Svennis from heaven for nation in dreamland

Simon Turnbull discovers that Eriksson-mania stretches much further north than St James' Park
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The Independent Football

Sven will it ever end? For seven days now – or Sven days, perhaps – the Svenmania has been unrelenting. It took over national television last Saturday night. It filled seven pages of the best-selling national newspaper on Monday. All week the nation has been held in its grip. The nation of Sweden, that is.

Last Monday's edition of Aftonbladet, Sweden's most popular newspaper, devoted seven of its 16 sports pages to Sven Goran Eriksson and England's 5-1 win against Germany in Munich. Sweden's 2-1 win in Macedonia was given secondary billing, and a mere one and a half pages.

It seemed a fair reflection of the nation's interest. The Germany v England match had been screened live by the national television channel in Sweden – SVT, Sveriges Television. It attracted 1.14 million viewers. Sweden's game against Macedonia was watched by 500,000 Swedes on TV5, the Swedish equivalent of Channel Five.

Two-one to the Svengerland, then? Maybe not. "On our website on Monday, we had 100,000 clicks on our main story about Sven Goran Eriksson," Michael Poromaa, night editor on Aftonbladet's sports section, reported. "We had just 10,000 clicks on our article about the Swedish team. So Svennis, as we call him – like you would say Johnny for someone called John – is 10 times bigger than the national team. He is really big here. Everybody in Sweden follows him and his team."

Everybody, including the Swedish Prime Minister, in fact. Goran Persson confessed he spent last Saturday night channel-hopping between the Macedonia v Sweden and Germany v England football matches and coverage of the annual Sweden v Finland athletics fixture in Gothenburg. "I did watch all of them," he said, "and in the end we won all three of them." There were another two wins for the Swedish premier to celebrate in midweek: 2-1 for Sweden in Turkey and 2-0 for Svengerland at Newcastle.

"For us," Ulla Engberg said, speaking as a Swede at St James' Park on Wednesday night, "Sven Goran Eriksson being here does make the England team we." Engberg was sitting four rows behind England's Swedish coach in the press seats at Newcastle United's ground. She is well-placed to offer a Swedish perspective on the Svengali phenomenon, as a London-based foreign correspondent for the Malmo daily broadsheet Sydsvenska Dagbladet.

"I think Swedish people feel a kind of ownership over Sven Goran Eriksson, because of the way he is," she said. "He's very successful and he has a lot of money, but he still seems to be down-to-earth, pretty modest, approachable. There's a fascination in Sweden about him, and about how he seems to have changed the mood of the England team.

"There has always been a big interest in English football in Sweden. My brother-in-law... when his son was 12 years old they would go to England on a trip just to watch football. And the shirt his son got on that trip – Tottenham Hotspur – was the most precious thing he had.

"Even before Sven Goran Eriksson came here, David Beckham and Michael Owen were heroes for Swedish kids. A lot of kids in Sweden relate very strongly to the players in England – in a different way than they do to the Swedish players."

On Wednesday night, while the English players were taking their national side to the top of Group Nine in the World Cup qualifying tables, the Swedish players were busy taking their team through to the finals. Two goals in the last four minutes at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul – scored by the Celtic hero Henrik Larsson and by Andreas Andersson, a less than heroic figure during his brief stay at St James' Park – earned Sweden a 2-1 win against Turkey and a place at next summer's global bash in Japan and South Korea.

Svennis and England were knocked off the Swedish back pages, temporarily at least. "This is the biggest moment we have ever experienced," Tommy Soderberg told Aftonbladet, presumably referring to himself and Lars Lagerback – co-coaches of the national side – rather than to Swedish football as an historical whole. Sweden did , after all, reach the final of the World Cup on home soil in 1958, losing 5-2 to a Brazilian team inspired by the 17-year-old Pele.

It is the 53-year-old Eriksson, though, who has dominatedthe Swedish headlines this past week. "Svennis Mot Sverige," Aftonbladet proclaimed on Tuesday, three days before The Mirror claimed an English "exclusive" on plans for a "Sven Against Sweden" friendly at Old Trafford on 10 November.

"It would be really, really big here in Sweden," Aftonbladet's Michael Poromaa said. "It would be even bigger than England v Germany is for you." Now, that really is going over the top. Swedish tabloid Svensationalism, you might say.

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