Meet the Soft Hooligans — the inclusive Swedish supporters bringing the vibes to the Euros 2022

·4-min read
 (Charlotta Billstrom)
(Charlotta Billstrom)

There are only a handful of instances where I am a loud and proud Swede; when ABBA is being played on a night out, whenever I see Alexander Skarsgård on TV and when the women’s national football team is playing. As a Swedish expat I’ve done my best to acclimatise, but I simply can’t pick the Lionesses over my national team (sorry). And a big reason for this is the Swedish fans.

They are an organised troup going by the name Soft Hooligans and they religiously show up to every single match to show their support. And while ‘hooligans’ might draw negative connotations of violence and toxic masculinity, these supporters are promoting the opposite. The Soft Hooligans are all about good vibes and good vibes only. They have braved the travel chaos and made the journey from Sweden to England to support the women’s national team until the very last minute of additional time.

 (Charlotta Billstrom)
(Charlotta Billstrom)

Estrid Kjellman, the founder of Soft Hooligans, tells me that it all started in 2017 when the Netherlands hosted the Euros. Watching Sweden play together with her mum, aunt and cousins, they all noticed that the stands were eerily quiet and decided to do something about it.

“We shouted and cheered, and because we were the only ones making any noise, we felt like rowdy hooligans. But since we’re nothing like your average hooligans, we joked that we were “soft” hooligans instead.”

 (Charlotta Billstrom)
(Charlotta Billstrom)

And it seems like it wasn’t just Estrid and her family who wanted to change the fan culture around the women’s game. The official Facebook group now has over 3,000 members, and the number of fans in the stands grow every year. “We’re a group of supporters who all just want to create a loud and inclusive culture around women’s football.”

She, like all the other Swedish fans, is excited for the semi-final. “Facing England here in Sheffield is going to be a big moment for us. They might have the numeric advantage in the stands, but they don’t have any organised fans. I hope that our group of 1,500 Swedish fans will make the most noise.”

 (Charlotta Billstrom)
(Charlotta Billstrom)

The strong sense of community and camaraderie among the Soft Hooligans go way beyond the stands and the fan zones outside the stadiums. On social media, Swedish fans are selling cheap tickets – or even giving them away for free – to the matches using the hashtag #AllaSkaMed (“everyone’s going). They would never dream of making a profit from selling tickets, all they want is to make sure everyone who wants to go along can do so. They don’t care about who you are, what your age or gender is – as long as you’re cheering on the team and bringing good vibes, you’re part of the gang.

The genuine optimism among the fans is contagious (eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted a banner saying “see you at Wembley” at the Swedish games). And having lived in London for eight years, it’s easy to snarkily dismiss my fellow country men and women’s positivity, but after being welcomed with open arms by the Soft Hooligans – all of them strangers to me – I can feel the cynicism leaving my body and instead I’m just enjoying being swept away by the chants and cheers.

 (Charlotta Billstrom)
(Charlotta Billstrom)

Walking through Sheffield, I bump into three Swedish girls, all of them have bought tickets for the final game in London as well. “It’s going to be a tough game tonight, but Sweden will win.”

Another fan is Elin Arvidsson. She has flown over together with eight friends to watch Sweden play. Like Estrid, she has been a devoted fan of the women’s national team since 2017. And when I asked if she was coming just for the semi-final, she replied, “We’re going to the final as well – to watch Sweden win!”

The unwavering support and optimism is what makes the Swedish fans so special. And no matter what happens in tonight’s match, I will always be proud to be part of the Soft Hooligans and everything they bring to the women’s game. Go Sweden!

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