Looking for Lars

Owing to general slackness, I’d only been to one game of the Swedish Australian Football League during the season. It was the semi-final between the Bromma Vikings and the Solna Axemen. I was invited along by my teaching colleague, Rowan O’Hara, a journeyman footballer who has done stints in the Bendigo and London football leagues. He’s a bit of a long distance runner. Literally and figuratively. As I arrived at the ground, a few hardy volunteers were inserting temporary point posts into the turf beside the rugby uprights. One of the hardy souls, a dowdy looking man in a Labrador-hair encrusted track suit, shouted in my general direction asking if someone might like to stand in as a goal umpire. Without thinking, it was early on a Saturday morning after all, I took up my position under the crossbar.

 The goal umpire at the other end was a guy called Lars. A Swede. Very quietly spoken (even for a Swede). He was known to the players, so I assumed he had done this gig a few times before. More times than me. But on this particular day he seemed to have trouble keeping up with the scoring. The Bromma Vikings were on fire, kicking about 15 goals in the first half. When we checked our score sheets at half time, we were about a goal and a half awry. I was reasonably confident of my tally, since I was at the scoring end. So I overruled Lars – call it reverse local knowledge. Lars was fine about it but I couldn’t help feeling a bit bad about doing it. Bromma were that far in front, it would hardly have mattered if we were a goal or two out, and he was doing a fine job otherwise under the crossbar, from what I could see. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, except for a minor squabble between me and the Vikings’ full-back, Trev, who claimed he’d touched the ball before it hit the crossbar. Without access to a video referral system, my defence was based holus bolus on hearing the ‘ding’ of the crossbar before the sound of flesh on leather. It was an unconvincing argument. And we both knew it.

 

Lars is a popular name in Sweden. In the same way Macca is at an Aussie football club. And Stretch. And Knobby. And when I got the invitation to attend the Lars Hagberg medal count, the Brownlow of the SAFF, I imagined a room full of Lars’s. And Maccas. And Stretches. And Knobbys.

 

I am greeted at the door by the Secretary of the league. A dapper man in a suit and tie, taking money and handing out raffle tickets. He looks oddly familiar. Maybe it was just the raffle tickets. I’ve been to a few RSL’s in my day. But then he recognizes me and I realize it’s the bloke in the track suit! I don’t recognize him without the dog hair. David Carde is our host for the night. I ask David whether Lars Hagberg will be in attendance. I wasn’t even sure he was alive. David tells me he is in the room somewhere. While pondering what a Swedish Australian Football Legend looked like, I head over to the bar for some pre-dinner refreshments.

 

The barman is my good mate, Rob Manuell. A bloke who has lived here for 20 years but is as Australian as bundy and coke.  As Rob pours me a red ink, since I’m not quite as Aussie, one of the punters asks for 2 jugs of beer. Rob informs him that we don’t do jugs in Sweden, so the canny bloke, noticing water pitchers on the posh dining tables, grabs one, empties it and asks Rob to fill it with beer. It’s going to be one of those nights.

 

I get a seat at the table of the 2012 Premiers – the Bromma Vikings. They are as proud as punch. Each one has an idiot grin from ear to ear. Proof that whatever the league, whatever the land, winners are grinners.

 

I sit next to Christian, a six foot forward pocket in the mould of Leigh Matthews, chisled out of Viking granite. A rune stone. Imposing and immovable. He looks to have a few teeth missing, but this turns out to be the snus (Swedish snuff, chewing tobacco) tucked into his top lip that had started slipping down after a few pre-dinner frothies. He comes from a rugby background, but not in the conventional way. He was looking for a sport to play one day in his local area, and the bloke at the 7-Eleven told him about a local rugby competition. Christian, who is built like a front rower with the nose of a hooker, played a few games before finding it a bit dull. He’d seen some Aussie Rules on TV and wanted to give that a try. The Vikings found a position for him in the forward pocket. He tells me he didn’t kick a goal in the granny (his team kicked 20) but laid a few tackles. He doesn’t know all the rules but I hear he is no stranger to the 50 metre penalty and the behind play infringement. No wonder some of the Södermalm Blues boys are looking a bit ginger tonight.

 

His teammate, nicknamed Viking, similarly nuggety in stature, wears a smugly sinister smirk for most of the night, primarily in the direction of the Blues’ table, who they beat in the grand final in the manner Geelong beat the Pies in 2011 – close for 3 quarters before a final quarter blitz. Viking tells me he also plays a defensive role in the forward line. I’m beginning to see a distinct theme in the Bromma Vikings game plan. And yes, those Södermalm Blues boys ARE looking sore.

 

But the biggest smile of the night belongs to Legs. Legs tells everyone he is the last man picked every week. It was no different in the Grand Final. The Vikings have lost a few grannies over the stretch and Legs has lived through them all, mainly from the bench. Tonight is his night. He grabs the mic and thanks his teammates. You know he means it. He singles out ‘Sheepdog’ Harry from New Zealand who follows the ball around all day, and Stevo, another kiwi ex-rugby player who, Legs says, encouragingly, needs to stop tackling his own players.

 

Then the President takes the mic.  An Irishman. Most probably of Viking blood. He gives the keynote address and speaks with reverence about the game, the league and the community it has fostered. The SAFF is about to celebrate its 10 year Jubilee. He was proud of that and says the success of the SAFF is built on the small things – on the people who wash the jumpers, bring the goal posts to the grounds, turn up for training. It was like being at any end of season awards night in Australia, but different. He commends everybody for making his job easy, so he can spend more time on the important business of finding out about just how illegal it is to sell beer at games and the gambling laws of the various regions.

 

After the speeches, I grit my teeth and visit the losers’ table.

 

I start at the top. The coach of the Södermalm Blues is no less than the Australian Ambassador, Paul. I’ve met him a couple of times before but that doesn’t help our conversation.  He is outwardly calm and polite in that polished, diplomat kind of way, but I detect a more sombre mood. He still seems to be feeling the loss. His ambassadorial posting ends this year and he will return to Australia at Christmas. I get the feeling he was after a last hurrah.

 

We talk in an amiably strained kind of way until he is rescued by his wife who comes up to me and asks if I’d like to meet the Lars Hagberg. This is the moment. I’m finally going to meet the man. The Legend. The man in whose name the medal is struck. A man who has been playing since the beginning of time. The whole 10 years of the SAFF! I follow her to a table where one man is sitting alone. I break into a sweat. I sit opposite him and offer my hand. When our eyes meet, I go into mild shock. Lars. Hang on a bloody minute! It’s LARS!! Bloody goal umpire Lars! The same bloody Lars I overruled at halftime in the semi!

 

I don’t know what to say. But I start with an apology. He shrugs it off and we start yakking. He tells me everything about the history of Australian footy in these parts. But I’m not listening. I’ve had a few. And I’m still coming to grips with my intemperance. But Lars is a truly lovely bloke. Everyone thinks so. And everyone has a lend of him whenever they can. Andrew Gillies, Bromma Vikings’ Premiership full-back, would-be comic and MC for the night, shows a mocked up photo of Lars in the 1897 Essendon team photo.  The room roars with laughter.

 

Then the awards are handed out. In a sensation, the goalkicking award is not awarded to the player who kicks the most goals for the season. Yep. That’s what I just said. The goalkicking award is NOT awarded to the player who kicks the most goals for the season. This is an other-end-of-the-world moment*. Owing to the addition of an expansion club this year – Nortälje – the league introduced the ‘Larsson Rule’. Nortälje are the GWS of the SAFF, minus the elite youth talent. They had cricket scores kicked against them every week. The Larsson Rule caps the number of goals kicked on the day by each player at 3. So no matter how many goals you snagged against Nortälje, the official score was 3. I know. I don’t get it either.

 

A few more awards are handed out. Gillies suggests an ‘Endurance Award’ go to the Swedes who gave a lift to an Aussie bloke called Max, driving 8 hours to the game and having to listen to Max’s explanation about why his nickname was c#&%face.

 

But then it’s time for the big one. Time to see who will be taking home Lars tonight. Unconventionally (befitting the theme of the night) 2 medals are struck. One for the best Swede and one for the best non-Swede. In an upset result, Rob Young from the Årsta Swans wins the non-Swede award and in his euphoria, dedicates the win to everyone in the room. And why bloody not. I’m well and truly pissed. I never find out who wins the Swede award, but am told his brother came a very close second. Not sure of his name.

 

Probably Lars.

 

*There is a second other-end-of-the-world moment. I am told the Södermalm Blues theme song is sung to the tune of Good Old Collingwood Forever.

About rob scott

Rob Scott (aka Haiku Bob) is a Melbourne-born resident of Sweden who spent his adolsecence in Queensland. He has also had stints in Japan and The Netherlands but calls Victoria Park home. He writes haiku in between teaching whisky and drinking English, or something like that.

Comments

  1. Nice touch HB.

    Did ‘Murphy’s Law’ Lars waive the flags with surgical precision?

    Sod that song.

  2. Love it HB. Beautiful stuff.
    Sounds like he got the Lars laugh on you.

  3. Whereever life imitates sport you’ll find The Game That’s Played Around The World.

  4. haiku bob says:

    Late update:
    The Lars Hagberg Award for the best SWEDISH player went to:

    wait for it…

    Mick Larson.

    Mick LARSon

    It had to be.

  5. Peter Flynn says:

    HB,

    A terrific read.

    Over there, they obviously choose LARS surgery over the traditional knee reco.

  6. haiku bob says:

    good get flynny :)

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