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FOOTBALL

Swedish football body opts to expose trophy’s partisan secret

The Swedish Football Association (Svenska Fotbollsförbundet) will launch an investigation into whether there is any truth to the claims that its top-flight Allsvenskan championship trophy contains a pledge of allegiance to the Stockholm club supported by its creator.

Swedish football body opts to expose trophy's partisan secret
Lennart Johansson holds the silver trophy bearing his name, October 2001

The association has responded to claims that silversmith Ingemar Eklund, a lifelong fan of Hammarby FF, inscribed the inside of the ball that adorns the top of the trophy with the words “Bajen forever.”

“We will open the trophy and have a look to see if there is a message or not,” association chairman Lars-Åke Lagrell told The Local on Wednesday.

When the news first emerged last week, ahead of the 2010 championship climax, Lagrell initially said that no inspection of the trophy would be made, but changed his tune after consulting with the association’s secretary general Mikael Santoft.

“It’s a small problem. We can’t have any message in a trophy, so it’s very easy – if there is something in there, we will remove it. If not, we will tell the papers that it is as it was before,” Lagrell told The Local.

Hammarby Fotboll club, located in southern Stockholm, adopted the nickname “Bajen” as a short form of a mock English pronunciation of Hammarby. The club has won the Allsvenskan only once in its long history, in 2001 – the same year the trophy was established.

The trophy is named after Swede and former UEFA president Lennart Johansson, who governed the football body from 1990 to 2007.

The inscription was allegedly made by silversmith Ingemar Eklund, who has since died, and the secret was revealed by his colleague Peter Gustafsson last Thursday.

The trophy is currently in southern Sweden in the hands of reigning champions Malmö FF, who won on Sunday, but as soon as it returns to Stockholm, it will be taken to a professional who will be commissioned to open it.

“The trophy is in Malmö right now. It will come back to Stockholm to the Swedish FA [Football Association], but we are not in a hurry,” said Lagrell.

Johansson, who is the honourary chairman of the association, expressed his disapproval when he heard the story of the inscription.

“Tasteless may be a little over the top, but it is not pleasant,” he told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily on Tuesday.

Gustafsson declined to comment on the association’s decision.

“I have said my piece when it comes to this. However, of course I am sure that the tribute to Bajen is inside the trophy,” he told the newspaper.

He also warned that an inspection could be both a difficult and costly procedure that risked destroying the trophy, which weighs six kilograms.

Separately, Eklund’s daughter is also not thrilled with the decision to open the trophy.

“I think that it is a waste of money. Put those thousands of kronor into youth sports instead. It is getting ridiculous now,” Marie Eklund told DN.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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