Cradle of Swedish football, host of Gothia Cup

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Gothenburg is the cradle of Swedish football. As well as a major international venue – it was here that Denmark famously beat Germany to win Euro 1992, in an Ullevi stadium built for the 1958 World Cup – Sweden’s second city and industrial hub nurtured the domestic game.

Sweden’s oldest club, Örgryte IS, were founded in Gothenburg in 1887. Five years later, ÖIS took part in Sweden’s first football match, on Gothenburg’s former military ground of Heden, where a rocky monument now stands.

Their opponents on that day, May 22 1892, were IS Lyckans Soldater. First founded as a sports club, its football section created in 1888, Lyckans Soldater (‘LS’) would soon fold but several members were involved in the faltering inception of a new club: IFK Gothenburg.

Good Morning Göteborg City/Nikolaj Steen-Møller

Now a public space, in recent years Heden has staged the annual Gothia Cup, the world’s biggest youth football tournament. Instigated in 1975, it now brings some 1,600 teams from 75 countries to Gothenburg every July. Previous participants have included Andrea Pirlo, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Alan Shearer.

Gothenburg has long been an international host. Örgryte were founded on Balders Hage, a riverside ballcourt that was to stage Sweden’s first international, against Norway, in 1908. Balders Hage is now the site of the famous Liseberg amusement park and has a rollercoaster named in its honour.

Close by that same year, Örgryte built Valhalla, ‘The Hall of the Gods’, a grass pitch with room for a few thousand specators. It staged Sweden’s second international, a 6-1 defeat by England, that September. Four goals came that day from Arthur Berry, a great amateur all-rounder later to play for both Liverpool and Everton.

Nya Ullevi/Nikolaj Steen-Møller

Valhalla witnessed the great days of then dominant Örgryte. Taking their support from Gothenburg’s middle classes, Örgryte were a notch above working-class IFK and GAIS, ever the third of the city’s three main clubs. Both IFK and GAIS were founded in cafés in the city centre, IFK at the Olivedal and GAIS at the Ehdlunds. Olivedal continues to function as an online webshop for IFK merchandise.

Based at Idrottsplatsen, a general sports pitch with a cycle track, IFK first beat previously dominant Örgryte in 1907 and also won early tournaments before the inauguration of a national league, the Allsvenskan, on Örgryte’s initiative.

Trouble between both sets of supporters was common even in these pre-war days, either in the ground or on the local tram. With soccer capturing the public imagination, a proper football ground, the Ullevi, was built in 1916, with a skating rink alongside. Taken over by the City Council in the 1920s, the Ullevi became the main ground for all three clubs – although Sweden’s national team were based at the Råsunda in Solna, near Stockholm.

When Sweden was awarded the 1958 World Cup in 1950, it was clear that the Ullevi was too small for a host venue. A new Ullevi, Nya Ullevi, was built alongside the original one, then referred to as Gamla (‘Old’) Ullevi.

BK Häcken/Nikolaj Steen-Møller

It was at Nya Ullevi that Pelé made his World Cup debut, against the USSR, although there were more people at the top-of-the-table clash between IFK and Örgryte the following summer.

Four European finals, including Euro 92, have been staged at the now 43,000-capacity venue. All three local clubs played there until 1992, when they switched to the old Ullevi. This in turn was rebuilt in 2008 for the 2009 Euro Under-21 Championships, won by a German team that included Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Jérôme Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer – half the team fielded by Jögi Löw at Euro 2016.

All three Gothenburg clubs now play at the ‘new’ Gamla Ullevi, IFK hoping to recapture the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s when they won ten of their 18 titles and two UEFA Cups. Örgryte won 11 of their 12 titles before 1913 and modern times have not been kind to the venerable old club. 

Bankrupt in 2011, they were relegated to the third tier. In November 2015, an extra-time goal by Hannes Sahlin for ÖIS beat Mjällby in a promotion play-off and put the Gothenburg side into the second-flight Superettan for 2016. This has re-established the derby with GAIS, relegated from the Allsvenskan in 2012, some 90 years after their glory days of the 1920s.

In the last five years, Gothenburg has seen a fourth club supercede the traditional trio: BK Häcken, ‘Pride of Hisingen’. Based at the new-build Bravida Arena, on the other side of the water from the Ullevi stadiums, it was opened in 2015 on the site the club’s previous ground, Rambergsvallen. Allsvenskan runners-up in 2012, the Wasps won their first Swedish title in 2022.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Gothenburg’s main Landvetter airport is 20km (13 miles) south-east of town.

The Flygbussarna airport coach to (every 15-30mins) takes costs Skr105, Skr95 online, Skr185/Skr195 return. In person, you can purchase at 7-Eleven stores, from the machines by departure and arrival points between airport and town or with a credit card on board.

The airport coach terminates at the Nils Ericson Terminalen beside Gothenburg Centralstation – the city’s adjoining hubs for the bus and rail services.

The Ullevi is a short walk away.

Public transport run by västtrafik consists of trams, buses and ferries. Single tickets (Skr28, valid 90min) are available from machines on each, credit cards only on buses.

Taxi Göteborg +46 31 650 000 charges around Skr400 from airport to town. 

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Terrace cafes, mainstream bars and nightspots line Kungsportsavenyn (‘Avenyn‘), the city’s main boulevard. There you’ll find a branch of popular Scando sports bar O’Learys (No.9) – there’s another at the station.

Of the many pubs, The Rover is typical of the genre, with food the focus, while John Scott’s is a four-venue chain of Brit-style taverns also with sport on TV. One branch is on Avenyn (No.15). Pan-Sweden operation The Bishop’s Arms is also on Avenyn, at Nos.36-38 as well as one at Järntorget. Another choice is The Dubliner, oriented more towards live music.

For a more local feel, the Ölstugan chain has seven branches around the city, including ones at pub-lined Andra Långgatan 13 and at Friggagatan 27.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

The Tourist Office has a room-booking service.

At least ten hotels are clustered between Centralstation and the Gamla Ullevi stadium a short walk away. These include the Radisson Blu Scandinavia, with its sauna, gym and swimming pool, and the equally modern and pool-equipped Clarion Hotel Post.

The Scandic Crown is one of several Scandic chain hotels in the station hub alone, while Good Morning Göteborg City, formerly the ibis is a floating hotel just the other side of the train tracks from the Gamla Ullevi, naturally with waterfront views.

The very nearest lodging to the Gamla Ullevi is the Hotel Arena, a comfortable if modest mid-range three-star.