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Developing football in Sweden

By training up to 10,000 new football coaches every year and building indoor sports halls to cope with long, harsh winters, Sweden’s football association is laying strong foundations for the future.

Overview

Source: UEFA grassroots survey (2019)

True to its historic motto of ‘a club in every village’, the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) enjoys significant success in attracting large numbers of people to take up the game. Every third activity in Swedish sports is a football activity.

The real challenge, in a country where harsh winters mean football can only be played from April to November, lies in converting initial interest into a life-long commitment. Many young girls and boys give up football early. As such, the association’s long-term strategy does not just aim to increase levels of participation, but to encourage more people to play football for a longer period. Two other strategic goals complement this objective:

  • Ensuring well-educated players, coaches and referees and well-run clubs at all levels
  • Inspiring future generations of players with international success for Sweden’s national teams and club sides

To achieve its goals, the SvFFhas invested in the development of indoor pitches and football halls, both in the capital Stockholm and across the rest of Sweden. This has provided clubs and children with more opportunities to play football, even in the dark, winter months. The association is also increasing the number of certified coach educators who are skilled in fitness training and behavioural science (see UEFA Support)

The investment is paying off: the SvFF has overseen an average 1–2% increase in the number of registered Swedish youth teams and an annual increase of 8–10,000 newly educated football coaches.

Women’s football remains a Swedish success story. Since its introduction in 1970s, the number of registered female players aged over 18 has grown to almost 150,000, while over 120,000 girls and young women aged less than 18 play the game. At the elite level, women’s national teams continue to enjoy success on the international stage.

During the pandemic, the Swedish Football Association distributed government relief funding to both elite and grassroots clubs struggling to cope with the loss of revenue. Once health restrictions eased to allow the resumption of youth football matches without fans, the association streamed matches free of charge on its Min Fotboll app, ensuring communities could still follow their local clubs’ fortunes.

UEFA support

UEFA’s HatTrick programme, which channels EURO funds into football development across Europe, is helping the SvFF achieve its goal of quality training for coaches and players by paying for the preparation of certified coach educators.

Projects funded by revenue from EURO 2016 included the development of regional technical centres to develop talented 16–17 year-old youth players; elite youth players were invited to training camps run by specialist coaches. Since 2013, HatTrick funding has also supported Swedish FA efforts to strengthen its national football infrastructure, including the construction of artificial pitches and indoor football halls – both essential to ensure football can still be played during Sweden’s long, cold winters.

The association has also drawn on HatTrick to strengthen its football social responsibility programmes, in particular the Alla Är Olika – Olika Är Bra (Everyone is Different, Different is Good) project. This initiative uses football to promote equality and fight all forms of discrimination in society.

Timeline

Association history

1896: First national championship, in knockout format, run by an unofficial football association.
1904:
The Swedish Football Association (SvFF) is founded and football quickly becomes the country’s most popular sport.
1925: First edition of the official Swedish national league.
1958: The national association hosts the 1958 FIFA World Cup finals, hosting the matches at small, provincial grounds to create a ‘family’ atmosphere around the tournament.
1959: National club championship switches temporarily to a summer season to encourage more fans to attend matches.
19 April 1990: Lennart Johansson – honorary president of the SvFF – is elected as UEFA president. His tenure sees the birth of the UEFA Champions League. Mr Johansson is, for a time, assisted by compatriot Lars-Christer Olsson, a former SvFF general secretary, who succeeded Gerhard Aigner as UEFA chief executive.
1992: Sweden hosts UEFA EURO ‘92, renovating host venue stadiums in preparation for the finals. It is the national side’s first ever appearance at European Championship finals.
2012: Zlatan Ibrahimović marks the first match at the new national stadium, the Friends Arena at Solna, just outside Stockholm, by scoring all four goals in a 4-2 victory over England. The fourth – a spectacular overhead bicycle kick from 35 metres out, is awarded the FIFA Puskás Award for goal of the year.
2013: Sweden hosts the UEFA Women’s EURO, with the national side reaching the semi-finals.

©Popperfoto/Getty Images

National team competitions

12 July 1908: The national team’s first international match results in an 11-3 defeat to Norway in Gothenburg.
1912: Sweden compete at the Stockholm Olympic Games but are eliminated in the early stages.
1924: Sweden take bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games.
1948: The national team, managed by Englishman George Raynor, go two places better than 1924 by winning gold at the first post-war Olympic Games in London, defeating Yugoslavia in the final.
1949: Italian side AC Milan sign the entire front three of Sweden’s Olympic-winning side – Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm. Nicknamed Gre-no-li by Milan’s fans, the trio score a collective 329 goals at the club.
1958: After finishing third at the 1950 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil and the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, Sweden host the 1958 World Cup, only losing in the final 5-2 to the great Brazil side of Didi, Garrincha and a 17-year-old Pele.
1970: Sweden qualify for the FIFA World Cup 1970 in Mexico, but fail to advance from their group after losing a tiebreaker with Uruguay.
1974: Sweden are eliminated from the 1974 FIFA World Cup by hosts and eventual champions West Germany, but only after a thrilling 4-2 defeat.
1984: Sweden’s women’s team are crowned UEFA Women’s European Champions after defeating England in a penalty shoot-out.
1987: The women’s national team fall narrowly short of retaining their European Championship title after losing 2-1 to neighbours Norway in the final.
1989: Sweden take bronze at the UEFA Women’s European Championship finals, defeating Italy in the third-place play-off.
1991: Sweden’s women finish third at the FIFA World Cup finals in China, defeating Germany 4-0 in the third-place play-off.
1992: Playing on home soil, a young, entertaining Swedish side, coached by Tommy Svensson, reach the semi-finals of EURO ‘92, before going out to then reigning World Champions Germany in a tournament won by neighbours Denmark.
1994: Svensson’s side finishes third at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, staged in the United States, thanks to the guile of Tomas Brolin, the energy of target man Kennet Andersson and the goalkeeping of Tomas Ravelli. The Blågult (blue and yellows) return home to a heroes’ welcome after defeating Bulgaria 4-0 in the third-place play-off.
1995: The women’s national team finish runners-up for a second time at the UEFA Women’s European Championships after a 3-2 final defeat to Germany.
2000: Sweden men’s team qualify for UEFA EURO 2000, jointly hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, but finish last in their group and fail to advance.
2001: The Swedish women’s team lose out to Germany again in the final of the UEFA Women’s European Championship.
2002: At the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, staged in South Korea and Japan, Sweden reach the round of 16 before losing to a late goal against Senegal.
2003: At the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States of America, Sweden’s women fall agonisingly short for a second successive international tournament, with Germany again the culprits thanks to a golden goal in the final.
2004: The national team qualify for UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal, advancing to the quarter-finals and only losing to the Netherlands after a penalty shoot-out.
2006: Sweden reach the round of 16 at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, going out 2-0 to the tournament hosts.
2008: Sweden reach their fifth success international final tournament – UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland – but fail to go beyond the group stage.
2011: Sweden defeat France in a third-place play-off at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
2012: New coach Erik Hamrén leads Sweden to UEFA EURO 2012, where his side are eliminated at the group stage.
2013: Sweden’s men’s team finish third at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
2015: the men’s Under-21 side are victorious at the 2015 UEFA European championship finals in the Czech Republic.
2016: Sweden defeat rivals Denmark 4-3 in a qualification play-off to reach UEFA EURO 2016 in France, but are eliminated at the group stage.
2017: Sweden qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, after famously eliminating four-time winners Italy in a two-legged play-off – condemning the Azzurri to miss a World Cup final tournament for the first time since the 1950s.
2018: At their first appearance at the World Cup in 12 years, Sweden finish first in their group, helping to eliminate holders Germany. After overcoming Switzerland in the round of 16, the Swedes slip to a 2-0 defeat to England in the quarter-finals.
2019: Sweden’s women reach the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, where they are eliminated by England.
2019: Sweden secure their sixth consecutive appearance at the European Championship finals, UEFA EURO 2020, scheduled for the summer of 2021.

Karl-Erik Nilsson
Karl-Erik Nilsson©Bildbyrån

President

Karl-Erik Nilsson

Nationality: Swedish
Date of Birth: 6 May 1957
Association president since: 2012

Håkan Sjöstrand
Håkan Sjöstrand©Bildbyrån

General secretary

Håkan Sjöstrand

Nationality: Swedish
Date of birth: 1 October 1966
Association general secretary since: 2014