When Swedish Clubs Ruled Europe

Updated: Jun 1

Champions League trophy [Getty]

In the modern-day era, a Swedish football club making the group of the Champions League or even Europa League would be considered a major success. Only to serve as six free points for the other three teams of the group – at least in the Champions League.

Malmö’s recent campaigns serving as examples – obtaining a mere three points from six games in the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League season and the prior one. Swedish football clubs’ endeavors in the Europa League could hardly be considered much more impressive, despite advancing past the group stage. Malmö and Östersund reaching the last 32 of the Europa League was an impressive accomplishment. However, it was only impressive based on them being Swedish clubs.

But there was a time when Swedish clubs were serious contenders in European competitions. When they won the Europa League twice within two years and made an appearance in a Champions League final. There are other noteworthy performances and stats sported by Swedish clubs in European competitions and they will be highlighted in this article.

In the 1981-82 UEFA Cup (the modern-day equivalent of Europa League), IFK Göteborg defeated Haka, Sturm Graz, Dinamo Bucuresti, Valencia, Kaiserslautern, and Hamburg to claim the title! The final being especially memorable – a 4-0 demolition. In the 1986-87 season, they repeated the feat.

This time by defeating Sigma Olomouc, Stahl Brandenburg, Gent, Inter Milan, Swarovski Tirol, and Dundee United 2-1 in the final. Although Malmö FF’s 1979 European Cup (the modern-day equivalent of Champions League) final appearance is perhaps even more impressive.

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They defeated Monaco, Dynamo Kyiv, Wisla Krakow, and Austria Wien to lose 1-0 in the final to the famous Nottingham Forest team that won back-to-back European Cup titles. Paradoxically, when Swedish clubs were experiencing some of their all-time greatest success, the Swedish national team was historically weak.

Stig Fredriksson (left) and captain Glenn Hysén with the UEFA Cup trophy [Getty]

The success of Swedish club football goes beyond the 1970s and 1980s. Few people know Malmö FF was one of UEFA’s first true super clubs. From 1950 to 1951 they were ranked number one according to Football Club ELO Ratings for 519 consecutive days! Unfortunately, this was prior to the existence of any major club competitions so their success is largely unrecognized.

There’s a wide variety of factors behind this. The primary one being the fact that World War Two finished a mere six years previously and most of Europe was in ruins – one exception being Sweden. This is also a contributing factor to the Swedish national team being at (arguably) their strongest ever point during the 1940s to 1950s. Another factor was their manager – legendary Hungarian Kalman Konrad who also lacks recognition due to him playing in olden days of football. One of Hungary’s all-time greatest 1910s player and managing the likes of Bayern Munich, FC Zurich, Slavia Prague, and Malmö among others.

IFK Göteborg 1981-1982 UEFA Cup winners (4:0 on aggregate against HSV). [Facebook / Old football Pictures]

Only the future will tell what’s in store for Swedish clubs. With how much of a role economics play, the outlook is sadly quite grim. But at the same time, we’ve seen strong strides forward by Swedish clubs. The two most recent examples being Östersund and Malmö advancing from the group stage of the Europa League. Hopefully, we will see Swedish clubs advancing from the group stage of the Champions League some years down the line!

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