Late 1970. The Swedish season is over and the central parts of the country are covered by an early blanket of snow. Even the roads are white. A lanky teen stands outside, waiting, as the sun sets early. His name is Ralf Edström. He turned eighteen a little more than a month ago. He is set to leave his club Degerfors IF in the 2nd Division after a breakthrough season.

A few hours ago he was about to sign for Örebro SK, the closest rivals of Degerfors and an established Allsvenskan side. He held the contract in his hands; only his signature was missing. Then the phone rang. It was Lars Spjut, the Åtvidaberg scout, who had thought it a good idea to call him. Ralf told him about the situation. Spjut asked Ralf to wait and said they would meet in a few hours. Ralf then called the Örebro secretary and explained how he was uncertain. He asked for more time to think and signing was postponed for at least another day.

And there he stood, at the agreed rendezvous, in the cold, his nose turning red as the sun went down. He needed a handkerchief. Where was Lars Spjut? And what was it that made Ralf Edström turn at the last moment?

He was about to leave Degerfors, a municipality built around a steel mill with a population of no more than 10,000, for a similar village-like town, this one depending on a factory producing mechanical calculators for a worldwide market. Another dead end, another place that went dark and quiet in the evenings. But appearances sometimes deceive. To this day (almost) all Swedish football fans share an unconditional love for Åtvidabergs Fotbollförening [Football Club], despite all their recent problems. Ralf Edström knew what he wanted. But he still had to wait some time for Mr Spjut.

Åtvidaberg was originally a mining community. In the mid-1890s, when, after four centuries, there was no more copper to be found, a third of its population relocated to Ishpeming, Michigan, to extract iron ore. Hope was restored in the shape of Åtvidabergs Snickerifabrik, a carpentry that made office furniture. But when Åtvidabergs Idrottsförening [Sports Club] was formed in 1907 the men still felt a connection to the mining era and chose the symbol of copper (and Venus) as the basis for the club badge. The carpentry expanded gradually but went bust in 1922, a critical year for Swedish industry as export ceased after the Great War when most foreign business partners were on their knees.

Enter Elof Ericsson, boss of the reconstructed company. Ericsson was 35 years old at the time and had come a long way from humble beginnings and would run Åtvidabergs Industrier for 35 years. Ericsson was enthusiastic about sport. He acknowledged the villagers’ need for entertainment as well as the necessity of being fit to perform well at work, and took over as chairman of the club in 1930. That effectively made him king of Åtvidaberg. During this period (1930-32) he openly used jobs at the factory as bait to strengthen the team.

Ericsson quickly persuaded five more-than-decent players to uproot themselves and move to his town, which in those days had a population of about 5,000. The first two arrivals – the defender Thure Ekholm and the winger Folke Karlsson – came in 1929 from the third-tier side Motala AIF. Ekholm was a carpenter and Karlsson a mechanic. But Ericsson needed some real quality players so he went for the international centre-forward John Sundberg, a second-division star from Sandvikens AIK. He never played a game in Allsvenskan but nevertheless had several caps for Sweden and would get more while at Åtvidaberg. He was also a qualified engineer. Rolf Gartman from Örgryte was a very promising inside-forward with four caps to his name. Erik Hysén, grandfather of the future Liverpool defender Glenn and originally from IFK Göteborg was a left-sided attacker. Both had plenty of experience from Allsvenskan.

The team was promoted from the third tier. They did well as debutants at the second level, coming fourth in 1932-33, but then gradually lost their way and were relegated in 1935. Ericsson really had made an effort, but he could only watch as everything fell apart. Gartman was one of twelve siblings, seven of whom succumbed to tuberculosis, and died at the age of 26 in May 1934. Hysén failed to adjust to life in the village and soon went back to the lively seaport Gothenburg. Sundberg, who was expected top-scorer had a freak accident in a game away to Djurgården later the same year. His upper jaw was smashed. Always closely marked and subject to physical treatment, he decided he’d had enough. He retired on the spot, but settled in Åtvidaberg.

For Ekholm and Karlsson those years were a great adventure with regular visits to play in the capital Stockholm. They kept in touch for the rest of their lives, sharing memories over the phone as they grew older and resettled – although in later years Ekholm found it painful (but no less important) to talk to Karlsson, who had lost both his legs to illness and couldn’t stop himself crying as he remembered the days when he flew down the wing.

After relegation in 1935 Ericsson proposed a split of the club. Åtvidabergs IF remained but would only deal with athletics. Football (Åtvidabergs Fotbollförening, ÅFF), bandy and tennis became separate entities. Ericsson took the reigns again for a short period (1935-36) before turning to his factory and nurturing his personal career. He became a member of government for a short time as Minister of Trade after the elections in 1936. The following year he was elected president of the Swedish Football Association (1937-1949). Swedish football wanted to connect with the world – he would in time be succeeded by two other ministers of trade – and this was of course beneficial for Åtvidaberg as well.

In 1942 Ericsson again got serious with ÅFF when he employed the Hungarian coach Kálmán Konrád, who had been a star player in the 1920s and then a reputable coach in Germany, Switzerland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. In 1939 the Jewish Konrád had left Brno for Sweden just in time to avoid being deported by the Nazis. In Sweden, he soon built a good team. His league record during five seasons in the 2nd division was impressive as ÅFF finished second, sixth, first, second and second, although they lost the promotion play-off against Djurgården in 1945. He also took them to a cup final against Malmö FF in 1946, which they lost 3-0. Malmö would become his next employer.

Meanwhile, the Ericsson family was hit by tragedy. Elof and Ollie had a daughter and two sons, Gunnar and Lars, with the latter being the chosen heir and successor, despite being younger. Lars died from a sudden illness in the spring of 1943 at the age of 20. The cause varies according to source: pneumonia or appendicitis. Lars was a student at the time while Gunnar, who was three years older, had joined the army for a career as an officer. He was certainly needed during the war when every available man guarded the borders. But what would become of him when the conflict ended? Elof promoted Gunnar to fill the boots of his late brother. The full impact of this decision would not be seen for another 25 years.

József Nagy, another Hungarian coach, finally led ÅFF to Allsvenskan in 1951. The snag was that he did it with virtually the team he had inherited from Konrád. They had aged six years and were mostly approaching or past 30. The same squad played bandy during winter and managed to get promoted there as well. The following season was disastrous in both sports. The squad was clearly past it and managed only two victories in 29 games (22 in football, seven in bandy). Needless to say, they finished last in both tables. The double relegation was followed by a total rebuild, a decade in which numerous cast-offs from Allsvenskan came and went without much success. The 1950s ended with relegation to the third tier.

ÅFF bounced back, though. Re-entering the Second Division in 1961, coached by the Spaniard Antonio Durán, they got two important summer reinforcements in the experienced stopper Bengt ‘Julle’ Gustavsson, who returned to Sweden after five seasons with Atalanta of Bergamo, and the promising right-winger Roger Magnusson.

Magnusson was only 16, less than half the age of Gustavsson, but already had two years’ experience of first-team football and a reputation as something of a Wunderkind. He had made his debut with fourth-tier Blomstermåla IK in 1959, when the left-back for their perennial rivals Timmernabben, unable to deal with the youngster, ended up trying to wrestle him to the ground with a bear hug.

In 1960 Magnusson was picked for a squad to represent his county Småland at an annual camp for 15 year olds from across the whole country. At the same time the Swedish Football Federation (SvFF) commissioned a film to show the basic skills needed by young players to get their gold technical badge. The question was how to show it. The producers didn’t know what to do. They contacted the technical department at the SvFF and were given a strong recommendation: ”I know the guy you need for this.” Roger Magnusson was asked to perform and so he did. Over and over again. They had to ask him to stop. (The film is available on YouTube: search for “Magnusson aprilfilmer”).

Julle Gustavsson stabilised things on the pitch while Magnusson added hope for the future. He became the kind of entertainer that the Ericssons had been looking for. Within two years, the leading media personalities Lennart Hyland and Putte Kock were pestering the national team manager Lennart Nyman with their relentless campaigning. “Try Roger!” they both demanded at every opportunity on radio and television.

Magnusson was phenomenal, but still a kid. He was one of many teenagers who were brought in to Åtvidaberg from the neighbouring forest counties. The boys settled in digs and were given a practical education at the company while training and playing football for the club. Some made it. Magnusson certainly did. Others didn’t. For some the move from under a fir tree to what was by comparison the bustling metropolis of Åtvidaberg proved unmanageable. There was one case in particular. A couple, who were well used to housing the footballing boys, decided to contact the club about their latest arrival.

“This boy you sent us last week …”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He is using the loo, alright …”

“I hope he does.”

“… but he never flushes it afterwards.”

The same boy was also terrified by the traffic congestion caused by the then 7,000 population in Åtvidaberg and only dared use his bicycle on the pavement. It was obviously a new world to him and he soon returned home. Older players came with high hopes and soon left because Åtvidaberg was too small. Åke Börjesson from Halmia was a good striker who never felt at home. He complained there was nowhere for him to go fishing. Rolf Zetterlund and Inge Ejderstedt also left after only a year, Zetterlund later distinguished himself with AIK and Brage while Ejderstedt proved himself with Öster and was then sold to Anderlecht.

Elof Ericsson retired as company boss in 1957 and died in 1961. His son Gunnar inherited a booming company, growing thanks to their Facit mechanical calculators. The company now had offices worldwide and at one point sold more machines than they were able to produce. Wheels were turning fast and Gunnar, ‘the Eternal Gentleman’, just smiled. He always called the ground during home games to ask for the result, no matter where he was at the time.

In 1966 the company changed its name to Facit and used the Brazil national team to announce the news. Facit had contacts everywhere and in Brazil their local boss Gunnar Göransson, a full-back with IFK Norrköping in the 1930s, doubled as the manager of the Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo. Roger Magnusson had already spent parts of a winter break with Flamengo. Through Göransson, Facit and ÅFF brought Brazil to Åtvidaberg for the reigning world champions’ final preparations before they went to England to defend their title.

The name change from Åtvidabergs Industrier to Facit was front-page news in the domestic business weekly Veckans Affärer, with Gunnar Ericsson and Pelé (no less) face to face with ball between them. Everything in Åtvidaberg focused on Brazil for a week. The 11-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Wernerson took as many photos of Pelé and the others as he could (he would later win the Uefa Cup with IFK Göteborg) while the first team prepared for a friendly against their guests. The last words of the left-back Bo Ohlsson in the dressing-room before going onto the pitch were, ”I’ll take care of Garrincha!” It has remained a battle-cry ever since. It wasn’t disrespectful in any way, just proof that the team never felt in awe of any opposition. They even went ahead, just to prove their point, but in the end lost 8–2. Garrincha didn’t score, though.

Åtvidaberg took on Brazil without Magnusson, who was called up to the national team (he had made his debut against Denmark in 1964), who were to play the Brazilians three days later. Sweden also went ahead, but lost 3–2. Magnusson was about to leave Sweden after Lars Hallgren, chairman of the club, financial manager at Facit and a conservative local politician, negotiated a move to Juventus. Swedish football would remain amateur for another year, meaning there was nothing for the club in this transfer. Hallgren remained an economic advisor to Magnusson after he had left the club, as he would for every player sold abroad in the decade that followed, even after they retired from playing. From 1967 onwards Hallgren had a double mission in securing a decent transfer fee for the club as well as getting the best possible deal for his player. His by-word was ”pension”. He made them look to the future and put their signing-on fees aside, considerable sums of money that he invested wisely.

The team was coached by the retired stopper Julle Gustavsson, who took over the reins when Antonio Durán moved to Malmö FF. Without Magnusson, their brightest star, Gustavsson improved the team as a unit and late in 1967 they returned to Allsvenskan, promoted together with the second-flight debutants Östers IF from Växjö. ÅFF had a good first year in 1968, finishing seventh (of 12) with their new recruit Ove Eklund a success as the league’s top-scorer with 17 goals. They fought bravely but were still overshadowed by Öster, who nudged into first place as the luckiest of four teams finishing abreast with 27 points each. The ÅFF reject Inge Ejderstedt was their goal ace with 13.

Åtvidaberg then entered the most successful period in their history. Unfortunately Facit was going in the opposite direction. Gunnar Ericsson was lucky enough to inherit the company management hired by his father Elof; Lars Hallgren was one of the most important men at that level. Facit expanded. In 1966 they bought their domestic competitor Addo and started building a new factory. But the company went forward on old technology, mechanical counting machines originally developed in the 1930s and giant computers.

When the Japanese company Texas Instruments presented a new invention, the electronic pocket calculator, the Facit board just laughed. Gunnar Ericsson had created a less than favourable climate within the company by appointing family and relatives to the board. The ignorant leadership of the company didn’t want to hear about any new inventions. When Gunnar stepped down as managing director in 1970 (he remained president) he was replaced by his deputy, his brother-in-law, Lennart von Kantzow, who quickly analysed the market and immediately sought wide-ranging changes. He warned the board but the board didn’t want to look any further than the order books, and they were full for another year.

Von Kantzow sided with the company management against the board. And then, after only a year at the helm, he was sacked. Gunnar Ericsson, the Eternal Gentleman, played his usual round of golf with von Kantzow in the morning. Then, after lunch, he fired him. A year later, workers were laid off and Facit was eventually sold to Electrolux, whose boss Hans Wertén visited the premises in Åtvidaberg and noted, ”That area over there will be useful as a lumber yard.” He was talking about Kopparvallen, the Åtvidaberg Stadium owned by Facit. Gunnar Ericsson then became president of the SvFF (1970-75), the position once held by his father. Here he was preceded and succeeded by the same man, Tore G Brodd, who remained in the building as general secretary during Gunnar’s presidency. Who ran the SvFF? Well, it wasn’t Ericsson.

The football team just got better and better, as the skies turned darker. The team improved constantly between 1968 and 1970, finishing seventh, then fourth, then second. There was further success as Åtvidaberg won the Cup in 1970. The Swedish Cup final in those days attracted limited interest and usually had an attendance below the league average. But the important thing was the ticket to Europe. The Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970-71 was Åtvidaberg’s first international outing. They lost to Partizan Tirana in the qualifying round.

Lars Spjut, a former centre-forward and captain of the side, was constantly scouting for new players, using his office at Facit and the branches around the country to gather information. Ralf Edström was his main target for next season. He considered himself lucky to have made the call at just the right time to head off a move and promised to get his car and drive the 185km to Degerfors straight away.

There were some problems. First of all, there was no car in his garage. His wife was out, on her usual tour of local schools providing fluoride to children. There was no time to locate his wife. Instead he called the local Volvo dealer, explained the situation and was offered a hire car. Away he went. On snowy roads, with summer tyres.

Driving as if possessed, Spjut went off the road outside Laxå, with 35 km to go. He had to be helped by a farmer, who used his tractor to pull the car back on the road. Spjut was late, very late, and Edström blew his nose. Long before the invention of the mobile phone, he had no option but to wait.

Spjut drove into Degerfors. At last! He convinced Edström’s parents their boy was doing the right thing. His parents agreed because this way they didn’t lose their young son to a big city. Edström smiled smugly as he acknowledged the good offer made by the club and signed the contract. He would have waited for Spjut all night long if necessary. An elated Spjut returned to Åtvidaberg. On the way back he stopped outside Laxå to reward the helpful farmer with a cake.

With Edström, Åtvidaberg challenged Malmö for a second year running and won the cup again. The transfer of the tank-like striker Ove Eklund to Royal Antwerp during the summer break opened up an opportunity for Edström, who was redeployed from midfield to link with Roland Sandberg up front. The vacant spot in time went to the teenager Benno Magnusson, brother of Roger and also a right-winger.

Benno was the real reason behind Edström’s move. They had become friends while playing for the Sweden Under-18’s. Benno was able to get the best of Edström’s heading ability, which was famous even then, by providing the kind of crosses that Edström wanted: a high, swerving ball that dropped down. Edström needed that extra time to get up and meet the ball with his forehead.

In Europe, ÅFF took vast strides. In the 1971-72 Cup Winners’ Cup, they beat Zagłębie Sosnowiec of Poland 4-3 away, Edström getting the winner, and then drew 1-1 at home. The second-round draw paired them with Chelsea, the Cup Winners’ Cup champions, who had beaten Hautcharage of Luxemburg 21-0 on aggregate in the first round.

The ÅFF players had watched their famous opponents on television and knew a bit about them. Chelsea, no doubt, saw Åtvidaberg as another bunch of minnows. The Brits were received like royalty in Åtvidaberg with eyes gazing at them from every corner. But ÅFF, true to their tradition, were not in awe. That full-back who took care of Garrincha was gone, his boots filled by the goalkeeper Ulf Blomberg. You could always trust him to do the unexpected. Once he ran across the pitch spontaneously to take a penalty, missed and had to sprint back to quell a counter-attack. He was as crazy as goalkeeping stereotype demands he must be, bolstering team morale with his battle-cry, ”I’m a wall, dammit!” The right-back Jan Olsson took him at his word and attacked whenever he could.

Blomberg played a blinder in the first leg at Kopparvallen, which ended in a goalless draw. In the return things seemed to be going the expected way when Alan Hudson opened the second half with a goal. A few minutes later the referee awarded Chelsea a penalty. John Hollins had the chance to secure a place in the quarter-finals but blew it with a low shot that went wide of the goal on Blomberg’s right-hand side. Chelsea were still ahead but as they relaxed, Åtvidaberg came into their own. They started to feel at ease at Stamford Bridge. The Swedes kept battling but they also stopped hoofing as soon as they got possession. Conny Torstensson went forward on the left and found his fellow midfielder Lars-Göran Andersson in the middle. And ’Knalin’, as he is nicknamed, angled the ball into the path of the exceptionally fast striker Roland Sandberg, who had kept half an eye on goal and noted Peter Bonetti was advancing. He turned and fired a shot immediately. It went past Bonetti. Åtvidaberg had equalised! There were 23 minutes remaining and there was mayhem on the Swedish bench. An away goal – but nobody was sure of what that goal was worth. Certainly not the players. The coach Sven-Agne Larsson knew, though. He tried to relay the information to everyone and also ordered Edström back. ”This will take us through. Go back and give them a hand in your own penalty area!”

Well, perhaps not a hand. But a head. The seasoned Jan Olsson, Edström’s senior by a full decade, commented afterwards, ”Boy, he is 19 and is in command when he battles stars like David Webb. I stood there on the ground looking up. I couldn’t believe it. He was up there, he was in the sky. Then I realised he was on his way to being world class.”

Edström later described those 23 minutes: ”Sven-Agne couldn’t make himself heard. His assistant Göte Björkman had to run around the pitch to make me fall back into defence. I was assigned the stopper job for the rest of the game. And then they started hurling in everything. It was Peter Osgood and David Webb. Webb had abandoned his position at the back to meet crosses in our penalty area. And John Boyle was also joining from the back. I picked up most of it, almost everything except for one that Boyle headed onto the crossbar. They kept on coming in waves with Alan Hudson hitting crosses all the time. But I was there, heading it away.” Hitting crosses wasn’t working but Chelsea kept on doing just that. They got nowhere. Åtvidaberg handled the pressure, the 1–1 scoreline remained and the Swedes made it into the next round.

Their next opponents were Dynamo Berlin, in March 1972. Playing at home in the first leg was out of the question. No undersoil heating, just snow. The game was relocated north, to the national stadium at Råsunda, Stockholm. The East Germans won 2–0. Two weeks later ÅFF had come a bit further in their preparations and were able to answer an early goal by Ralf Schulenberg. Veine Wallinder equalised and Roland Sandberg put the Swedes ahead. Then Wallinder hit the post. If that had gone in, they’d have had an away goals lead. As it was, they drew the second leg 2-2.

The upside was that ÅFF were fit enough to start the domestic league season at a high tempo. They won seven of eleven games in the first half of the season and eight in the second to claim the league title, one point ahead of AIK.

That was also the season in which Ralf Edström made his full international debut. Georg Ericson, the national team manager, had had to endure the same kind of pestering as his predecessor Nyman had had to deal with regarding Roger Magnusson. Ericson held out for a year. There was a memorable cartoon with Ericson watching Edström play: ”He is heading the ball, alright. Is that all he can do?”

Ericson gave him a full 90 minutes against Denmark in a 2-0 win in Malmö. Edström’s big moment came early, after two minutes, when he blocked the vision of the Danish goalkeeper while Bo Larsson’s corner swung straight in. Ericson retained him for the next game, five weeks later against the Soviet Union at Råsunda. It was a 4-4 draw that was treated like a victory by Swedish media. I was 12 at the time and couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the game on television. Edström scored three goals (to make it 1–0, 2–3 and 4–4), all with headers. What the hell was going on!? Two weeks later: a further two goals against Norway in a 3-1 win in Oslo. A month after that, he made his competitive debut in a World Cup qualifier against Malta. Sweden won 7–0 and Edström got three: that was eight goals in his first four full internationals.

Meanwhile Åtvidaberg went out in the first round of the Uefa Cup, losing 5-3 at home to Club Bruges but winning 2-1 away. No need to be ashamed about that. The team was gaining both experience and self-confidence. Blomberg was actively directing a back four with Lars-Göran ’Knalin’ Andersson now withdrawn as sweeper. He had been recruited as a striker a long time previously but was able to put his heavy frame to better use at the back. He covered behind the team captain Kent Karlsson, who was nudging his way into the national side. Jan Olsson, the small and energetic right-back, was a former winger who loved to go forward. Conny Gustavsson on the other flank left the club after that first championship win and was replaced by Jörgen Augustsson, a youngster who clearly had his limitations but nevertheless would make his full international debut as a substitute against Poland in the World Cup in 1974.

The midfield was the engine room in which the veteran Ingvar Svensson and Conny Torstensson were able to run opponents into the ground. There was a whiff of Ajax about them. Svensson had already had a career with IFK Göteborg. He was part of the Sweden side that defeated Portugal away late in 1966. He left Gothenburg to become player-coach of a third-tier team but was rediscovered by Spjut. Torstensson was spotted playing with the fourth-tier side Gamleby, not too far from Åtvidaberg. His stamina impressed but his technical skills were deplorable. He couldn’t even manage 10 keepie-ups and had to be put into the reserve side for two years. He was able to pick up a few hints while training with the first-teamers and eventually secured a place in 1972, when he also made his international debut. The sale of Bo Augustsson, to ADO Den Haag during the summer break, definitely opened things up for Torstensson.

The attack had Ralf Edström and Roland Sandberg at centre with Benno Magnusson wide on the right and the veteran Veine Wallinder cutting in from the left. Wallinder had originally joined from Arboga in 1962 and then had two years with IFK Eskilstuna (1964–65) before returning to become a quiet but highly valued mainstay during the successful period. He always averaged at least a goal every three games. Edström and Sandberg were joint top scorers of the league in 1972 with 16 goals each.

The league win was repeated in 1973, in impressive fashion. Åtvidaberg opened with nine straight wins and went undefeated for the next ten games as Allsvenskan expanded from 12 to 14 teams. But they ended with just one win in their final seven games, which hints at another story.

By then Facit had been sold to Electrolux, with Lars Hallgren being re-assigned to an Electrolux office in Denmark. The club needed to compensate for lost income. The management didn’t deny any of their part-timers the chance to earn good money abroad. Hallgren had to step down as chairman but was still willing to handle negotiations. In the summer of 1973 he made two substantial deals: Ralf Edström was sold to PSV Eindhoven and Roland Sandberg to Kaiserslautern. That is one explanation for the sudden loss of form in mid-autumn.

Before leaving, the pair had helped Sweden defeat Austria in the World Cup qualifiers and gain a draw away to Hungary. Sweden beat Malta away in the autumn but only 2–1,which put them up against Austria in a one game play-off to be played in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany, on a Tuesday in late November. My classmates and I saw a priest every Tuesday evening that winter as we prepared for our confirmation in the spring. Luckily Bertil Håkansson was the youngest churchman in town, only 33 years old, and loved football as much as we did. He greeted us as usual, only to send us home. It is still my fondest memory of going to church. Roland Sandberg hit the first goal on that snowy pitch and Sweden won 2–1.

Those left behind at the club didn’t do too badly on their own. They managed to secure a second league title in succession. Before that they went into the European Cup for the first time, as a champion among champions. Now two new players came to good use. They had both been recruited with an eye to future transfers for Sandberg and Edström. Reine Almqvist and Nils Nilsson went to work in the league. Nilsson was an explosive striker found on the west coast, with fourth-tier IFK Strömstad. Almqvist was a former Wunderkind, the league’s top-scorer with IFK Göteborg when they unexpectedly won the title in 1969. The club was, even more unexpectedly, relegated the year after and his once promising career had gone stale in the second division. He badly needed to revive himself. He had lots of talent and a large frame that gave power to his runs. An exciting player who played for Sweden as both striker and, later, as libero.

The draw in Zurich paired Åtvidaberg with Bayern Munich. They would surely, people thought, have needed Edström and Sandberg to punch through the gates of the Bavarian keep held by Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Georg Schwarzenbeck and Paul Breitner. But at the same time their own defensive lines might, on a good day, have been considered strong enough to deal with the powerful Franz Roth or the scoring skills of Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeness.

The first leg was at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Bayern were desperate to improve on the previous season’s quarter-final defeat to Ajax. But they had recently drawn 5-5 with Schalke 04 and 2-2 with Werder Bremen. Åtvidaberg promised an open approach: they would play their usual game.

And they did. As Veine Wallinder prepared to take the kick-off he heard Jan Olsson shouting, ”Hit it towards the flag!” Wallinder did and little Olsson ran like hell. Beckenbauer was awake, though, and got a toe on it. ÅFF kept the ball. Next thing Maier had to stretch to block a low shot from Olsson. Bayern counter-attacked. Rainer Zobel gave the ball to the full-back Johnny Hansen, who was cut down on the edge of the box by the disciplined man-marking winger Wallinder. Bernd Gersdorff found Müller with the free-kick. Müller was surrounded by three defenders, but still scored. Three minutes gone, one goal down. The Swedes dug in and decided to defend at all costs. The whole team formed a wall in front of Blomberg, who had precious little to do in the first half.

In the bus bound for the stadium Reine Almqvist had told the team about his dream the previous night. “I nutmegged Beckenbauer,” he said. “Maybe I should try it tonight?” There was laughter all around. But they didn’t see him as ridiculous. He had said something they all wanted to hear, something that made everyone see the possibilities.

Åtvidaberg were still one goal down 21 minutes into the second half. Then Almqvist made an effort to break into the penalty area from the right flank. There was an opening – and that was how he usually scored his goals. Not this time. Beckenbauer approached and Almqvist kept the ball under control, turned slightly to the left and slipped the ball between Beckenbauer’s legs. The left-back Bernd Dürnberger watched the unthinkable happen and stumbled over the ball, only to see it bounce into the net as he lost his balance: 1–1.

Jörgen Augustsson hit the post with a header. A home crowd of 28,000 was gradually losing patience. Bayern weren’t playing very well; they were unable to get the ball moving. But soon after the equaliser, the skipper Kent Karlsson redirected a cross past Blomberg with his forehead. A few minutes more and Müller was there again, this time with a header. The game was lost 3–1. The Swedish players were disappointed. ”They were not as good as I had expected,” Benno Magnusson said. The coach Dombos kept his cool and calculated: ”2–0 at home and we are in the next round.”

Åtvidaberg had rattled Bayern. The opening of the game report in Kicker read: “Bayern muss vor dem Rückspiel in Åtvidaberg zittern [Bayern must tremble before the return game in Åtvidaberg]”. Udo Lattek, the coach, said, “We didn’t play as we usually do. Everyone could see that Åtvidaberg are no village team. I had told my players this when I came back from Sweden.” He was also critical of the attitude of the home fans.

Bayern made the trip to Sweden after a 3-1 defeat away to Hannover 96 and a 2-2 draw against Eintracht Frankfurt. Patience was running short and club president Willi Neudecker was not impressed by the aeroplane that was supposed to bring them to Kungsängen Airport, just outside Norrköping. It looked old, was small and had only two propellers. He simply refused to board. The manager Robert Schwan found another engine at München-Riem airport and off they went, slightly delayed.

The game was an open one, with Torstensson assigned to follow the roving Hoeness and the central defenders Karlsson and Andersson closely watching the dangerous and difficult Müller, always moving, constantly using his arms to create the little space he needed.

Torstensson showed the way when Nils Nilsson created an opening. He advanced and hit a shot that went in off the crossbar. A few minutes later Wallinder wandered into the box, Olsson saw him and hit a cross. Wallinder headed into the far corner. 2–0 after only 15 minutes. This time Bayern had no problems with a jeering crowd. The 9,200 packed into Kopparvallen saw only one team and carried them as far as they could. 30 minutes. Still 2–0. Half-time. Still 2–0. 70 minutes. Still 2–0. The former chairman Lars Hallgren had an open phone line from Copenhagen to the club office. ”What’s going on? What’s happening?” The ever-efficient press host Margareta Johansson supplied the details as the game progressed.

In the 72nd minute Torstensson, once again, slipped through from midfield. Benno Magnusson had left the ball for Torstensson to pick up and hit a curved left foot shot in at Maier’s right-hand post. 3–0! Then, in the next minute, Hoeness used a moment of confusion in the Swedish box to score. 3–1 after 73 minutes. Åtvidaberg had lost a double advantage as the game went towards extra-time. Lars-Göran Andersson overstretched a groin and has to be carried off.

Extra-time was all drama. Beckenbauer saved a Torstensson-header on the goal-line. Blomberg, the human wall, exceeded himself to keep the team in contention, diving in front of Dürnberger, using his reflexes to parry a shot from Kapellmann. Still 3–1 stood after 120 minutes.

The game had to be decided on penalties. Not ideal, from an Åtvidaberg point of view. The injured Andersson had been chosen before the game as well as Wallinder, who now had to decline as he could barely stand up.

Kapellmann began (0–1, to the right of Blomberg), followed by Torstensson (1–1) and then Gersdorff missed the goal altogether. Almqvist put ÅFF into the lead (2–1), Müller kept Bayern level (2–2), Magnusson scored (3–2), Hoeness began the fourth round with a goal (3–3) and then Maier dived to his left to save Karlsson’s meek effort (”I was paralysed,” he admitted afterwards): 3–3 with one kick left for each team.

Beckenbauer deceived Blomberg and placed the ball in the corner (4–3). It fell to Leif Franzén, ‘Kaggen’ (‘the Keg’), who had replaced Nilsson earlier in the game and then volunteered for a penalty when Andersson and Wallinder were forced to decline. Just wide. The referee Jack Taylor retrieved the ball and Sepp Maier jumped for joy. Franzén, the smallest player on the field, dropped his head as he walked towards the centre of the field. Oh, that loneliness. It hurts just to think about it.

A few weeks later Bayern Munich signed Torstensson while Magnusson joined Roland Sandberg at Kaiserslautern. Life had to go on even if this loss practically put an end to the golden age of Åtvidabergs FF. In the spring Torstensson was in the Bayern team that beat Atlético Madrid to win the tournament.

The World Cup in 1974 was the last celebration of this short-lived dynasty. ÅFF had three players in the Sweden squad: Jan Olsson, Kent Karlsson and Jörgen Augustsson, all defenders. Their offensive stars now represented foreign clubs: Conny Torstensson (Bayern Munich), Benno Magnusson and Roland Sandberg (both Kaiserslautern), plus the marquee man Ralf Edström (PSV Eindhoven). Not to forget Inge Ejderstedt, who had left the club almost a decade earlier and at the time had returned to Öster from Anderlecht.

Facit was the obvious foundation for the club’s success. Lars Hallgren was the key man, considering his vast knowledge of the game combined with the economical and legal aspects of running a club successfully. The coaches also did their bit. Antonio Durán (1960–64) stressed fitness but didn’t interfere to impose any theories on the players. Above all he let the young Roger Magnusson flourish in an unrestricted way. Bengt ‘Julle’ Gustavsson (1965–70) looked to the mental side as well as the physical. He brought the idea of the ritiro with him from Italy. Locking up players in a school the night before a game with the only luxury a packet of raisins each was his way to get his men focussed. Sven-Agne Larsson (1971–72), raised in Gothenburg and a player with BK Häcken in the 1950s, was a pure football man. He was good-natured with a keen eye for ballplayers. He took the job understanding his position as a trustee of a legacy. He let the players use their talents to solve problems and get on with their job. Otto Dombos (1973–74), a Hungarian who had fled his country in 1956, was enigmatic, but in a benign way. He sometimes referred to astrology while carrying on in the same direction as Larsson. Then Durán returned and immediately had a stroke. He had a full year of convalescing and then returned to his duties in 1976, only to see a depleted and partly aged team relegated. All a consequence of diminishing resources. Since that relegation ÅFF have managed a further ten seasons in Allsvenskan (1978–82, 2010, 2012–15) cheered on by everybody but unable to settle at top level. This autumn they battled to avoid relegation from the third tier.

That wraps it up, sort of. But I still haven’t figured out how they managed lose the 1973 cup final against Malmö 7–0.