AIK in USA: VI ÄR ÖVERALLT
When AIK stepped foot onto Jeld-Wen Field on Monday to play Chivas USA, it is unlikely that they expected to see a single person in the ground wearing their black and yellow colors. Yet Mattias Örth, Fredrik Wolff and Linus Wilhelmsson were doing just that – standing together in the front row of the North End of the Portland Timbers’ stadium, cheering for their hometown Gnaget. Wolff and Wilhelmsson flew together to Portland via Frankfurt and Seattle while Örth came alone, connecting through New York to reach the Rose City. Though the week is not yet over, what started as a hopeful trip without much by way of match tickets, hotel accommodations or knowledge of the host club has evolved into the trip of a lifetime.
“When we first heard about the tournament in Portland, we asked ourselves if we were crazy enough to come over for it. Immediately we said, yes!” remembers Wilhelmsson. He and Wolff made plans to attend the tournament in Portland but were unsure of how many other supporters might make the trek across nine time zones. They spent two days in Seattle before arriving in Portland on the day of the first game. There they met up with Örth, who had just arrived from New York. Together they represented the only AIK traveling support at the first match of the four-team, six-game tournament. “We didn’t know what to expect – would the fans in Portland hate us?” said Örth. Having contacted Timbers Army members via online fan forums, the three AIK supporters met Portland fans at The Bitter End pub across the street from Jeld-Wen Field to pick up tickets and begin the week’s festivities.
In North America, most football supporters are at least respectful of the long distances traveled by away fans. In Portland, away supporters are often corralled into pubs and given a warm welcome by the Timbers Army. In the case of AIK, this was no different. The three weary travelers enjoyed a few pints at the Timbers supporters’ pub before making their way into the ground for the first match. “It was a special experience,” said Wolff of the opportunity to watch his club amid friendly Timbers supporters. After AIK’s 2-0 win against Chivas USA the three fans made their way to the section where AIK’s coaches sat during the evening’s second match. “We talked to the coaches and they were impressed that we had traveled so far. We asked if the next day’s training session was open and they said yes,” added Wilhelmsson. Before Tuesday arrived, the evening’s second match took place between Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes. “It was an amazing atmosphere for pre-season. It was almost better than at home,” raved Örth. The trio also met a pair of Swedish teenagers currently enrolled as exchange students in nearby Beaverton.
On Tuesday, Wolff and Wilhelmsson attended AIK’s training session at Jeld-Wen Field, having arrived at the stadium when the team bus pulled up. Despite consistent rain, they lasted long enough to see the end of training and were then allowed into the locker room with the team. The intimate interactions with players and coaches were a first for both as they reveled in access never possible back in Stockholm. Though training sessions are always open to the public at AIK, chatting with players and coaches afterward is not normal. Young defender David Fällman, who is still trying to earn a place with the first team, gave Wolff and Wilhelmsson particular attention, discussing his contract situation and thanking them for their insistence that he was in fact good enough, in their eyes. “AIK takes care of players really well. Even when a player leaves the club, they often come back and are welcomed by their former teammates and coaches,” noted Wolff. Örth joined his cohorts at Wednesday’s training, a dryer but much colder afternoon at the stadium. They again were allowed on the field and traded quips with assistant coach Nebojša Novaković and goalkeeper Ivan Turina, whom they refer to as Ivan the Hooligan.
When Thursday came, the trio planned to attend AIK’s match against San Jose before Wolff and Wilhelmsson were to attend the Portland Trail Blazers basketball game against LeBron James and the Miami Heat at the nearby Rose Garden Arena. During a dour 0-0 draw with the Earthquakes, Örth, Wilhelmsson and Wolff led chants in the North End, both teaching the gathering Timbers Army traditional AIK chants in Swedish or simply making up new chants to keep the crowd going. Meanwhile, five more supporters arrived from Stockholm and the aforementioned exchange students joined the group to bring their total to ten. When security threatened to expel the group for their failure to have tickets specific to the section, the Timbers Army saved the day, chanting ‘Let them stay!’ until the Swedish visitors were finally left alone. Afterward, while on the light rail to the basketball arena, Wolff and Wilhelmsson met AIK players who were themselves on their way to the Trail Blazers game, but without tickets. The two fans sold their tickets to the basketball game, returned to Jeld-Wen Field, bought new tickets and reentered the stadium.
Having brought a bounty of AIK scarves, shirts, hats and pins, the group was never bereft of swapping offers. “I posted on the forum that I got a scarf but Linus didn’t. On Thursday he got five Timbers scarves while I still have my one!” said Wolff. The generosity of Portlanders in swag and in spirit was a constant refrain as the trio recounted their first four days in the Rose City. They also expressed a fondness for the city itself, citing the easy public transportation system, the quality of local beer and friendliness of everyone they encountered.
The interaction with the Timbers Army has already created at least three new fans of the Timbers. Wolff said he is considering flying to New York for the Timbers’ August 19 match at Red Bull Arena. If AIK do come back to Portland in future years, all three plan to return and will try to convince others to join them. “No one at home will believe how good the support is here,” said Örth, seemingly ready to taken on the role of Timbers evangelist. “I just can’t think about it all without smiling,” Wolff said contentedly.
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