Football: In fear of Angels with dirty tactics

talks to the man in the centre of a Swedish fan war
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The Independent Online
STUART BAXTER stood on the touchline of the Rasunda Stadium last Tuesday night a contented man, and with good reason. His team, AIK Stockholm, had just triumphed in the local derby, but, more importantly, the occasion passed off without trouble.

Sweden may not seem the likeliest of football's hotspots, but Baxter can tell a very different, and frightening, story. The Englishman coached AIK to the Swedish title last season, but he was literally too scared to uncork the champagne in case it was a bomb. Baxter was being punished for stepping into a turf war between rival fans.

The sinister undertones to Baxter's triumph almost forced the man, who was raised in the Midlands but describes himself as "a mongrel" because he has moved so often, to pack his bags and leave. He remained, but at a price. Baxter and his Swedish wife gave up their house, where they felt they had become a target, and now live in a hotel.

Baxter's team could meet either Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United in next season's Champions' League, yet it is doubtful if many of his countrymen could name one of Stockholm's football teams, let alone two. AIK and Hammarby may not rival the Old Firm for reputation, but Swedish police would argue otherwise.

AIK are the favoured choice of some of Sweden's more lawless elements. Their Black Angels have links with known groups of Hell's Angels, whose feud with other gangs over drugs saw their English-born leader assassinated last year.

The 31,500 crowd who watched AIK win 2-0 last week did so peacefully, but Baxter's mind must have wandered back to the derby meeting last season which suddenly made him a target. "The Black Angels had been causing problems all season," Baxter recalled, "because the club had been making an effort to detach themselves from this group. Once I went on the pitch to stop an invasion by the Black Angels and after that the warnings came.

"It got worse after we lost the derby to Hammarby. There would be phone calls in the middle of the night, and the players were also threatened. You know, calls like 'We know where your kids go to school.' Once a group of these fans went into a restaurant owned by Anders Limpar [the ex-Arsenal and Everton winger] and ran up a huge bill without paying. When Anders tried to get the money, they said they would burn the place down."

It was probably no joke, as Baxter chillingly discovered. A letter bomb was sent to AIK's chief of security. "He had banned four of their leaders from our games, but fortunately he's an ex-policeman and spotted telltale signs. The police detonated it and found a video inside wired to explosives. It could have blown up his apartment." Baxter then moved his family - one of whom, 23-year-old Lee, is AIK's reserve goalkeeper - away from their house in Stockholm's suburbs. "I felt we were a bit isolated there. The killing of the Hell's Angels guy happened only a kilometre from the house."

The whole episode soured the celebrations after winning the title in his first season at AIK. "I came home from the club's banquet to find a box on my doorstep," he reflects. "It had a note saying 'Congratulations Baxter'. I didn't touch it because I thought it would explode - it turned out to be champagne from my neighbours."

The prospect of playing in the Champions' League was one of the reasons Baxter stayed, but the man who can count on Arsene Wenger for advice [the pair became friends when they coached in Japan] would also love the chance to work in England. "I'm proud to be British, although I feel more European. I have retained the British competitive attitude, but I have picked up a lot of other things along the way."

None more so than in Japan, where he won the title with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and found a fellow-traveller, in the football sense, in Wenger. "Arsene has opened a lot of people's eyes in England with his dietary and physical regime and tactics, and hopefully chairmen would be interested in a British manager who has been successful abroad. I have won a trophy at every club I've been."

It is not surprising, given his lineage. Stuart used to sneak into Villa Park as a kid to watch as his Scots father, Bill, coached. His own playing career was low profile. Preston then Dundee United, before moving to Sweden, where he played alongside Roy Hodgson at Orebro. Where next? "With my luck, probably Afghanistan. I seem to be a magnet for trouble."