As far as Elin Rubensson knew, the call was on plans for the coming year, nothing more. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, she and her colleagues at Kopparbergs / Gothenburg FC were called up for a remote team meeting. They called expecting to hear details of the club’s ambitions for the new season.
Things, after all, looked good. A month earlier, Kopparbergs had been crowned Swedish women’s football champion for the first time; It had only been a few weeks since the team faced England powerhouse Manchester City in the round of 16 of the Women’s Champions League.
Although Rubensson didn’t play in the 2020 League campaign at all – she stepped down expecting her first child – and missed the title victory celebrations after testing positive for the coronavirus, she was excited. She had given birth to a son, Frans, just before the holidays. She was thinking about when she could start playing again.
And then “a flash of a clear blue sky.” It was finished.
During the call, club officials told players that Kopparbergs – following the biggest season in its history – is being shut down, with immediate effect. He would not defend his title of champion. He would lose his place in next season’s competitions. Manchester City’s defeat would be their last game as a club.
“It was a shock to all of us,” Rubensson said. “We weren’t expecting it. Our son was only a week old and suddenly I no longer had a club to play. We didn’t know what was going to happen or what to do. “
Over the last decade or so, the landscape of women’s football in Europe has changed so fundamentally that it is unrecognizable. As the game’s popularity grew, as broadcast deals and sponsorship funds poured in, and more fans came through the doors, it caught the attention of male teams steeped in history and history. mainland money.
The Champions League has been dominated by the hegemon of the game, Olympique Lyonnais, with only the overheated rise of their national rival, Paris Saint-Germain, which threatens the primacy of Lyon.
The lavish spending of women’s Super League clubs in England has drawn in players such as Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr, making what many consider the strongest domestic women’s competition on the planet. Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich have all devoted a portion of their considerable resources to trying to keep up. Manchester United fielded their first women’s team in 2018; Real Madrid bought an existing one and renamed it to their name last year.
While this investment is welcome and overdue, it is not without a cost. Across the continent, the teams that did so much to support and develop women’s football before the money came, the clubs that make up a large part of its history, found it almost impossible to compete: l England Doncaster Belles, Spain Rayo Vallecano, Italian ASD. Torres, even Turbine Potsdam from Germany, a two-time Champions League winner. Glasgow City, champions of Scotland for 13 consecutive years, know they can only last so long now that Rangers and Celtic are showing interest in women’s football.
It was this same current that forced Kopparbergs’ hand. The club had moved to Gothenburg a few decades before – they had previously played “on a bad pitch, near the airport” in the satellite town of Landvetter, according to their official history – at the invitation of local authorities, in the hope to give the women and girls of the city a place to play and a chance to dream.
But although it was backed by one of Sweden’s biggest breweries – Kopparberg is one of the world’s largest cider producers, and shared a president, Peter Bronsman, with the football team – the side feminine has always been a small business. “It was almost four friends doing this as a hobby, almost,” said Carl Fhager, a lawyer hired to oversee the club’s closure. “It was not a large organization. He didn’t have a lot of limbs. In Swedish terms, it was a very small club.
This did not prevent him from enjoying remarkable success. He was able to sign Hope Solo, Christen Press and Yael Averbuch, all American internationals. Although he had to wait until 2020 for his first league, he had won the Swedish Cup three times and was a regular in the Champions League.
It was these forays into Europe – these encounters with the new powers of women’s football – that convinced Bronsman and his board that their club’s time was passing. A few years ago, they had started discussions with IFK Göteborg, one of the city’s men’s teams, to integrate the club into its operations.
The idea was ultimately opposed by IFK members – Swedish clubs are non-profit organizations owned by their members, and the idea of taking another was too foreign to be tolerated – but the more it clashed with Manchester City, with their squad filled with international all-stars and training facilities shared with the club’s men, plus the Kopparbergs felt the writing was on the wall.
“It became even clearer in the Champions League,” said Fhager. “The club knew they were no longer competitive and the difference in facilities was not fair to the players.” It was the same reasoning that appeared on the statement released by the club on December 29, confirming its closure.
By this time, Kopparbergs had contacted Fhager, asking him to find a new home for the players: either by identifying a bigger club to take on the team in bulk – ideally one in Gothenburg – or by finding new homes for all that. of team members as possible. .
He contacted not only Gothenburg’s four men’s football teams, but also his ice hockey clubs, all of whom he felt might have an interest in taking on the Kopparberg players and the team’s place in the top row. from Sweden, the Damallsvenskan.
One was particularly responsive. Marcus Jodin, the general manager of BK Hacken, one of Gothenburg’s biggest men’s teams, had seen the news that Kopparbergs would be shut down, but hadn’t given it much thought. “We were really busy,” he says. “We were trying to make a big transfer for the men’s team.”
His phone, however, quickly began to ping with messages from colleagues and friends. “They said it could be a chance for us,” he said. Hacken had a strategic plan to increase its investment in women’s football – his women’s team at the time played in the Swedish third tier – as part of an attempt to become a “club fully balanced between men’s and women’s sports”.
When Fhager called Hacken on the afternoon of December 29, Jodin was ready to listen. The next day, at a Hacken board meeting, team leaders discussed the idea. While taking over another team was anathema, the call was clear.
Part of Jodin’s argument was financial. “The economy of women’s football is changing very quickly,” he said. “If it takes us five to seven years to reach the top level in the normal way, then where are the economics? Do we have the time and the money to wait that long? “
But part of it was also moral. Without Kopparbergs, Gothenburg would not have an elite women’s team. “The club was founded to give girls in the city a chance to dream,” Jodin said. “And this dream cannot move to Malmö.”
With the support of the board, he decided not only to pitch the idea to club members, answer all of their “questions and fears,” but to prepare Hacken if they agreed. “We wanted the players to notice a change from Day 1,” said Jodin. “They had lived through a nightmare, losing their jobs and their income. If we hadn’t been ready for them, we would have failed.
At the end of January, the merger was put to a vote, as all decisions of all Swedish clubs must be. Ninety-two percent of Hacken fans agreed: the club would face Kopparbergs players, their commitments and their place in the league. The team would change name and jersey. All that would remain of a quarter of a century of history was the nonprofit association number under which Kopparbergs was registered.
For those who are involved, it’s a happy ending. “There were only two alternatives,” Jodin said. “Either the club closed, and the players left, or they joined Hacken.”
Fhager said most of the fans he spoke to were enthusiastic: “Kopparbergs idea was to give Gothenburg an elite squad that the girls can aim for. He still has that.
For Rubensson, “everything feels good.”
“The size of the organization and the facilities are the main difference,” she added. “We were very well received. We think this will be a very good step for us, at a time when the Swedish teams need to improve to be successful in Europe.
For her, as for everyone else, it’s the future. The Kopparbergs, and the teams that like them, are a thing of the past.