Northern Sweden Dispatches

Embracing Sweden’s ‘ridiculous’ sports

Embracing Sweden's 'ridiculous' sports
With the playoffs underway for Sweden's top ice hockey league, ex-Londoner Paul Connolly explains how his time in Sweden's far north has changed his views about some of the country's stranger sports.

Wow, there are some ridiculous sports up here. Some of them are so unutterably ludicrous I’m not actually sure that I didn’t dream them. Did I really watch a television broadcast of a man jumping around on piles of tyres on a small motorcycle? If I did see it on TV was it a documentary on the world’s most rubbish circuses?

If it was, why do I remember the ‘winner’ being interviewed on TV and beaming as if he hadn’t just succeeded at the world’s most pointless sport but instead had achieved something relatively worthwhile and more fun to watch, like boiling an egg or stroking a dog?

Then, of course, there’s the trotting, with a man on a small wagon being pulled around a small oval track by a horse. It’s like chariot-racing for 3-year-olds. It is to Ben Hur as an egg-and-spoon race is to Chariots Of Fire. It’s predictability is also quite astonishing.

The leader at the first bend almost always wins.

Why not end the race at the first bend? You could fit in a lot more races per meet. Incredibly, people, real flesh-and-blood people, actually pay money to watch it.

SEE ALSO: Hockey wasn’t always Sweden’s pride on ice

But it’s not all bad up north, sport-wise. My neighbour Randy has done me the favour of introducing me to ice hockey. He’s a season-ticket holder at AIK Skellefteå, the best team in the country.

As a Manchester City fan, whose love of English football’s once-perennial losers, but now current champions, predates by two decades the billionaire takeover by Sheikh Mansour, I’m really not used to supporting a league-dominating club. And, shamefully, I have also found it hard to shed the more primal, combative behaviour more typical of football fans.

During one of my first games, a thrilling 4-3 win over northern rivals, Luleå, I lost my cool a couple of times at visiting supporters celebrating a Luleå goal. Randy would look at me with alarm and pat my arm. In England it’s perfectly acceptable to shout a few choice words at opposing supporters – not so much here.

This is good, however. At ice hockey games you get a much broader demographic than football matches. In the UK, at least, football spectators tend to be male and 30-50-years-old. At Skellefteå ice hockey matches, I think the male-female split is around 60-40. And there are a lot of younger females. This makes for a much less testosterone-fuelled atmosphere.

Which is fine as there’s plenty of testosterone swilling around on the ice. Granted it’s not as violent as the NHL in North America (I’ve seen one match there and counted 13 officially sanctioned fights between players), but it does get pretty nasty.

And I have to admit, I still don’t quite get ice hockey.

When the puck becomes trapped on the boards, the scrimmages sometimes resemble a footie kickabout in a school playground. And the rapid turnover of players is a little too confusing. But I’m pretty sold – I’ll be attending all the home games of the semi-final stage once Skellefteå dispatch defending champions Brynäs over the next few days.

I might even buy a scarf.

And Randy might have to wrap it round my big gob if things get a little too tense on the ice. I don’t think I’ll ever quite go full Swede when it comes to watching sport.

Paul Connolly

Read more from Paul here, including his Striking a Chord music column

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