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Large groups of people clutching briefcases and walking in unison are a common sight during winter evenings in Stockholm. Of course, this in itself is not unusual in big cities, especially around a train station or bus stop, but here’s a fun fact: the people in these groups don’t have important documents and office supplies in their cases – they have a flask of coffee or a bottle of alcohol for an evening of watching the loved sport, bandy.
With winter creeping up and the football season over until early next year, many sport-hungry Swedes turn their attention to bandy, a sport that is not well known outside the Nordic countries, Kazakhstan and Russia. Despite this, 38,000 people attended the Swedish league final between Hammarby and Sandviken in 2013.
What makes bandy so interesting is that it is, in essence, a hybrid of various sports, so football, ice hockey and even field hockey fans are able to understand it very quickly.There are 11 players per team and they compete on an iced football stadium sized pitch for 90 minutes. The players use sticks relatively similar to the ones used in ice hockey and the ball is similar in size and density to a field hockey ball. It is a fast and exciting sport which is usually quite high scoring, so it’s not strange for a match to end with a 9-4 or 6-5 kind of score.
The sport is incredibly popular in Sweden, especially when you consider what people have to deal with to watch it. A number of bandy teams still have outdoor arenas even for matches played in the middle of the winter season. In Stockholm, temperatures can easily dive down to -10 degrees Celcius during January, but that doesn’t stop people from heading down to Zinkensdamms IP in Sodermalm to watch one of the city’s two main bandy teams: Hammarby IF or IK Tellus. The stadium was built in 1937 and really is classic piece of Stockholm sports architecture.
So, the coffee and spirits packed away in the briefcases are not just there for an enjoyable drink – they are actually necessary to endure the cold! The ‘bandyportfolj (bandy portfolio) is ingrained in Swedish culture – it’s something every Swede (even someone with no interest in bandy) knows about. Around Christmas time many Swedes will also add glogg (a Swedish version of mulled wine) to their case.
There is a real community atmosphere on the terraces, with songs being sung and drinks being shared. The sense of commitment and loyalty to a team among fans creates a welcoming environment for anyone who wants to experience a thrilling game. The match on St Stephen’s day is a Swedish Christmas time tradition, which means that attendance is particularly high on December 26.
Although the sport is most popular in Sweden and Russia, its appeal has been growing. In May, 2013, a group of Somali refugees in the Swedish city of Borlange got together to create the Somalia national bandy team, an incredible feat that took them all the way to the 2014 Bandy World Championship. They have played in it every year since.
The story of this special journey that made so many people smile was picked up by The Guardian, CNN and the BBC. It was also recorded in the 2015 documentary called Nice People. The team now plays regularly in the second division of Swedish bandy under the name ‘Peace and Love’ and plans on competing in the 2018 World Championship.
Bandy in Stockholm is, indeed, a special experience and the two teams you can choose between have their distinct character. Hammarby IF is more than just a bandy team – it also has a football team, a handball team, a speedway team and even an amateur rugby side. Its football team is the most widely supported one in Sweden and famous for its fan group. This club brings the same zest and excitement to bandy and its fans know how to kick up a storm and have fun at each game. IK Tellus also has football and handball teams, but bandy is its main sport. While this club may not have the same rabid support as Hammarby, the atmosphere its fans create is enthralling, even if it’s slightly more sedate.
Bandy is a truly magical game where the action on the ice is combined with a feeling of belonging on the terraces. It’s a big part of the winter culture in Sweden and brings out the best in people. The season runs from November to March, so if you get the chance, make sure to catch a game!