I have little experience in such matters but, this one dominates the skyline for miles. It’s even clearly visible from the Katthammarsvik peninsular, 50km south. Going up the 147 the ground is on the left side of the road, precisely where the coastal town (Slite) is on the right. If you pass the enormous cementa quarry – also on the left – you’ve gone too far.
Ground: The floodlights were the first thing that caught my eye as we drove up the island on our first day there. A single artificial surface sits neatly roadside between four of them. There are no stands and the clubhouse is not visible from the 147. More than once however, children were being coached as we passed.
League status: Pojkar 13 (youth)
Website: http://www.laget.se/IKGRAIPFOTBOLL
Nearby excellence: The cement works dominate here. There’s probably nice parts of Slite – on the coast, by the marinas – we just didn’t see them. Lärbro isn’t far north; Gothem isn’t far south.
Worth a visit: It has a working pitch and the best floodlights (we saw) on the island, so of course it’s worth a visit. Grassroots joy!
IK Graip (3) IK Graip (4) IK Graip (1)
Team: unknown (in Burgsvik)
Location: The town of Burgsvik is the gateway to the very south of the Gotland. A town with a notable tourist trade at the end of the 140. Sandwiched between to marvellous coastal drives – from Bondestugan Frojel Sandhamn Cottage to Ekstakusten, and from Vamlingbo to Hoburgsgrubben – Burgsvik is almost impossible to miss. Travelling south on the 140, turn left at the Shell petrol station onto Skolvägen and the pitch will soon come into view, on the left, opposite a small industrial area.
Ground: Without doubt, this ground was until very recently in good competitive use. To get it back to its prime would probably take minimal effort. The green turnstiles are still intact, as is the regulation pitch and a fixed railing barrier on the near side of the pitch. I even saw two fully-kitted men warming up but without proper goals it is unlikely that any league fixture was taking place. There were holes for posts at both ends of the playing area, though much smaller temporary onion bags were being used for local use.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: The coastal drives are unquestionably a must. Museigården Petes may be worth a stop; the promoted refreshments are improved greatly by the old photos in the small private museum. Värdshuset Guldkaggen (restaurant and live music) is located at Burgsvikshamn. At the end of the harbour wall there are diving boards…
Worth a visit: Yes. A great spot for swimming, lunch and has a ground still on the cusp of operating.
Burgsvik (10) Burgsvik (2) Burgsvik (7)
Team: unknown (in Gothem)
Location: Down the 147 towards Visby, just south of Slite is the small village of Boge (childishly amusingly pronounced “Bogey”). Here the very rural 146 begins, running south down the east side of Gotland to Ala, via Gothem and Kraklingbo. Disappointingly Gothem bears no relation to Batman’s Gotham nor is it a city. Exiting the small town, the ground can easily be found on the left (near) side of the road.
Ground: Leaping the ditch beside the road, the first thing one finds is a log bench running the length of the field. That’s the stand. Behind each goal are fences of around 12 foot high, to prevent wayward shots hitting the woods behind the nets. Across from the road, changing rooms, clubhouse and a gym with football light shades hanging in the windows.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Katthammarsviks Rökeri allegedly serves the best fish food on Gotland. I cannot recommend this place highly enough and nor can anyone else on the island. When the southbound 146 arrives at Kraklingbo, take a left and head for the furthest point in Katthammarsvik. There, on the coast, in the harbour, is a restaurant that’s been famously smoking his own fish for over 70 years. That fish causes a tailback of cars arriving to be fed.
Worth a visit: There’s a ground with tea bar and a team playing here regularly, of course. If I knew the club’s name???
Gothem (6) Gothem (4) Gothem (1) Gothem (2)
Team: unknown (near Lärbro)
Location: About two-thirds of the way from Visby to Fårösund, is the town of Lärbro. The 148 runs through its heart. Driving from Visby, take the major left turn before the church. It’s signposted “149 Kappelshamn”. 1km up the road turn left towards Hangvar. The pitch is on the right just after STF Vandrarhem Lärbro/Grannen (holiday accommodation) and the Lärbro Krigssjukhus-Museum opposite.
Ground: Regulation grass pitch, marked out, with goals and a high wire fence shielding it from the road. With no structural feature, it’s camouflaged and thus easy to drive passed.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Gotland Ring (motorsport)
Worth a visit: In passing, for a selfie or quick kickabout.
Larbro (2) Larbro (3) Larbro (4)
Team: unknown (in Sudesands, Fårö)
Location: As a child we were wowed with numerous camping experiences. When we weren’t under canvas – being more blue than red in this respect – Pontins was the destination of choice. Sited on a once picture perfect bay, near the North East, Fårö, is Sudesands Semesterby & Camping. Without being disrespectful… it’s a Swedish Pontins. Yes I’m sure the facilities have moved on since the 70s but as I strolled through the private grounds in search of the pitch, the same atmosphere prevailed. There may even have been posters up promoting fancy dress dinners and ballroom dancing competitions (if only I could read them).
Atop Gotland is the island of Fårö. Car ferries to the island run 24 hours/day, between Fårösund (mainland Gotland) and Broa (Fårö), and they’re totally free. At peak time cars queue for some time to board in both Fårösund and Broa. To the novice there is little way round the wait however, locals of this tiny island are very adept at queue jumping. Upon your return, is you take the scenic road south from Fårö town via Hammars and Damba you will rejoin the main road 100 meters from the ferry. We found turning into the front of the queue, at this point, no problem at all.
To find the ground from Broa, take the main road north to Fårö (town) and then Holmudden. Sudersands is signposted to turn off right by Ebbas (restaurant). Landmarks are few and far between so this should be visible. Follow the Sudersands road, dodging the holiday makers to its zenith. There you’ll find a small car park on the left and an unmanned security gate entrance on road heading left to the beach. Park and walk down this beach road. Past the first field of holiday lets, the pitch will be on the left.
Ground: Regulation size, goals, benches on both sides on the grass banks, and probably a few kids warming up with the camp’s sports instructor.
League status: n/a
Website: http://www.sudersand.se/ (the campsite, not a football team)
Nearby excellence: Creperie Tati, Kutens Bensin (great food, endless recycled memorabilia and live music) and Sylvis Döttrar (bakery) are great eateries. The northern coastal road has many a natural feature; dog rock took our fancy. There are many quiet picturesque beaches from which to take your pick. Fårö Lighthouse is also worth a stop, as is Ingmar Bergman’s “Centre” and burial site, both in Fårö. He has four houses on the island but, no one will tell you where they are. It’s not quite Wicker Man but the locals steadfastly respect his privacy in death as they did when he was alive. Having tried to check three out, I can tell you that in Hammars there are only eight houses from which to guess at.
Worth a visit: For those with a passion for photography or quiet beaches, Fårö is certainly worth a visit; the pitch itself did little for me (or was that just a reminder of Pontins-past). What the heck treat yourself to a day trip.
SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (1) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (2) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (3) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (4)
Team: unknown (in Tofta)
Location: South of Visby, a short way down the 140, is the once important medieval manor of Tofta. Now home to holiday lets, camping and golf, in the residential area – East of the 140 – there are just two notable attractions. At one – Vikingabyn – my son hoped to be taught how to throw an axe and ride a pig (it wasn’t open); at the other I hope to be taught the importance of Gotland grassroots sport. Heading south on the 140, turn left onto Bandavägen, then left again onto Smidesvägen. The pitch is situated on the left along with a timely reminder that Gotland is one of the finest environments of stunning wild flowers. A children’s playground sat roadside – which my children enjoyed whilst we stopped – and on the other side of the road a grass area contained smaller goals.
Ground: The area of ground is big enough, the goals are still in place; the pitch itself has been planted with thick rows of poppies.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Vikingabyn (the elusive Viking centre)
Worth a visit: Unless you like wild flowers, probably not.
Tofta (1) Tofta (2) Tofta (5) Tofta (6)
Even without the live sport, exploring this magnificent island and finding these grounds was a real joy; I will be back. The following map pinpoints each of the above pitches (red – clubs known, blue – teams unknown), and a few I missed along the way (orange). Best of luck ticking off the rest groundhoppers.
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