Youth soccer in Sweden

My favorite place

By Frida Farstad Eriksson

This is the first in a three-part-series

Imagine a place where all your problems disappear, a place where you can be yourself, a place where you feel totally free, that makes you happy and content.  I have such a place. It is the soccer field.  Nothing is better than to feel the wind wipe my face, running after the ball, hearing my own breath from running and falling to the ground from fatigue.  Smelling the rubber and feeling the blood pulsate through the body.  It makes me enjoy and love life. Even better is to hear the coach call out: “Good Frida! Nice Frida!” It gives new energy to run, to kick, to dribble, to shoot, and try to do it even better, just to get to hear those words again.

I really love playing soccer. It is my passion. I have played since I was six years old. I started out playing on a boys’ team, since where I lived I was the only girl who wanted to play soccer my age. I am only 15 years old. But I believe only in this short time a lot has happened when it comes to girls playing soccer.  There were of course girls’ teams other places here in Stockholm, but not in my hometown.So it was 22 boys and me. It was all boys from my class and my parallel class in school. And we were the best friends. We went to school together, played soccer together and spent even our leisure time together. If we didn’t have practice or game we would be on the close by schoolyard or the fields kicking a ball just for fun.

When we were six years old, we practiced twice a week; getting older, three to four times a week. And we played in the St. Erik’s Cup in Stockholm every year, in addition to other tournaments that might be over a weekend or summer week or so.

Sweden is divided into districts and every district has a series that all the youth teams play during the season. In Stockholm it is called St. Erik’s Cup. The St Erik’s cup is the world’s largest youth tournament and has existed for more than 50 years. It is played in the form of a series and with playoffs from 11-a-side, ages 13-18 years. This series is under the Stockholm Soccer Association.

As long as you play five-a-side (ages 8-9) and seven-a-side (ages 10-12), the goal is to win the group and there are no playoffs. At 13, you start playing 11-a-side and then you also have playoffs. To win the St. Erik’s Cup is the greatest achievement within soccer for youth teams in Stockholm. And since Stockholm also has the “best” soccer teams generally at the youth level, to win here is prestigious. This tournament goes from April to October, so it is a long tournament with many games, at least 16 during the season. Even the kids from 6-7 years play in the series, but are not formally a part. The results for this age group are not registered anywhere. But for us who played it is still just as serious!

I played with the boys’ team until I was almost 12. In the fall of 2006, I started looking for a girls’ team. I realized I had to switch to be able to continue developing, since a lot happened very fast with the boys’ development this age, their bodies changing and getting more muscles and so. Changing to 11-a-side at 13, I also realized it would maybe get difficult to take a place on the team with boys. My club didn’t continue at this level and all the players would have to switch to another club. For me as a lonely girl it meant more guys to compete with about a place on the team.  My coaches told me they wanted me to stay at least till the boys started playing 11-a-side, but it was better for me to make a switch before, so I could be part of a girls’ team as they started playing 11-a-side, to have better chances to take a place on the team. I realized I had to leave all my friends behind, but there was no doubt in my mind I had to if I wanted to continue playing soccer and developing like I dreamed of.

In the fall of 2006, I therefore tried out with AIK, my favorite soccer club, and they welcomed me in their girls’ team, girls born 95. This was my first experience with girls’ soccer. I had only played with boys and seen boys play up until then. It is a difference in the play and the practice. And for a long time I felt I really had to be careful not to play too rough and hurt the girls, because I was really used to much tougher play. For a few months more I continued with the boys as well, so I played soccer every day of the week. But in February 2007, I made the switch, one month before I turned 12. I was officially registered in AIK as a soccer player, as my first club. At 12 years, all clubs have to register their players in Sweden.

AIK is the largest Swedish soccer club looking at members and also fans. Both the ladies and the men’s team played in the highest division here in Sweden “Allsvenskan” until the end of 2010. The men’s team won “Allsvenskan” 2009.  Unfortunately, the ladies team didn’t make it this year and will have to play in the First Division next season. However it is an old proud club and the home arena is also the Swedish National Arena, Råsunda. However it is only the men’s team that gets to play there. The ladies’ team has their home arena across the road, at Skytteholm. This is also the home arena of all the youth teams of AIK. This is where I practice and play, my second home so to speak.