They arrived from all over the world, 1,600 teams from 66 lands this week and at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg on Monday night 52,000 people marched or watched the Olympic style Opening Ceremony. One German youth team was going round the track at the opening parade on the bicycles that they had ridden 60 Swedish miles-600km, from their home town.
Since I first visited at Gothia Cup's second year in 1976 with about 240 teams, I have returned many times to enjoy the football, the fellowship and the city, another European 'gem' that is not on most foreign tourists planning. However, this huge and successful week's tournament for boys and girls from 9-19 is now officially designated as the most important tourist event in Sweden.
This week's guest of honour was soccer legend Alan Shearer, ex Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, and of course England. Alan won the Gothia Cup with his youth team, Wellington Juniors in 1985 and the day he visited here was his 37th birthday. He was voted the most popular soccer figure to visit Gothia Cup. www.gothiacup.se. The most successful club has been IF Brommapojkarne of Sweden with 20 titles,Tahuichi of Bolivia with 8 victories are the most successful foreign country. So far 130 countries have taken part, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany every year for 34 years and the USA for the last 33 years. Texas Longhorns was the first non European to enter in 1976.
It started out as a joint venture between local clubs BK Hacken and GAIS, and local newspaper Arbetet, who interviewed me back in 1976 and treated me to a reindeer steak dinner. GAIS pulled out in 1981. More and more parents and friends now accompany the teams, approximately 2,000 in 1980, up to more than 25,000 this year. Most teams stay in school classrooms and receive 3 meals from the kitchens there, 422,000 meals, with Swedish meatballs and mashed potatos the most popuar choice. 205,000 meat balls served this year!!. Over 850,000 players have had the Gothia Cup experience, including 8 members of the Bolivian national team at FIFA World Cup 1984 in USA. Also Xavi Alonso, Sheyi Adebeyor, Ze Roberto, Alan McInally, Kieron Dyer, Julio Baptiste.
The newest nation to take part was Kosovo and there is also a team from Tibet -THE SNOW LIONS, though registered tthrough the Indian F.A. for diplomatic/political reasons to get past the FIFA regulations. there are over 120 pitches scattered in groups around the city and the main site with 4 latest generation artificial pitches is at THE HEDEN, in the heart of the city, and a stone's throw from ULLEVI STADIUM, where Pele played his first ever World up match at age 17, Brasil vs USSR in 1958 on the way to Brasil's first World Cup victory over hosts Sweden in Stockholm.
The HEDEN has stands next to the pitches for thousands of spectators and a GOTHIA VILLAGE with shops and information. I got a free calling card from TELIA 2 and there was music and dancing outside the CONGO BRAZZAVILLE PAVILION. This is the smaller of the 2 Congos. You have probably heard more about Congo Kinshasa across the river, when as ZAIRE they took part in the World Cup in West Germany in 1994 and played Scotland, Brazil and Yugoslavia. Along with Gothia Cup and the Swedish church, a Congo Soccer schools programme has been set up to help bring some joy to the kids after a civil war. KAMPALA KIDS from Uganda also have a great youth programme and are frequent visitors, and victors.
I watched an interesting match on Heden ,7 a side U11 Boys, I think, between a team from Poland and Venezuela. The Poles have been criticised for racism in stadiums, 4 years prior to UEFA 2012 in Poland/Ukraine, but THIS Polish youth team had 4 black players out of the 7 players on the field, obviously immigrants.I consolled the loud Venezuelan dad standing next to me that at least they had plenty of oil!! Later I was in the suburbs at an U16 Boys match in which Lorenskog IF of Norway beat a Swedish team 7-1 with hat tricks from both Ola Kvalheim and Mikael Aunemo in an exhibition of CHAMPAGNE FOOTBALL, which pleased coach Vegar Frey and all the fans of 'The Beautiful Game'.After a brief shower a RAINBOW appeared overhead during the second half-It could have been a halo for the beautiful game.
I caught up with the very busy Director Dennis Andersson, who is also General Secretary of BK Hacken and told him that my best impression this year was the overall quality of the grass fields I had visited in various parts of the city during my 2 day trip. Last night I was guest of my friend Sven Ivarsson, the previous Tournament Director who now runs DanaCup No 1 the week before in Frederikshavn, Denmark. www.dancup.pp.se as we went to my favourite restaurant in Europe- SMAKA www.smaka.se along with a couple of coaches from Bombay, India for their fantastic Swedish meatballs, special gravy, lingonberries and new potatos, with a bottle of Kopparburg pear cider. Heaven indeed.!!