Ostersunds SK are in their 22nd year, less time than Arsene Wenger has spent in charge of The Gunners, BUT THE BEAST FROM THE NORTH ( as the weather forcasters predicted the chill and snow this week) turned out to be the little club from Sweden's Far North.
Only a few years ago they were in the Swedish 4th tier and unheard of outside their small city. They brought in Englishman Graham Potter from Leeds Trinity University who had played for Stoke, Birmingham, West Brom in the Champonship and a few games in the EPL for Southampton. They immediately won two promototions to the Superetta,n the 2nd tier and after three seasons to the ALSVENENSKAN. Winning the Swedish Cup Final 4-1 over IFK Norrkoping gave them a spot in the UEFA Europa League..and some giant killing.
When they beat big time Galatasary of Istanbul people started to take notice far away from their small 9,000 capacity JAMTKRAFT ARENA. Fola Esch of Luxembourg, PAOK of Salonika,Greece Zorya Luhansk, Hertha Berlin, Athletic Bilbao and now they were drawn with the Mighty Arsenal with so much history and the awesome Emirates Stadium. A 3-0 win for the Gunners in Sweden a week earlier and it looked to be another heavy loss in London. NOT SO !! Urged on be 4,500 travelling fans, a fifth of the population, it was an amazing night in North London. Two quick goals in the 22nd and 23rd minute from Hosan Aiesh and Ken Sema gave them more than hope of a gigantic upset .www.ostersundsfk.se 2-1 Ostersunds SK/
They outplayed Arsenal.in their unfamiliar blue with the Swedes in all white and it wasnt until just after half time that Sead Kolasinac reduced the arrears. Arsenal escaped with a 4-2 aggregate win and play AC Milan in the round of 16. The Swedish fans stayed behind and chanted and greeted their players and coaching staff well after the final whistle.
My last visit to The Emirates had been in 2008 for the Brazil v Sweden 50th anniversary World Cup match from Solna Stockholm in 1958. This time we were in the VIP suites celebrating by friend Sam Bloom's 50th birthday. As a 16 year old this awesome young Texas goalkeeper had come to The Gunners for a trial and was offered what would now be an Academy place, leave school and train daily. He turned it down and finished up playing 4 years for Bruce Arena at Univ of Virginia,
On the tube from Arsenal station to Piccadilly after the match I chatted with some of the Ostersunds fans. Believe it or not !! but they had flown direct from their local airport.. Are Ostersund(OSD), 11km out of town. to London Gatwick on www.easyjet.com. a winter only weekly Sunday service during the skiing season. I checked and the flights started at only £29,00 one way.
Arsenal, who would suffer even more humiliation on Sunday against Manchester City at Wembley had SOLD OUT notices in the ticket windows on Thursday. Capacity is 60,000 but I think the actual attendance was only 38,000 with many, many fickle fans No Shows. Not a good sign of support from Gunners fans.
Applause though for the Arsenal catering department in the suites and for the editorial staff of the awesome 80 page official matchday programme.. still reading it days later.