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Jan 28, 2004

Anglo-Swedish celebration

With two of Sweden's favourite sons in charge of the England team it is hardly surprising that the Three Lions have been selected as one of three teams to take part in the SvFF (Svenska Fotbollförbundet/Swedish FA) centenary celebrations.

Manager Sven Goran Eriksson and assistant manager Tord Grip will take England to Gothenburg's Nya Ullevi Stadion on March 31 for a match that will double as part of the two countries' preparations for Euro 2004 - where they could meet again in the semi-finals.

But Eriksson's and Grip's nationality is not the only link that has prompted England to take part in the celebrations, the two countries share a long and intertwined footballing history that spans nearly 100 years.

The two teams first did battle at the 1908 Olympics in Paris, just four years after the SvFF was founded, then called the NSF section for hockey and football. England beat the Swede's 12-1 en-route to claiming the tenuous title of the first ever World Champions - a title England retained at the following Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Despite ties that date back 96 years it was not until 1923, just after Belgium became the first side from the continent to play a full international in England, that Sweden and England played their first full international in the Olympiastadion, Stockholm.

England ran out 4-2 winners in the inaugural match and a second-match, or re-match, was arranged at the same location just three days later - a match that still has the SvFF and FA in dispute, and perfection-seeking statos in therapy.

England ran out 3-1 winners and the FA dutifully archived the result and recorded it as an official international while their Swedish counterparts did not.

Subsequent investigation by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) some years later declared that the match was unofficial and suggested it was only after winning the clash that 'people' wanted to claim that it was official - presumably after contacting only the host nation's FA.

However, the FA reacted to the defamatory comments by insisting that there was no pre-match agreement to declare the game unofficial and pointed to the fact that the team they faced was a senior Swedish team.

Their argument does have weight as five of the Swedish players in the second match had played in the first match and the remaining six all represented Sweden in other official matches of the period.

Also, the England team of the time were hardly struggling to record victories over foreign opponents and it wasn't until 1949 that Sweden gained revenge and eventually beat England in the Rasunda Stadium - a ground that was inaugurated twelve years earlier with a 4-0 loss to England.

Ironically, it was an FA recommended Englishman, George Raynor, who guided Sweden to their first win over his home nation, just one year after guiding the Swedes to the gold medal at the 1948 Olympics in London, England.

More irony prevailed as the Yorkshireman coached an amateur Sweden team to third place at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil as England made a belated an embarrassing debut at the tournament.

During his tenure, Raynor also developed the considerable talents of Hans Jeppson, Gunnar Nordahl, Henry Carlsson and the legendary Gunnar Gren who later had a statue erected in Gothenburg.

As English football began to flounder, Raynor and his proteges again triumphed with an Olympic bronze in 1952.

Ullevi Stadium: hosts centenary celebration
Ullevi Stadium: hosts centenary celebration

And after England lost for the first time to a continental team on home soil, 6-3 to Hungary in 1953, Sweden became the second team to win at Wembley with a 3-2 triumph.

Swedish centre forward Agne Simonsson scored two goals in the second-half to see off the Three Lions and such was his ability that he was later bought by Real Madrid as a replacement for the legendary Alfredo de Stefano.

The highly effective Anglo-Swedish international paring also reached the final of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden only to be beaten 5-2 by Brazil. Meanwhile, England notched up the first ever 0-0 draw at a World Cup, against the eventual champions.

It is not surprising then that Sweden have improved their results against England over time and the centenary match at the Ullevi Stadion will mark the 20th clash between the two countries - depending on your view of the second Sweden match of 1923.

To date, England have won six, drawn eight and lost five of the clashes between the two countries and March's match gives the Swedes the chance to level the historical score - although England have failed to chalk up a win themselves since 1968.

Sweden's other centenary opponents also carry commemorative significance. The women's international team will mark the occasion with a re-run of Sweden's first ever international with Norway in 1908.

The SvFF also announced this week that Holland, who boast the oldest Football Association outside the UK and were one of the five founding members of FIFA, along with the Swedes, will complete the festivities.

England marked their centenary celebrations with a 2-1 victory over a World XI in 1963 and they will be hoping the good fortune that has accompanied them through a host of 100 year celebrations (English League centenary classic, 1987; Scottish FA Centenary, 1973; FA of Wales Centenary, 1976; 100th England-Scotland match, 1982) continues in Gothenburg.

Eriksson is emulating Raynor's Anglo-Sweden efforts in the development of a young England team - for Gren and Jeppson read David Beckham and Michael Owen - that many tipped to peak at this summer's European Championships and a tough test lies ahead.

The upcoming centenary clash is part of the two countries' Euro 2004 preparations and whilst giving a nod to the past it will also bring the future sharply into focus.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Dominic Raynor.