As far as Elin Rubensson knew, the call was about plans for the coming year, nothing more. Between Christmas and New Years, she and her colleagues were invited to a remote team meeting by Kopparbergs / Göteborg FC. They dialed in to hear the details of the club’s ambitions for the new season.
At least it looked good. A month earlier, Kopparbergs had been crowned Swedish women’s soccer champion for the first time. It had only been a few weeks since the team had played England’s powerhouse Manchester City in the knockout stages of the Women’s Champions League.
Although Rubensson hadn’t played at all in the 2020 league campaign – she signed out when she was expecting their first child – and missed the title win celebrations after testing positive for the coronavirus, she was excited. She had given birth to a son, Frans, just before the holidays. She wondered when to start playing again.
And then “a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky.” It was over.
On the call, the club’s executives informed the players that Kopparbergs – against the backdrop of the biggest season in its history – was closed with immediate effect. It wouldn’t defend its championship title. It would lose its place in next season’s competitions. Manchester City’s loss would be their last game as a club.
“It was a shock to us all,” said Rubensson. “We didn’t expect it. Our son was only a week old and suddenly I no longer had a club to play for. We didn’t know what to do or what to do. “
In the last ten years, the landscape of women’s football in Europe has changed so fundamentally that it is no longer recognizable. As the game’s popularity has risen, broadcasting deals and sponsorship money has come in, and more fans have come through the gates, it has drawn the attention of the continent’s history-steeped and cash-soaked men’s teams.
The Champions League was dominated by the game’s hegemon, Olympique Lyonnais. Only the overheated rise of his national rival Paris St.-Germain threatens Lyon’s primacy.
The lavish spending of England’s Women’s Super League clubs has attracted players like Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr, making it one of the toughest national women’s competitions in the world. Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich have devoted some of their considerable resources to keeping up. Manchester United formed their first women’s team in 2018; Real Madrid bought an existing one and renamed it to their name last year.
This investment, while welcome and overdue, is not without cost. Across the continent, the teams that did so much to maintain and grow women’s football before the money arrived, the clubs that make up so much of their history have found it next to impossible to compete: England Doncaster Belles, Spain’s Rayo Vallecano, Italy’s ASD Torres, even Turbine Potsdam from Germany, two-time Champions League winners. Scottish champions for 13 years in a row, Glasgow City know that Rangers and Celtic can only last so long as they show an interest in the women’s game.
It was the same current that forced Kopparberg’s hand. The club had moved to Gothenburg a few decades earlier – previously, at the invitation of the local authorities, at the invitation of the local authorities, they had played in the satellite town of Landvetter in the hope of “bad pitch near the airport” Give the city women and girls one Space to play and a chance to dream.
Although Kopparberg was backed by one of Sweden’s largest breweries – Kopparberg is one of the world’s largest cider producers and shared a chairman, Peter Bronsman, with the football team – the women’s side has always been a small business. “There were almost four friends who did this as a hobby,” said Carl Fhager, a lawyer who oversaw the running of the club. “It wasn’t a big organization. It didn’t have many members. In Swedish it was a very small club. “
That did not prevent it from achieving notable successes. It was able to sign Hope Solo, Christen Press and Yael Averbuch, all US internationals. Although it had to wait until 2020 for its first championship, it had won the Swedish Cup three times and competed regularly in the Champions League.
It was these forays into Europe – these encounters with the new forces of the women’s game – that convinced Bronsman and his board that their club’s time was passing. A few years ago they had started talks with IFK Göteborg, one of the city’s men’s teams, about the club’s inclusion in its business.
The idea was eventually turned down by the IFK members – Swedish clubs are membership-owned non-profit organizations, and the idea of taking on another was too foreign to be bearable – but the more it relies on Manchester City with its cadre full of international players thrusting The more Kopparbergs felt the writing was on the wall, the more stars and training facilities were shared with the men of the club.
“It became even clearer in the Champions League,” said Fhager. “The club knew it was no longer competitive and the difference in facilities wasn’t fair to the players.” It was the same reasoning that would appear in the statement released by the club on December 29th that confirmed its closure.
At this point, Kopparbergs had contacted Fhager and asked him to find a new home for the players: either by identifying a larger club to take over the wholesale team – ideally one in Gothenburg – or by creating a new home for so many Members of the cadre found as possible.
In addition to reaching out to the four men’s football teams in Gothenburg, he contacted the ice hockey clubs that he believed might have an interest in taking over the Kopparbergs players and the team’s place in Sweden’s top flight Damallsvenskan.
One was particularly responsive. Marcus Jodin, the managing director of BK Hacken, one of the largest men’s teams in Gothenburg, had seen the news that Kopparbergs would be closed, but hadn’t thought too much about it. “We were very busy,” he said. “We tried to complete a big transfer for the men’s team.”
However, his phone was soon pinging messages from colleagues and friends. “They said this could be an opportunity for us,” he said. Hacken had a strategic plan to increase his investment in the women’s game – his women’s team was in Sweden’s third division at the time – to become a “balanced club between men’s and women’s sports”.
When Fhager called Hacken on the afternoon of December 29th, Jodin was ready to listen. The next day, team officials discussed the idea at a meeting of Hacken’s board of directors. Although taking on another team was anathema, the appeal was clear.
Part of Jodin’s reasoning was financial. “The economy of women’s football is moving very quickly,” he said. “If it takes five to seven years to get to the top level the normal way, where is the economy? Do we have the time and 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 town the opportunity to dream,” said Jodin. “And this dream cannot move to Malmö.”
With the support of the board, he set about not only introducing the idea to club members, addressing all their “questions and fears”, but also getting hacking ready if they agreed. “We wanted the players to notice a change from day one,” said Jodin. “They went through a nightmare and lost their jobs and their income. If we weren’t ready for them, we would have failed. “
The merger was voted on at the end of January, as all decisions of all Swedish clubs have to be taken. Ninety-two percent of Hacken fans agreed: the club would take over the Kopparbergs’ players, their commitments and their place in the league. The team would change their name and jersey. All that would be left of a quarter of a century of history was the number of the non-profit organization under which Kopparbergs was registered.
It’s a happy ending for everyone involved. “There were only two alternatives,” said Jodin. “Either the club closed and the players left or they became part of heels.”
Fhager said most of the fans he spoke to were delighted: “The Kopparbergs idea was to give Gothenburg an elite team that girls can target. It still has. “
For Rubensson “everything feels good.”
“The size of the organization and facilities are the main difference,” she added. “We were very well received. We believe this will be a very good step for us at a time when Swedish teams need to improve in order to be successful in Europe. “
For them, as for everyone else, this is the future. The Kopparbergs and the teams that like it are a thing of the past.