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Sweden Takes The Best Of British

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Swedish football combined two varying but key elements of the British version when the game first came to her shores. David Goldblatt reports on the co-existence of amateurism and commercialism.
 
There were two versions of football that the world discovered from its early development in Victorian Britain. Newcomers to the game had a set of rules and plan of pitch markings to go on - the ideas that accompanied the game depended upon who took football overseas and when.
 
On one hand, football was connected to an aristocratic culture nurtured in the country's public schools, elite universities and old boys' clubs. In this context, football made up part of an educational curriculum designed to morally and practically train male administrators (and beyond school, it was an amateur pastime that encouraged physical fitness and teamwork). By the 1870s, the popularity of the game had spread to the working classes and the amateur ideal was challenged by hidden professionalism in the north-west of England's strongholds of the working-class game: here, football became a commercial spectacle and form of entertainment.
 
By the time football reached Central Europe and Italy at the turn of the 19th century, much of its original aristocratic associations were lost and the local elites who adopted the game were the commercially-minded urban middle-classes. The model to follow was the world's first and most-accomplished professional competition, the Football League.
 
But football in Sweden remained resolutely amateur, in part because football arrived in the region much earlier than elsewhere and still carried its aristocratic and amateur ideals. These provided the model for the middle-class administrators who ran Swedish football before the First World War.
 
And yet, the commercialism of the English game found a place amongst the hundreds of working-class clubs that sprung up and were supported by intense local patriotism displayed by boisterous crowds. As early as 1910, Gothenburg newspaper Nordiskt Idrottsliff reported the following scene from a tour match between Manchester City and a Gothenburg Select Side: "The crowd roared and whistled during the entire match, and the police had to intervene after it. Unfortunately enough, a couple of people from the seated section were guilty of indiscretions, of the kind one would have thought impossible among educated people".
 
The next 20 years saw a long battle between these two English ideals in Swedish football. Alongside the middle-class organisers of Swedish football, strong anti-professional arguments were mounted by the powerful abstinence societies who saw a clear and dangerous link between football crowds, alcohol consumption and social turbulence. The powerful trade unions and Swedish social democrats were also censorious, seeing professional football as an unwelcome diversion form political activity and serious cultural pursuits.
 
The matter was settled in the late 1930s after the southern Swedish club Malmo FF were punished for under-the-counter payments to players. Direct compensation for playing would not be allowed, and professionals were banned from the national team: but corporate support with easy jobs for club players would be permitted. Sweden had acquired an odd mixture of Britain's two footballing cultures, combining the amateur and the commercial.

 

 

David Goldblatt, January 2004

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