Wednesday 3 October 2018

Where have all the the Brolin's gone? - July 3rd

So where were you when Sweden beat Switzerland?

64,042 people were in the Saint Petersburg stadium to see it happen, but do they even remember who shot the ball in the net? In time, this will be the  knockout Round tie of Russia 2018 that is forgotten, the missing match no one can quite put their finger on, the Anthony Costa of the last 16, a Shane Duffy making-up-the-numbers exercise. England fans will rack their brains and try in vain to recall who it was that Sweden beat to face them (and they will face them, James Rodriguez is almost definitely out for Colombia, the bastard, and it's all part of the conspiracy against me to fire England through to their already bend-free maze of a route to the semi-final), in the last eight.  

Whoever won today was an irrelevance. What did it matter if England faced a Switzerland team containing Vanion Behrami, who was let go by Watford, or Sweden, for whom their established midfielder, Toiven was released by a Sunderland team in the full throes of their cannon-balling from Premier League to League one, after scoring just one goal for them?

All this may sound harsh on the country of my blood. By that I mean Sweden. A few years ago I learned that I am 1/8th Swedish, after my dad's grandad. Perhaps the signs were already there, years before this understated Who Do You Think You Are? discovery of my connection with the country. My first active celebration of a goal against England was Tomas Brolin's dazzling winner in Euro 92 that secured their place in the Gothenburg semi final at their victims' expense.

"Why are you cheering against England?" my sister asked me, clearly not remembering that she'd worked me out in the Italia 90 semi-final against Germany.

"Stuart wants England to lose" she'd accused that night in Turin, with all the ill-conceived judgement of someone who showed no interest in football three years out of four. During the Cameroon quarter-final, she'd zipped her top up over her face every time Roger Milla got the ball, but a year later was telling Barry Davies to shut up when commentating excitably on a snap shot at Anfield.

By the time of Brolin's goal at Euro 92, I was already a fan of his from a friend's Sky TV recording (which I in no way paid for) of the Coppa Italia Final of that year, in which his Parma side beat Juventus. I also had the fetching yellow Sweden kit,  and would crown any goal during kickabouts with Brolin's trademark twist-in-the air celebration. Anders Limpar's appearance in the team helped, too, though more unexpected was my love affair with ABBA, developed on a Bank Holiday Monday in 1995 when ABBA The Movie was put on the telly. I don't know what compelled me to tape this part-comedy, part documentary of their 1977 tour of Australia (Lou from Neighbours played both the band's minder and a taxi driver, highlighting the country's famous actor shortage), but I watched it daily for several months, eventually falling in love with Frida.

At that time, I would have perhaps combusted with joy to learn of my Swedish ancestry, so it was probably best that I found out much later, when things had settled down a little.

And they do seem to have settled down a little. IKEA is no replacement for the lost Fridas and Brolins to the world. While I admit that a trip to Wembley has provided, among other things, effective storage solutions for our family and a generous supply of great value meatballs, this is not a patch on a succession of tragi-pop smash hits or an outside of the boot prod into the top corner.

That said, I wasn't the only Englishman to enthuse over Brolin's 81st minute elimination of England, as Davies on BBC and Brian Moore on ITV went, respectively, with "Brilliant, brilliant goal!" and "Fantastic goaaaal!" Davies was far more sanguine with Maradona's second against England in 86, resigning himself to admit that "you have to say that's magnificent", perhaps showing more affection for Bobby Robson's team that year than for Graham Taylor's labourers of 92.

Regardless, there is no Brolin-type figurehead for Sweden anymore, nor is there Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored four for Sweden in a friendly against England in 2012, including an overhead volley from 30 yards. Unlike the existence of Brazil and France and Belgium - all in the other side of the bloody draw - I have no Brolin or Ibrahimovich to rely on. Nor even a Limpar or a Ljungberg. Nor a Henrik Larsson, busy these days judging women. There's not even a Stefan Schwarz. Not even a Hakan Mild. The Swedes fought hard to beat the Swizz with a looping deflected winner, and then proceeded to sky several excellent chances that they won't have the luxury of against England. Their centre forward, Marcus Berg, hasn't scored at this World Cup yet, although it's fair to say he hasn't played against Tunisia or Panama.

In 1996, when I worked in a hotel-adjoined Health Club in Watford, the work experience boy and I watched on fascinated, as the IFK Gothenburg squad walked in to the lobby in their club tracksuits. One after another, familiar faces from the tv screen walked up to us asking to take a towel for the pool, and us asking them to sign in to the hotel guest list; 'eccentric' goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli, eye-caching winger Jesper Blomqvist, later of Manchester United, workhorse midfielder Mild, who my turncoat England friend and I used to compare a hapless team mate of ours to. Players who played in the World Cup semi-final two years before.

I don't know why the Swedes have stopped producing big. Even the Danes are outstripping them for BBC Four dark drama. Saga Noren may be the star of The Bridge, but it's a show set in Denmark, which has already given us The Killing and Borgen. But maybe on Saturday, a star could be born again and lift a nation, following in Brolin's footsteps and sending Englan...oh no, see, there's that hope again...

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