Clubs roll back the years for decider - 37 years later
Two very different football clubs rolled back the years - 37 of them in fact - at Wallace Park last Saturday.
When Hillsborough Boys eliminated Swedish side Hammarby from the Gothia Cup way back in 1977, they could never have imagined that they would meet again back in Northern Ireland for a repeat play-off almost 40 years later!
The Gothia Cup match all those years ago was such a memorable one - Hillsborough Boys under fourteens beat Hammarby, one of the favourites for the Gothia Cup that year, 4-3 on penalties in Gothenburg - that it was not forgotten, certainly not by Hammarby, whose senior side now play in the Swedish second division.
For last weekend Hammarby’s under 14s of 1977 - now all in their fifties - arrived in Lisburn to play a decider (another club side had played a second match in the Gothia Cup which Hammarby won).
Said Sven Gustaffsson, coach of Hammarby Veterans: “We never forgot our game against Hillsborough Boys, and we remembered getting a letter from Hillsborough Boys soon afterwards inviting us to come to Northern Ireland. As we had won one game each it was natural that we play a decider, so we decided to make the trip to Ireland.
“It took us a few years to get it arranged but we are really delighted to be meeting up again. Nineteen of us made the trip from Stockholm. We started off in Dublin, then travelled up for the game in Lisburn, and on Sunday we’ll be in Belfast, visiting the Titanic museum and seeing the sights of Belfast.”
The coach carrying the Hammarby players arrived at Hillsborough Boys’ training facility, the Football Factory at Knockmore, with the Hammarby officials producing a copy of a letter inviting them to play in Northern Ireland written by Brian Ogle, the club secretary, way back in 1977.
“I couldn’t even remember writing the letter,” said Brian. “Some players of the two sides became friends after the match. They were such a good side, the most skilful we had ever seen, and we did invite them to Northern Ireland. We said we’d fix up some games for them and organise accommodation. But that of course was for an under 14 boys team, not 20 adults 37 years later!”
Current Hillsborough Boys club secretary Paul Alexander said: “I got the shock of my life when I heard just a couple of weeks ago that a team were coming from Stockholm to play our under fourteens from 1977. I had no trouble getting them along to Wallace Park to put their boots on again, even if some of the jerseys didn’t quite fit... It was a great day for both clubs, and testament to the friendships that can be built on the football field.”
Both clubs have changed a lot in the intervening years. Hammarby are now in the Swedish second division but pushing for promotion and have a new 35,000 seater stadium, and Hillsborough Boys is now run by a go-ahead executive and fields an incredible 24 teams each Saturday, from five-year-olds to an adult team in the Mid Ulster League.
Before the game at Wallace Park last Saturday the two teams had a civic reception at the Island Centre hosted by the Mayor, Councillor Andrew Ewing.
It was the visitors Hammarby, who came out of top this time, 3-2. It a pity in a way there was a winner - a draw would surely meant a play-off decider in Stockholm....!