There's no place like home...
It was a year that started with the hint of big things to come for John Alvbåge and Örebro SK. The previous campaign had ended with ÖSK in third place, their best finish since grabbing the runners-up spot in 1994, and with a European campaign to look forward to in the summer. Yet fast-forward one year and Alvbåge talks about the 2011 Allsvenskan campaign as being “a big disappointment”.
ÖSK dropped to twelfth place by the end of the season, three positions above the relegation zone, with their best form coming at the end of July when they won four games on the bounce. That spell was sandwiched between two runs of five consecutive defeats that defined their season, and followed immediately on from their Europa League exit to FK Sarajevo.
At the start of the season, Alvbåge had pinpointed a need to remain strong at the Behrn Arena while improving away form if ÖSK were to realise their dream of winning Allsvenskan Gold in 2011. That didn’t happen.
“We lost our strength on our home ground,” explains the four-times capped Swedish international goalkeeper. “As a team, you have to be strong at home but we were not good.” The club lost three games at home in 2010; a year later they lost eight times. Of course, home losses can be compensated if away form is good, yet ÖSK were at least consistent if nothing else: they lost eight times away from the Behrn Arena, one more defeat on the road than during the previous season. “We also had injuries to important players. We really had an awful season,” continues Alvbåge.
A run to the Svenska Cupen semi-final brought some relief for Örebro, yet amidst strong rumours that their star ‘keeper, and fan favourite, was moving at the end of the season, some fans were chanting “Hata Göteborg” at Alvbåge during as the team down 3-1 and went out to Helsingborg, who would go on to complete the league and cup double.
Looking back at those final games, Alvbåge admits that “some fans like me and some fans don’t and I understand everyone. What everyone must know is that I always gave my best in every minute I played for ÖSK”, a club where he enjoyed two spells at.
Happier memories from his two spells at the club come in the form of manager Sixten Boström changing the “club’s DNA and the renaissance of the unfancied team: “I will remember that I played in a great team for a long time. What we did during 2008 and 2010 was awesome. We changed from being a boring team and club to being really good and fun to watch and I was part of developing the whole club which is good to know”.
At the end of the season, having not signed a new contract with the club, Alvbåge turned down other offers from within Sweden and took on the challenge of moving west in a repeat of his departure from the Örebro the first time around at the start of 2005, when he accepted IFK Göteborg’s contract. “IFK came to me with a lot of good things and I couldn’t say no. It’s IFK and all of what that means; it’s a special club.”
His last spell in Göteborg lasted a matter of months, when he found himself as back-up to Bengt Andersson. The challenge of pushing the Swedish veteran aside was too much – after all, Andersson was the number one ‘keeper since 1998 and would remain so until 2008. Alvbåge had cut short a trial at English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers to sign for IFK – “I could have been close [to signing with Blackburn] if I had decided to stay for an extra week like they wanted me to. But I said “no” to them and went home to sign with IFK, which was maybe not so smart”.
That decision was shown to be one that didn’t work out. “For me, at that time, it was not an option to sit on the bench and when a chance came to move to Denmark, it just felt right” says Alvbåge of his decision to join the Danish side Viborg FF just months later, where he quickly established himself as the first choice shot-stopper.
Now it’s different. With Mikael Stahre installed as manager at Gamla Ullevi, there’s the expectation that the man who led AIK to the double in 2009, will repeat those exploits with Blåvitt. With the club changing between two goalkeepers last season, with youngsters Erik Dahlin and Markus Sandberg both playing unconvincingly, an experienced and reliable ‘keeper was sought to help lead the Stahre revolution. 29-year-old Alvbåge was quickly identified. “I’m really excited to be playing for a good coach such as Mikael,” Alvbåge enthuses, “he’s a man of energy and I’m sure he will give us success”.
For the ‘keeper, there was more to it than returning to an old club and the opportunity to establish himself as the number one. His first club was his local side in Torslanda, a district on the west of Göteborg. As a kid he had the Swedish and Blåvitt legend Thomas Ravelli down as one of his football heroes. Some of his most enjoyable childhood memories involving football are the “European years when they had a great side with only national team players”. “It has always been a dream for me, ever since I was a kid, to play for IFK,” he says of his team. Asked if success with Blåvitt would mean more to him as opposed to tasting success elsewhere, he confirms: “Yes, I can’t say anything more than that. IFK is a special team to represent”.
Alvbåge can’t wait for his second debut in Göteborg and, if playing in the first team, “maybe getting back into the discussion for the national team”. He confirms that even for a footballer, it is hard work moving house: “Moving is so different now I have kids and a family, plus I have a house to sell. My ‘backpack’ is huge now but soon, when everything is in the right place in Göteborg, then it’s going to be really, really good for me and my family. My mother likes having her son back in her hometown.”
The experience of playing in Europe, albeit brief, for Alvbåge last season was “what you want as a professional player; you want to play important games. It was special to play in the Europa League and of course, I want more of it”. It’s extremely unlikely that IFK will ever get near the heights of those special victories in Europe that Alvbåge remembers, but with Stahre in charge there’s a very good chance that there will be some special Allsvenskan days to come.
To read more from Andy on all matters Swedish, click here for the excellent Blagul Fotboll