Despite Sweden’s rich women’s footballing heritage, another club is grappling with the prospect of folding. Here Rich Laverty takes a deep dive into the country’s history of football and the future of the women’s game there.
Women’s football clubs abruptly pulling the plug is sadly nothing new to the women’s game. But there was still some degree of shock when Swedish champions Kopparbergs/Göteborg announced they would not be re-entering the Damallsvenskan or UEFA Champions League next year.Embed from Getty Images
The club won the Swedish league title for the first time earlier this year, qualifying them once again for Europe’s elite club competition in 2021, and it’s just a mere two weeks since the club’s players were walking out to face Manchester City in this year’s edition of the competition.
The next day the club, which was founded in 2003 and has no male counterpart, decided that would be that with players informed shortly before Tuesday’s announcement.
Swedish cider company Kopparbergs, from whom the club takes their name, had sponsored the club right back in the early 21st century when the team was based in Landvetter and hence became known as Kopparbergs/Landvetter until the move to Gothenburg in 2004.
They had been the primary sponsor of the team ever since and were the main driving force behind the recruitment of high-profile players such as Christen Press, Hope Solo, Manon Melis, and their original key superstar, Lotta Schelin.
That was, until they pulled their funding…Embed from Getty Images
Initial words from the club spoke of essentially taking the club as far as they could. They intimated that they’d be passing the baton to men’s teams who have set up their own women’s team, unless they received significant outside investment.
By Thursday that investment had been successfully acquired and the club announced a U-turn on it’s previous decision to withdraw from domestic and European competition.
The club has remained cagey about where exactly the investment has come from but referred to a ‘large, overwhelming and positive interest from private individuals’ in their supplementary statement.
But how representative is this ongoing scenario of women’s football in Sweden?
Not for the first time either
Historically, women’s football in Sweden has a rich heritage. While their top clubs may have fallen behind Europe’s elite in terms of financial might – which was clearly on the minds of the Kopparbergs/Göteborg owners – there’s hope based on past precedent to suggest Swedish football can both survive and thrive.
In the last decade alone, several former great sides have fallen by the wayside. In 2011, Umea UK, once home to several former Sweden legends, restructured to avoid bankruptcy but went into a period of obscurity in the second division.
They returned to the top division in 2020, but as Kopparbergs/Göteborg were celebrating, Umea were relegated back to the second division at the first time of asking.
Six years ago, Tyreso couldn’t avoid what Umea just about managed and did go bankrupt and a European powerhouse which once played host to the likes of Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly was no more.
Just weeks after competing in a Champions League final, putting out at starting eleven which included Marta, Press, Sweden’s own Caroline Seger plus Whitney Engen, Veronica Boquete, and Meghan Klingenberg, Tyreso also went bankrupt.
In the same year, Ldb Malmo joined forces with FC Rosengard to create the team now know by the latter name.
Despite bumps in the road, the women’s game in Sweden has continued to succeed with the national team reaching the Olympic final in 2016 and taking home a bronze medal at last summer’s World Cup.
Sweden was one of the original great pioneers of the women’s game. With legends such as Pia Sundhage and Lena Videkull in their side, they won the first ever European Championships in 1984 and have consistently produced all-time greats in the decades since.
Hedvig Lindahl, Hanna Ljungbeger, Therese Sjogren, Seger, and Schelin. The list goes on. Even now, Magdalena Eriksson, Nilla Fischer, Jonna Andersson, Kosovare Asllani, Sofia Jakobsson, and Anna Anvegard are all the among some of the top names in Europe.
There are several reasons why the recent Kopparbergs/Göteborg events leaves more than just a hint of sadness or regret. A team which once prized away Malmö legend Manon Melis and signed players such as Christen Press didn’t just have a one-off fling with success; they enjoyed steady progress.
Yet just as they’ve made a return to the top of the game, their long-time sponsor has walked away.
Now they face the prospect of losing the likes of Julia Roddar, Elin Rubensson, Pauline Hammarlund, Jennifer Falk, Julia Zigiotti Olme, Filippa Angeldal and Stina Blackstenius who’ve all become household names in Sweden, and could potentially become big names around the world too.
If there is a silver lining, most of the players will hopefully go on to thrive. They are coming off the back of a title-winning year and the moves of Kuikka and Blomqvist prove there is interest in their players from some of the very best clubs in the world.
When Notts County in England folded in 2017, it felt like the end of the world for many players. But some have gone on to thrive at even bigger clubs they may never have otherwise found.
For the club itself, it’s a different story. There is still an ambition to be merged with a larger organisation – an ‘unconditional requirement’ in the club’s words – in order to secure the future of the Swedish champions.
And it will need to be done quickly; no doubt every player is already running around looking for options.
Just like Umea and Tyreso, it would be a real shame if the legacy left behind by Kopparbergs/Göteborg is lost forever.