Sweden Elks in action against Ireland at the 2008 International Cup.

Sweden Elks co-host European Championships

By Nick Townsend

The history of Australian Football in Sweden started in the small city of Helsingborg. It was here in 1993 that local resident Ingmar “Terry” Lundquist, a Swede who had spent much of his youth in Melbourne, was inspired by the success of footy clubs in neighbouring Denmark to start up Sweden’s first club: the Helsingborg Saints.

Seventeen years later Sweden, along with Denmark, will co-host the first ever European Championships of Australian Football in August.  “Hosting the European Championship is very important to us and could mean a lot for the awareness of Australian Football in Sweden,” says AFL Sweden president Jörg Pareigis, “The trust of the European Australian Football Association (EAFA) given to us is also an acknowledgement for the work we have done in the past.”

Since the founding of the Helsingborg Saints the sport has expanded to clubs in Malmö, Gothenburg, Karlstad, Falun and four clubs in nation’s capital, Stockholm. It has also seen the establishment of a national team, the Sweden Elks, who naturally will be one of the eight teams competing in the tournament.

Despite the rapid expansion outside of Helsingborg, it will be one of their players that will captain the Elks this year, Johan Lantz. A self-confessed sports nerd, Lantz was introduced to the game through his younger brother who had an Australian gym teacher in high school. From his first training session he has been a loyal member of the Helsingborg Saints, and even played for the Nottingham Scorpions when he temporarily lived to England. “I love the speed of the game and the tough contests you're faced with,” says Lantz “I also love the way you sacrifice yourself to protect and help your team mates…that a team's key players can't be as significant and shine without the full support of his team mates working together.”

Johan Lantz’s story is typical of most Swedish players: a brief chance introduction that leads to a lifelong obsession. Fellow Swedish international Karl Nilsson, who captains the Gothenburg Berserkers, discovered the game when he saw a flyer taped to a lamppost outside his local supermarket. “I was hooked immediately,” says Nilsson, “I liked seeing a bunch of highly enthusiastic guys running the whole business by themselves and focusing on having fun.”

For Nilsson, who has previously competed in martial arts, the appeal of Aussie Rules likes in its physicality, sense of team camaraderie and free-flowing pace of the game. “I like the attitude that you play on no matter what happens,” says Nilsson, who has always been a critic of the cynical diving and play-acting seen in Italian soccer, “If you get hurt you get off while the game continues and if you feel better you get on with it again.”

The Sweden Elks have previously competed in the International Cup in Melbourne in 2008, but the long travel and expenses (which players must meet themselves) meant Sweden was limited in the squad they could bring. Being hosts, Sweden should be able to field their strongest squad yet and demonstrate to the rest of the international Aussie Rules community how far they have come since the founding of the Helsingborg Saints. 

“Australian Football is and will remain a minority sport in Sweden,” says Jörg Pareigis “but we are convinced that this tournament will be a great show case and will help the sport develop even further.”

Visit the website for the European Championships in Australian Football 2010. 

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