Göteborg, or Gothenburg if you prefer the Anglicized name, has been influenced by outsiders since the cities founding in 1621 and still bears marks of those who helped build it; the Dutch.
Designed and planned by Dutch engineers after Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus successfully established the location of the city, Göteborg draws comparisons with Amsterdam, Jakarta, and colonial Manhattan, with street layouts and canals found in all three cities in a similar fashion.
Given its strategic location on the nation’s west coast and straddling the Skagerrak and subsequently gaining access to both the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Göteborg has been a hub of commerce, trade, and immigration for centuries (and this brings the history nerd portion of this piece to a swift conclusion).
In that light, it is perhaps that I, a born and raised New Yorker, have felt some immediate attachment to the city since my arrival back in early June.
And as any football-crazed fan would do, it was my mission to immerse myself in the sporting culture of the city, which not only included attending an IFK Göteborg match at Gamla Ullevi but also spending an afternoon connecting with fellow Arsenal supporters in a way that only football fans would understand.
I set out on a Saturday morning after arriving back in the city in the wake of a week away in the lake-side town of Vänersborg to meet up with Remi Jacobsson; a born and raised native of London who had moved to Göteborg during the pandemic and a life-long Arsenal supporter. After I quickly dispatched two Carlsberg’s at the bar, Remi arrived and we headed to the back of Cheers Pub; the home patch of Arsenal’s Göteborg supporters club.
Immediately, it felt like a home away from home.
The cadre of supporters that turned up for the Emirates Cup pre-season friendly against Sevilla was as friendly as ever, and everyone knew each other. Even before kick-off, the joy of coming together as a small community where everyone from all walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds bonded over a love affair with Arsenal was apparent.
For Remi, finding a pub to connect to his passion has been a big part of his life since his arrival in Sweden.
“I moved to Sweden two years ago from London with my wife who is from Göteborg. I think regardless of where I am in the world I will always feel connected, Arsenal is a part of me. However, going to Arsenal pub in Gothenburg has made me feel part of the bigger whole of the fanbase/supporters and is a great reminder of how big the club is.”
Given the nature of Arsenal’s presence both on English shores but also across dozens of nations around the globe, perspective does have a manner of changing, particularly when a lack of access to the club is at the heart of every individual football experience. But when it comes to a possible divide between England and Sweden, Remi has hardly noticed.
“Honestly, I’ve found Swedish supporters more or less the same as those back in the UK. Just as passionate with a big love for the club. Perhaps even more devoted to it since they’re supporting a club they can’t physically access easily.”
Most impressively, Arsenal has already left its mark on Göteborg in a small but significant way; the pace of life.
As a city of just a shade over 550,000 in the immediate area, it was not a shock to myself, or Remi, that the vibe here in Göteborg is slower and less stressful, but as a community that is mad about football, life accelerates when its an Arsenal day.
“The slower pace in Gothenburg hasn’t seemed to have any effects on me or the supporters I’ve met so far. In fact, it picks up the pace when you enter the Arsenal pub on a match day. You can feel the anticipation in the air and a buzz in the supporters. Something you don’t see much of in regular everyday Gothenburg.”
That uptick in pace, excitement, and connection to a club that so many in Göteborg either have never seen live or at the very least, didn’t grow up around like Remi, is a testament to how football can bring communities together through one common love.
For Filip Tolf, one of the prominent members of Arsenal Göteborg, the connection still runs deep, but unlike Remi, his passion grew across the North Sea thanks to finely-gelled dyed red hair.
“Being Swedish and originally from Halmstad, I have to say Fredrik Ljungberg [regarding which Arsenal player defined his connection to the club]. I told you about how I became an Arsenal supporter by pretending that I was an Arsenal player when in school and studying Arsenal during the time I was sick. That was just one part of the truth. The other reason I started to support Arsenal was Fredrik Ljungberg. Ljungberg was all over the Swedish newspapers and news so how could a boy, 8 or 9 years old, not support the team where there was a great and supercool Swedish player?”
But Ljungberg was part of a period of Arsenal history that countless supporters will cite as the glory years. For many who became fans during the mid-1990s, they knew nothing but scintillating and Premier League-defining football that was influenced by one of the greatest managers in league history who commanded some of the brightest talents to ever don a pair of boots.
Those times did not last forever in the latter stages of Arsène Wenger’s reign, but for Filip and other supporters in the Göteborg community, coping with the “down years” was made easier through other avenues, including podcasting.
“I can only speak for myself and my closest Arsenal friends, but we coped you could say! And now I am coming back to what I was talking about earlier; the togetherness and the ‘Arsenal geekiness.’ We all know that we are in this all the way and there is no ‘getting out from Arsenal’ for any of us.”
“So, we had each other to talk to and brief with...a bit therapeutic you could say! And speaking for myself, I know that Arsenal Göteborg Podcast was therapeutic for me. It’s really helpful to talk to like-minded people who are going through the same thing, in life in general I would say as well!”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Remi agreed.
“I can’t speak for supporters in Sweden as I’m still fairly new to Arsenal Gothenburg but for me, you support your club through thick and thin. Sure you complain along the way and get into heated arguments with other supporters but it’s all from a place of frustration when it seems so obvious what the right way forward is. So I think I coped the same way we all probably did grin and bare it until things got better.”
It is funny to me, really. The three of us come from very different walks of life, different places, through different upbringings, surroundings, and life experiences, but the camaraderie that can be found through something as simple as kicking a football - or the love of watching that very simple action - can make you feel one and the same.
For both Remi and Filip, their supporter experience could perhaps be summed up in an even simpler way...their all-time Arsenal XI.
Remi: Seaman - Lauren, Campbell, Adams, Cole - Pires, Silva, Vieira, Sanchez - Wright, Bergkamp
Filip: Szczesny - Bellerin, Campbell, Toure, Monreal - Ljungberg, Vieira, Rosicky, Pires - Henry, Bergkamp
When I reflect on my day at Cheers Pub, meeting Remi - as well as other Arsenal supporters who huddled at tables around one singular tv in the back of a quaint little spot on Viktoriagatan - and speaking with Filip, I am easily reminded of why we love this club...this beautiful game.
My time in Göteborg has been an experience that was sorely needed for me personally, and perhaps it is fitting that along the way I ran into outstanding people that helped me continue to connect to something that, for me, the pair of them, and the millions of us that are Arsenal ‘till we die, will have meaning perhaps far beyond our ability to comprehend.
To Remi, Filip, and the rest of Arsenal Göteborg; tack så mycket och det var väldigt trevligt att träffa dig.
To follow the Arsenal Göteborg, go here.
For more from Filip and the AG podcast, catch them here.