By Jan Juhlin
The Aberdeen pub in Gothenburg is a historic spot. Once known as Café Olivedal, it was here that five workers took the first steps to form IFK Göteborg on 4 October 1904.
A century on, IFK are on the verge of another great achievement. They celebrated their 100th birthday this week with a 2-0 win against reigning Swedish champions Djurgårdens IF with goals from Karl Svensson and Peter Ijeh in front of a huge crowd at the Nya Ullevi stadiun.
The victory moved them level on points with Ijeh's old club, Malmö FF, with three games remaining. And since IFK's last three matches include fixtures against Malmö and the only other side that could deny them the title, Halmstads BK, their Allsvenskan destiny is in their own hands.
That is fabulous news for a club whose financial stability, and status as Sweden's top club, had deserted them in recent years. But since employing former Denmark coach Bo Johansson in 2003, and signing star player George Mourad, IFK have been a team on the up.
They may have only finished seventh in the Allsvenskan in 2003, but new club director Mats Persson knew that the key to IFK's success was starting small and building. "We had to start from the beginning," he said. "
The financial situation was stabilised and we managed to return to being a small club again."
IFK were a small club to begin with, dwarfed by Gothenburg's upper class team, Örgryte IS, who were the giants of early Swedish football. However, the traditionally working class IFK became a major force in due course, and had won seven Allsvenskan titles when a young Sven-Göran Eriksson became coach in 1979.
After a shaky start, the current England coach revitalised a then-ailing club with a game based upon pressuring opponents. His success would take the club into the 1981/82 UEFA Cup. IFK were still a small club by European standards. They had to borrow money off their Änglarna supporters club to pay for their quarter-final trip to Valencia CF, making it all the more amazing when they won 2-0 in Spain to complete a 4-2 aggregate victory. They went on to win the tournament with a 4-0 aggregate success against Hamburger SV in the final.
That success saw Eriksson and players Torbjörn Nilsson, Glenn Hysén and Glenn Strömberg all earn moves to bigger clubs but IFK continued to thrive without them. Three successive Swedish titles from 1982 to 1984 preceded a fantastic season in 1987 where they won the Allsvenskan and also notched a second UEFA Cup success, winning 2-1 on aggregate against Dundee United FC in the final.
The 1990s saw IFK regularly competing in the UEFA Champions League, and winning six of the decade's first seven titles before the wheels came off with a second-placed finish in 1997. The club reacted to that disappointment with a spending spree which seemed to only make matters worse.
An eighth-placed finish in 1998 coincided with continued financial decline. By 2002, the club had lost almost €8m in a four-year spell - a huge amount by Swedish standards - and only narrowly escaped relegation after a nervous play-off against Västra Frölunda IF.
Happily, having hit rock bottom, new director Persson and coach Johansson established a new long-term plan for the club's future. And after Tuesday's win against Djurgården, it seems like IFK's first 100 years may yet end with another mighty celebration.
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