Positiv Läktarkultur – Positive Terrace Culture
In Issue One of STAND: Against Modern Football we spoke to Erik Johansson about the Positiv Läktarkultur fan-movement that has resulted in genuine change in attitudes on the terraces in Sweden. We could certainly learn a thing or two from the Swedes, particularly with regards to putting aside rivalries and thinking about the ‘bigger picture’…
Positiv Läktarkultur – Positive Terrace Culture, how did all come about and the reason behind the movement in Sweden?
To understand what the cause of Positiv Läktarkultur (PLK) is all about you have to know some basic facts about Swedish hooliganism:
Swedish hooliganism has become notorious with a couple of large organised firms, and minor ones popping up just about everywhere. But these hooligans don’t fight in or near the arena. That kind of behaviour has long since been washed out after agreements between firms. It is considered rude, unsportsmanlike and dishonourable between the hooligans to fight near the supporters that don’t want to participate in such activities.
There were a couple of incidents of disorder in Swedish terraces in 2011. The first of which was a hooligan bash in the terraces in a hockey derby between Djurgården and AIK in January. The firms of both agreed that it was very sad that there wasn’t separation between the two of them. They wanted to be separated at the terraces because “the fighting does not belong there.” This was followed by three very minor incidents that saw youngsters throw firecrackers during two football matches in Allsvenskan.
The media drastically changed its course in reporting about the Swedish terraces. The papers were filled with sensational headlines describing a ‘hooligan disaster’ and even going as far to say that ‘Swedish football is about to die’. Football and hockey supporters (they are the same as the clubs participate in both sports) were stunned. The “hooligan bash” wasn’t a bash of sort, since no hooligans actually reached each other, and the firecrackers were just … well firecrackers. The line of causality was simple: the media painted a picture of football stadia as dangerous places – non football visitors accepted the picture – politicians and public icons were pressured to publicly share this now so common opinion. The result of this was that football clubs lost money from having their brands dragged through the mud.
It went so far that politicians began to speak of new laws. One of these laws already existed, known just as “the hooligan law”. However, no attorney has ever dared to use it since it is so undemocratic. It is a law that gives attorneys the right to condemn football fans to movement restrictions on match days – WITHOUT TRIAL! Young football supporters, some as young as 13-years-old were banned from Swedish stadia due to “suspicions of potential to participate in illegal behaviour in the future”. Politicians began to discuss the possibility of prison sentences without trial. Punishment due to suspicion.
The answer was clear: there was a need for a lobby group. Football supporters needed to organise.
We used our connections in AIK, namely the Ultras groups, and with their help we contacted the supporters of the other teams. We had barely finished speaking before the answers came: They were in.
We called a big meeting and created a system of communication. An internal board and organising work group with supporters from all over the nation was assembled. They were responsible for taking board decisions to the supporters of their clubs to start work. We started planning for the most organised protests Swedish football have ever seen. We headed out to change bad journalism and kick back! Our message was loud and clear:
“Football is NOT dangerous”
“Swedish terraces are NOT a place of riots and fire”
“We will NOT accept anyone turning Swedish supporter-ship into something negative that has to be changed”
The struggle against modern football is already very visual on Swedish and Scandinavian terraces, thanks to ultras groups etc. Everything that has been done by Positiv Läktarkultur has felt much bigger and the media coverage has been great. What do you think is the reason behind that?
The Ultras and other organisations close to them were among the most engaged in the work with the protest. But this movement was set out to differentiate somehow. This time around, the Ultras were not alone. Ordinary supporters with no background in organised groups were involved. The frustration was shared all over the stadiums and not only by the organised Ultras. Having the common supporters on their side the Ultras and the whole movement won a great deal of credibility and trustworthiness. Fathers bringing their sons to the matches and people like me all saw what was happening to our clubs and for the first time we decided to react.
With this new dimension of engaged ordinary supporters, a new sphere of contacts and networks were able to be used. We got support from everywhere. A 55-year-old supporter of Djurgården got us onto national radio; another supporter of GAIS got us into some newspapers, and so on. We got money from all over Sweden, sent from business people who love football, from organisations and from regular football supporters. We grew into a giant network able to make a change – to reach out in public. We were united and we had had enough.
Supporters of all the bigger clubs in Sweden supports PLK, what it was like in the beginning and how did you tackle old and bitter rivalry amongst fans?
The very first thing to do is to make one important matter to clear as glass: “we are not friends, we do not want to speak to each other and we will not ever speak unless necessary. Today we have a common problem, a threat to our clubs. Let us get rid of this problem and then never speak again”. Without this very basic statement, we could never have gotten so many to participate. We had a meeting in the start where we gathered the supporters from almost every team in Sweden. They didn’t speak to each other. They would not even look at each other. Then our spokesman took his place at the front and said: “Hello. I hate you all. Let’s get down to business”. From that point, it was very professional and the movement has seen itself to grow like a company.
Has there been any negative feedback from supporter groups or newspapers? If so how did you work around it?
At first many journalists and newspapers acted as they had been personally offended, which itself is very bad journalism. They tried to maintain their aggressive course spreading more bad publicity about the terraces. Many attacked the PLK-movement. But they had little chance as we had become organised, which was unexpected.
We spread the messages in blogs, via Facebook, through mail and flyers. A new kind of banner started to appear all over Swedish terraces. Banner without passionate anti-police slogans but with a grown up and serious kind of messages. Journalists were taken by surprise when ordinary supporters, not standing with the organised supporters, holding up banners saying “MEDIA – TAKE YOUR RESPONSIBILITY”. The newspapers that had been spreading headlines about families who were supposed to have been fleeing the arenas due to violence did not know how to react when these families now made big banners saying “MEDIA – REPORT PROPORTIONALLY OR DO NOT REPORT AT ALL”.
What would you say is the most important channel to battle”modern football” – is there one?
To play it straight. We used every public channel we could reach. We emailed every journalist in Sweden (we created a list of 500 names!) telling them we had published a new answer on our website, we broadcasted on YouTube, we spread or arguments on Facebook and on hundreds of blogs. We reached everywhere and any journalist who dared to post a lie or untrue article that discredited our terraces.
This battle to save REAL football is going on all over Europe; some say that the battle is already lost. Still, supporters can vote with their feet, they can boycott and they can be very loud to address injustice. What would you say to British supporters that would like to get organized and turn back the clock for the love of the game?
Organize. Make up the terms and accept your common goal. You are not friends, you are not colleagues – but you are for real with changing the picture of football. For Britain, where the damage on the terrace culture is most severe, I would go for slogans like “It’s time to take it back, “It’s time to reunite the history”, “You wanted to ban the hooligans, but you banned us all” or “time has come to once again make British football to what it once was”.
All potential struggles in Britain would need to be based on the reminding of that it is not about bringing back hooligans, but bringing back ordinary people and spirit to the arenas.
Our big issue that we had to remind everyone of all the time was that by searching for some terrace hooligans that does not exist – the media is about to kill the whole soul of Swedish football. We are NOT hooligans fighting media, we are people!