Henrik Manninen says goodbye to an old favourite and explains a possible embarrassment of riches in Stockholm stadiums

“Sweden’s Rasunda Stadium is one of just two venues in the world – California’s Rose Bowl being the other – that has hosted the final of both the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This football-specific stadium, located in the district of Solna some four miles north-west of Stockholm city centre, is famed for putting spectators right on top of the action, and it still generates a fantastic atmosphere for the ever-competitive Sweden national team.”

Those are the words of FIFA.com as they rank the current home of Swedish football as one of the ten classic football stadiums in the world. But nostalgia means very little to the Swedish FA (SFA) who in 2006 announced plans to build the 50,000 Swedbank Arena, just over a mile from the current national stadium, which is set to be inaugurated in the autumn of 2012.

The SFA made it clear from an early stage that, with the completion of Swedbank Arena, they would no longer have use for their old 36,000-seater home. The Rasunda site was sold last year to a construction and property company who intend to demolish the stadium and replace it with housing, a decision that will make tenants AIK homeless.

AIK have played at Rasunda Stadium since 1937 and are historically the best supported team in the country with 11 domestic league titles and eight cup wins. The SFA announced its ambitious new national stadium plans at a time when interest in football in Sweden was booming and had overtaken ice hockey as the number one spectator sport in the country.

During the 1992 season when AIK won their ninth domestic league title, the club had an average home attendance of only 5,210 and the Allsvenskan was watched by just 4,194 per game. Fourteen years later, AIK averaged 21,434 per home game and matches in Swedish top flight in 2007 were watched by an average attendance of 10,258, the highest figure since 1965. New stadiums were built to serve Sweden’s newly enlightened football-supporting masses.

A 24,000 all-seat stadium was opened in Malmö last year, followed a few months later by a 19,000-capacity ground in Gothenburg. The construction of a new 30,000-seat stadium, the Stockholm Arena, is expected to start in the south of the capital later this year.

The SFA had taken it more or less for granted that AIK would be moving to the Swedbank Arena when it was completed in 2012. But during a club AGM a few years ago, a group of supporters expressed concerns about whether continuing as tenants of the SFA and relocating to a 50,000-capacity stadium were really in the best interests of the club.

A campaign called Hemma pa Rasunda (Home at Rasunda) was launched by a group of fans who wanted the club to stay put. Around the same time, an independent group was set up by AIK to look into future stadium alternatives for the club. They presented the following four options: relocating to the Swedbank Arena, a move across the city to the Stockholm Arena, a refurbishment of the Rasunda Stadium, or building their own, brand new ground.

Today, the question of where AIK will play during the 2012-13 season remains unresolved. There doesn’t seem to be much chance that they will continue playing at Rasunda Stadium. The building plans from the construction and property company who recently purchased the land have yet to be approved, but it is hard to see anyone willing to invest in an old venue in desperate need of extensive repairs.

Instead, AIK have started to push forward the idea of building their own stadium, a decision that comes at a time when interest in football is waning in Sweden. AIK have lost a fifth of their attendances from last year, and attendances in the Allsvenskan have gone down by 40 per cent on the whole compared to last season. So with the general election coming up later this year, and with 80,000 new and shiny seats soon in desperate need of being filled at both the Swedbank Arena and the Stockholm Arena, AIK can expect a lot of back-scratching from local politicians over the next year. A decision on the issue is expected at the club’s AGM in March next year.

From WSC 281 July 2010

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