In my youth I was involved in an association in my old hometown Kalmar. Once a month we were a gang that gathered and visited Kalmar prison to play football against the inmates. It was an initiative that the prisoners appreciated, and for us it was a way of turning our ideas about supporting fellow human beings and that everyone was worth a second chance into reality. An ideological belief that not only gave spiritual satisfaction but many bruises and contusions.
This was during the same period that several “dangerous” criminals were detained at Kalmar prison. Among the more renowned was Clark Olofsson. However, he never played any matches, and was moved to Norrköping prison pretty soon. But there were many others who frightened the shit out of us football-crazy teenage boys.
At that time tattoos were nothing teenage girls and standup comedians wore in their sway-back or on their arms, it was something that signaled that the person was dangerous, had surely been at sea and probably murdered and ravaged and been generally naughty. You were a BIT scared when you were standing there, outside the prison gates. But at the same time you were curious, and it was exciting. Would the opposing team hava any murderers on the field today?
One game I especially remember was in August. We played on a Sunday afternoon and it was about 25 degrees hot outside. The guards checked through our bags and clothes, the gates were unlocked and we were led through a corridor. A buzzing sound, a snap and then the door out to the backyard and the football field was opened. Once outside, we gathered our team at one of the goals. A net with large holes, here and there tied together with light blue faded cut strips of plastic. The field consisted of earth-mixed sand, and closer to the prison-building, it turned into concrete. Around the field there was a several meters tall fence with spotlights around it. Outside there was another fence, and outside of that lay the free part of the city in the form of a small park.
The football field was a seven-person pitch – but the dimensions were quite indefinite and probably the size of the field changed depending on the season. This time in the summer, the grass in the edges was browned, which gave the pitch some half meter extra playarea around it.
Some guards came out on the pitch, and in a row behind them came the opposing team. Everything from seventeen-year-old little boys who ended up wrong in life, to sixty-plus who occasionally committed a crime to get food and roof over their head for a few months. People who once ended up outside the community and never managed to get back in again.
Their tactics was that when we had the ball they stood and jumped and shouted “Woooaaaaah!” loud as hell so our team would be scared and give them the ball. Anyone who didn’t pass them the ball got a proper kick over their legs or a tackle so they flew off the pitch. When they had the ball themselves, it was full speed ahead and anyone who dared to try to take the ball from them was brutally tackled. At best, it stopped with bruises and some crying, in the worst case with sprained ancles or one or two crooked teeth.
This very time I had told myself that we should score at least ONE goal. So I slide-tackled one of the prisoners – a fifty-years old guy who probably weighed over 100 kilogrammes and had tattoos everywhere, a ring in his ear and a crooked nose. I hit him well, he fell like a stone and I took the ball and ran towards goal. Behind me I heard “thump-thump-thump” – a horde of hunting prisoners who, if they caught up with me, would probably turn me into minced meat. In a panic, I kicked a toe-kick that went in a crooked arch beside their goalkeeper. The moment the horde of prisoners caught up with me and briskly mangled me to the ground, I heard my teammates cheering. It was a goal!
The chubby fifties-man grabbed my hand and pulled me off the ground. He brushed off some gravel, patted me on my back and said, “Fucking good tackle there mate. You should play in KFF ”.
“Thank you,” I replied, a bit shy but also proud.
After the match, we all got coffee, and each of us got a diploma which guaranteed that we would be safe from burglary if the burglar saw it. At that time there was some kind of guild spirit even among criminals. Anyone who committed crimes against one with such diploma would not expect to be protected by his fellow thieves. I still have that diploma.
As I see it, this is the soul of football. A game that also fulfills a social function. Everything is not business. There is no money in jailbird-football, but we who have played such games have probably had at least as much fun as Ronaldo, Zlatan and all the others. Even though for a much smaller audience. Three prison guards and a dog.