The Rise of IFK Norrköping
How Lajos Czeizler lifted the second team in their city to be the best in Sweden
IFK Norrköping came from nowhere to dominate the Swedish league during the 1940s, transformed by new recruitment policies and the hiring of the Hungarian coach Lajos Czeizler. During his eight seasons in charge he laid the foundations for a dynasty with five league wins and two cup successes. His team reached its zenith during an undefeated tour of England in the autumn of 1946. Some of his players became world famous as they left Sweden to become professionals in Italy. Gunnar Nordahl was one of them, Nils Liedholm another.
IFK Norrköping had been no-hopers since Allsvenskan, the national league, was launched in 1924. During the first 16 seasons they were relegated twice and spent just half of that time in the top flight. Their best year was 1925-26, when they finished sixth of the twelve teams. They always seemed a pace or two behind their local rivals IK Sleipner, who were supported by the workers and had both larger crowds and more success. Sleipner were relegated once during those sixteen years but came back immediately in 1934 and then won the league for the first – and only – time in 1938.
IFK started playing the game in 1902, with Sleipner following a year later. In 1940 Sleipner were an established force in Allsvenskan and they crowned their league win in 1938 by having five players in the World Cup squad for France. Tore Keller, a clever, tall, elegant and effective inside-left, was the unrivalled marquee player with 164 goals in 335 league games from his debut in 1922-23. Keller was only nineteen when got his big break in the Sweden team that took bronze at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He would eventually win 25 caps and was team captain at the World Cups in Italy in 1934 and France in 1938. Keller retired in the summer of 1940. He was a quiet man who slipped out of the back door at the same time as IFK Norrköping rejoined Sleipner in Allsvenskan after three years in the second division. That season saw a local shift of power. The consequences are felt to this day. Sleipner, without their star player, were relegated in 1940-41 and have been out of Allsvenskan since.
IFK had been thrown into a major crisis after their last relegation in 1937. It started at the AGM in May. There was discontent within the club and recognition things had to change. The old board was thrown out. So far, so good. But the replacements were not ready to shoulder their new responsibilities. Six months later the Swedish football federation (SVFF) demanded an audit of the accounts because IFK had not paid them the 1,100 kroner they owed as a cut of gate receipts. They discovered that debts had grown from 4,000 to 13,650 kroner. IFK had also continued to keep their players’ allowances at Allsvenskan levels, 20 kroner per player per game instead of the 10 kroner permitted in the second division.
The newly elected board was disqualified for three months and had to give up their positions. Another board was chosen and this time they got it right. Torsten Johansson, their most important player, took on the double duties of chairman and coach. Carl-Elis Halldén was the new treasurer.
Johansson had meant as much to IFK as Keller had to Sleipner. He was a full year (and two days) younger than Keller and had made his league debut at seventeen, in 1923. In that year, and the next, IFK were coached by the great Hungarian Imre Schlosser, who by then had played football for almost as long as IFK had existed as a club. He had been top scorer of the Hungarian (ie Budapest) league eight times with Ferencváros and then MTK and in the process had been a driving force behind a total of 14 league wins. Schlosser knew a lot about the game and Johansson willingly became his apprentice. I discussed this with Johansson about 60 years later and he was still full of praise for Schlosser: “He made me a footballer. I don’t know what I had been before his arrival.”
Torsten Johansson was good. But most of his teammates were not. His statistics are very telling. Compare his first-division appearances and goals (187/8) to his second-division figures (133/91). He was used deep while the team fought for survival in the top flight – mostly as an old-fashioned attacking centre-half – but as centre-forward in the second where IFK mostly topped the table. He had an analytical mind and could revert when it was in the best interests for the team. As chairman he would continue to be the quiet analyst among more boisterous personalities.
The treasurer Carl-Elis Halldén certainly was one of those. You never had to look for him. A portly man, he would talk constantly, always engaged in a discussion. He had lost the use of one arm to polio and never had the opportunity to become a sportsman himself. He was almost exclusively known by his nickname ’Nalle’ (teddy bear). After a year under the new regime Nalle became secretary as well as team manager, while the former player Sigge Andersson took care of finances. The triumvirate was in place: the statesman Johansson, the warm and hearty Halldén and the mean and sometimes wicked loudmouth Andersson – three very different personalities working as one.
The first thing they did together was to transform how IFK sourced players. Up until then IFK had been the club of the well-to-do, with most players joining from grammar school. The club had never been as popular with the crowds as Sleipner, simply because of the social differences. This recruiting policy had an in-built weakness. Most of the boys were pushed by their parents to pursue their studies, which meant leaving Norrköping for universities in Lund, Gothenburg, Uppsala or Stockholm. One young local female columnist even wrote a piece lamenting the departure of the good-looking striker Ove Ståhlbäck, who left for Gothenburg in 1937 to become a civil engineer, saying it had made her lose her appetite for the game.
Halldén worked as a regional overseer for the Swedish Pools (Tipstjänst) which was (and still is) run by the government. As a social genius of sorts he gradually engaged the local pools managers, mostly tobacconists, as his scouts. They provided cuttings of match reports from local papers as well as important gossip. Halldén covered three counties (Östergötland, Småland to the south and Södermanland to the north). If someone got a hat-trick he was the first among club officials to know.
But you couldn’t just pinch players willy nilly. The game was amateur, there were no contracts and thus no transfer fees. The FA rules, concocted in an idealistic manner by men who never had to worry about their income, stipulated that a player was allowed to change clubs only if he first got a job in a new town and then after moving there applied to a club for membership. The reality was a little different.
The clubs had people who did the practical recruiting, but they had no official positions and so could not be barred from the game for illegal activities. When approaching an attractive player, the key was to cajole him to stop playing for 90 days. After that quarantine he was free to appear for a new club of his choice. But it was a painful process, as the long winter break counted for only 15 days. You couldn’t change clubs without missing half a league season.
IFK had one such associate, a master cajoler: Einar Dusén, a member since 1906, a player in the 1910s and then a referee. He was well-known in football circles and also the publisher of a local weekly, Sport & Boulevard. He showed no fear when criticising players and sometimes got a black eye when his judgments were too honest. “Write first – think later, maybe,” seemed to be his credo. Like when the SvFF chairman Anton Johanson presented Sleipner with their medals for their second division group triumph in 1934. The caption below the photo read: “The Football-Hitler of Sweden addressing the crowd before handing over the medals.”
Dusén did the groundwork when IFK secured the services of the brothers Oskar and Erik Holmqvist. He went south to Emmaboda, the village where they lived, worked and played, to see first their father, a 70-year-old former hussar, and then, in the evening, the main targets. The old man briefed Dusén: “The boys have offers from seven clubs and are booked for friendlies with three of them.” When Oskar (25) and Erik (22) returned from work they made their demands clear: “Decent jobs, please.”
Dusén found the jobs. Would Oskar like to be a lorry driver? Would Erik consider training to become a welder? They certainly would. But they also told Dusén about Husqvarna IF, a club in the same second-division group as Norrköping. They had been invited to go with them on a domestic summer tour. And they didn’t want to make any promises until early September, when their quarantine was over. The fixture list for the rapidly approaching season added to the drama. The brothers were free to play on 10 September 1939, the date on which IFK Norrköping were scheduled to play Husqvarna away.
Nalle Halldén had to intervene. He went down to Emmaboda in his old Chevrolet and talked to their mother before more or less kidnapping them. They moved to Norrköping, began work and started training with IFK. One day some Husqvarna supporters turned up outside the stadium to ’discuss’ the future of the brothers. Halldén drove his car past the stadium gates and told the brothers to get in the back and lie down. He managed to get them out securely.
Husqvarna had lost the tug-of-war for the brothers. They couldn’t digest their defeat and the lingering resentment among the locals brought game day close to mayhem. IFK Norrköping feared retaliation. They went to the bordering twin town of Jönköping, where they had rooms booked in a hotel that they used as a dressing room. The plan was to go by local bus a few kilometres north to the stadium in Husqvarna. That proved impossible as the buses were all crowded because of the tremendous interest for the game. Taxi? “No,” said the police officer in charge and pointed to the fuel restrictions imposed days before, when Germany had invaded Poland. But he had to give in, otherwise there would have been no game at all. When the team finally arrived at the stadium it became evident that both sides were dressed in white shirts. Husqvarna at first refused to lend IFK their change strips. It took a while to get that detail sorted, but when it was, Erik Holmqvist scored the opener, the game ended 1–1 and IFK got back to their hotel unscathed.
IFK won eight, drew two and lost one of their remaining eleven games. They won their group and faced Reymersholm of Stockholm in a home-and-away promotion play-off. They won the home leg 3–2 with a goal each from the Holmqvists and then secured promotion with a 4–3 win at Råsunda. Oskar got two goals and Erik one. The club had taken its first step on the way to recovery. IFK Norrköping were back in Allsvenskan and would face their rivals Sleipner in competitive games for the first time in three years.
The 1940-41 season ended with IFK seventh and Sleipner twelfth and relegated, helpless as they were without Tore Keller. The board decided to hire a full-time coach, someone from the outside, someone knowledgeable. István Wampetits, a Hungarian who had been in Sweden coaching Degerfors for a few years, strongly recommended his countryman Lajos Czeizler.
Czeizler had a wealth of experience although he had never played the game at the top level. He had left his home town Heves at sixteen in 1909 to learn the banking trade in Budapest. He joined MTK but only got as far as their reserve teams. Still, he trained with some of the very best players available, such as the brothers Jenő and Kálmán Konrád and the inimitable Alfréd “Spezi” Schaffer. MTK, and much of the football in Budapest, was a nursery for influential future teachers of the game. Glance down the squad lists of the time and the chances are you’ll find a couple of names later familiar as coaches in your own country, no matter where you live.
Little Lajos, an inch or so below average height and with unusually small feet, had serious problems finding boots. “We got used equipment handed down from the first team,” he said 30 years later. “But I was unable to find boots to fit. They were usually three sizes too big and of no more use than galoshes. The Englishman Joe Lane [who played for MTK in 1911-12 and 12-13], who led the attack in the first team, noticed my predicament. He felt sorry for me and one day gave me his pair, used and heavily worn. To me they were a godsend and I used them for three years, until they finally fell apart.” He spent four years in the First World War fighting for the Hungarian army, became a lieutenant and was even awarded a decoration for bravery: the Order of the Iron Crown. Czeizler stayed with MTK until 1919, then fled the post-war unrest in Hungary and spent a season with SC Germania Schwechat in Austria, appearing at right-back in a few games. Then he went to Poland, where he turned to coaching as assistant to Jesza Pozsonyi at Cracovia. In 1923 he took over ŁKS in Łódź.
Czeizler stayed at Łódź for almost five seasons before going to Italy in 1927. He spent eight years in the rapidly developing Italian game, coaching Udinese, Faenza, Lazio (as assistant to Ferenc Molnár), Cremonese, Catania and Casale, before going back to Łódź. He passed two more years in Poland before looking in the other direction, to Sweden. He arrived in 1937 and enjoyed decent results with ageing teams at Karlskoga IF and Hallstahammars SK, both mainly in the second division. Karlskoga and Degerfors are separated by no more than 13km and he got to know the Degerfors coach István Wampetits well. Wampetits had transformed Degerfors into a unit fit for Allsvenskan and felt Czeizler also should try his hand at a club with greater resources.
“I got rather disillusioned at Hallstahammar [who were relegated from Allsvenskan in 1939] but I was approached by Reymersholm in the spring of 1941,” Czeizler said. They were freshly promoted and negotiated with me and the Austrian Richard Kudelka, who eventually got the job. That was disappointing. Then came the offer from IFK Norrköping, which I happily accepted. We faced Reymersholm in our first league game in 1941-42 and won that battle 5–1. Afterwards I was told they regretted not choosing me. The reason? They thought I was too old!” He was 48 years old, bald and a bit pudgy.
In the summer of 1941, Czeizler went to work at IFK Norrköping. The position would last eight seasons, his longest stay at any one place during a coaching career that would last an impressive 44 years. The triumvirate at the club – Johansson, Halldén and Andersson – immediately adopted Czeizler and was extended to a quartet.
Czeizler took measures to get the most out of his squad. He didn’t really impose a new system. He didn’t have to. IFK had paved the way themselves for modern coaching by scrapping the old attacking centre-half when Torsten Johansson retired in 1940. What Czeizler did was to break the habits of some players. Once a striker, always a striker? No, not with Czeizler. IFK Norrköping almost exclusively recruited attackers. Czeizler had a quick look at the newcomers and then decided to what to do with the players he already had.
The defence would have three mainstays over the course of his whole reign. The goalkeeper Torsten Lindberg had been brought in in 1940. He was physically impressive and good in the air. The stopper Einar Stéen was introduced at the same time. As was common, both were employed as policemen – popular sportsmen had an advantage when dealing with local thugs. One of their workmates was the Olympic champion wrestler Ivar Johansson who, reportedly, never had to use his holds seriously while at work. The third ever-present was the team captain Birger Rosengren, a first teamer at right-half since his debut aged 18 in 1935-36.
Rosengren usually arrived at home games about fifteen minutes before kick-off, on his bicycle with his boots in a cardboard box on the rack. This eccentric habit was not to be mistaken for lack of commitment. He was the one who rallied the team, talked to Halldén or Czeizler when changes had to be made and, occasionally, nailed a free-kick. The right-winger Halvar Carlbom, who got into the side in 36-37, and Erik Holmqvist at number 10 also kept their places right through this period of unparalleled success.
These five were the trusted pillars. Six more players were needed to make up the team in 1942-43, the first to win the league. Oscar Holmqvist, converted from striker, and Gösta Malm, recruited as an inside-right, were the full-backs. Holmqvist won caps at both ends of the field. Karl Johansson toiled at left-half. He did so until the spring of 1944, when he was tackled by Bertil Nordahl of Degerfors. Johansson was left in a heap with concussion and broken ribs and never played again. The attack, apart from Carlbom and Erik Holmqvist, had Sven Person at inside-right, Knut Nordahl at centre-forward and Lennart Wigren at outside-left. Person was just as useful at outside-left and the other two would soon be withdrawn into more defensive positions. Czeizler liked his players to be smart. Moving them backwards meant propping up the defence with players who were able to contribute more than just defending. Gösta Malm, for instance, excelled as the expert penalty taker.
The loss of Karl Johansson in 1943-44 was compensated by the withdrawal of Wigren into a deeper role while the number 11 spot was filled by Georg Ericson, who played most of his career without a posterior cruciate ligament. He had been injured in 1940 while playing for his regiment but didn’t realise the severity of the blow. It took him three months to get access to a doctor, who removed a cracked cartilage and noticed the ligament had snapped. Ericson continued, used as the eternal travelling just-in-case reserve player. He was frustratedly in and out of the team, always in pain and always having treatment for his knee between games. He was only happy when playing the piano in his own local vaudeville productions.
Meanwhile Malmö FF emerged as a new challenger, recording their first league success in 1943-44 with Norrköping a disappointing fourth. Reinforcements were needed, particularly a goalscoring number nine. Knut Nordahl (with eight goals that season) was more of a provider for Sven Person (16). What to do? IFK pinched Knut’s brother Gunnar from their rivals Degerfors. Gunnar was on his way to being established as a number nine for Sweden and had scored 58 goals in 77 games during four seasons at Degerfors. He quit his job at the steel mill in Degerfors to join the fire brigade in Norrköping.
Gunnar Nordahl was the final piece of the jigsaw. Norrköping reclaimed the initiative in the league as runaway winners in 1944-45, five points ahead of Elfsborg. They scored the most goals (71 in 22 games), had the tightest defense (23 goals conceded) and Gunnar Nordahl was top scorer (27 goals in his 19 games). Quite a performance. The reshuffled attack line-up was Carlbom–Knut Nordahl–Gunnar Nordahl–Erik Holmqvist–Person. Ericson had 13 outings and ranked as twelfth among the players at a time when only eleven got medals. He was fuming.
Lajos Czeizler loved his new tank-like game-winning centre-forward. He gave him strict orders not to engage in any defensive activities: “Never chase the ball. Stay at the half-way line and preserve your powers. You need them when we attack.”
Gunnar Nordahl appreciated the special treatment and praised his coach in his autobiography Guld och gröna planer (Gold and Green Fields, 1954): “I wouldn’t call [Czeizler] a magician. But he was a great man who, for some reason, had chosen to invest his powers and intelligence in football. My admiration for him as a human being and friend is immense and I am quite certain he would have succeeded and become one of the very best no matter what he had decided to do.”
Nordahl compared Czeizler to Wampetits, his coach at Degerfors: “Lajos does not possess Wampetits’s eye for the technical and skilful details but is on the other hand an astute tactician with some other capabilities that, added together, make him an ideal football coach. Most of all I admire his level-headedness, his ability to stay calm without losing his temper, no matter if we win or lose. Criticism is delivered, yes, but later in the week and in a thoughtful way. He never uses big words. He still makes us listen. The man carries an air of respect and we try our very best, just for his sake.” Nordahl also acknowledged, “To me he has become a father-figure.”
As the war ended some Swedish army commanders almost collapsed with relief when they realised they wouldn’t have to speak to Nalle Halldén again. The team manager had more or less harassed them, calling every week during the season to get his players released for weekend games. “Captain, a phone call for you. It is that Mr Halldén again, sir.” “Oh my God, not again. Just tell him X gets his leave.”
A third league championship followed in 1945-46. It was just as impressive as the previous one, five points ahead of Malmö FF with Gunnar Nordahl scoring 25 times. Borders opened and IFK also achieved good results against a visiting Newcastle United (a triumphant 5–0 victory) and Charlton Athletic (a 2–2 draw).
They had beaten professionals! The Swedes knew they were good, but had no idea how far they could go. The games against the English were played in May and June. Soon there were talks about a tour of England in late autumn, during the league’s winter break.
Meanwhile Czeizler’s eyes had settled on Nils Liedholm, who had been playing for a few years for their rivals Sleipner, still in the second division. IFK Norrköping and Sleipner shared the communal stadium Idrottsparken. They had dressing rooms at opposite ends of the corridor under the main stand and they even shared the pitch during some training sessions. Czeizler had had plenty of opportunities to assess Liedholm. When the time was right he said, “You are wasting your time with Sleipner. We offer better possibilities and if you join, I can almost guarantee that you will be in the national team before long. Remember, Karl-Erik Grahn [of Elfsborg] is getting on and will soon need to be replaced.”
Liedholm was pleasantly surprised but at the same time felt it would be difficult to get into the first XI at IFK. He soon worked out a plan. He had to get an obstacle out of the way and approached Georg Ericson, the obstacle, in person. This was no easy thing as board members on both sides did their best to fuel the rivalry between the clubs. “Don’t even speak to them…”
Georg Ericson told the story in his autobiography Inlägg från Åby (A Cross from Åby, 1977): “Nils Liedholm wanted me to join Sleipner. We had played a few games together during our military service and it had worked out well. I thought it a good idea. It sounded like great fun and maybe we could achieve something together. Above all, it would be nice to be a first team regular. But after I had played only a few games Nils declared he would join IFK.”
Liedholm had lied to get Ericson out of the way. He joined IFK in time for their English tour. Ericson had already sat out his 90 days to join Sleipner and had made his (damaging) debut. Thus he was stuck with them while Liedholm got his passport ready. Ericson wrote about it 30 years afterwards and not in a forgiving way. In the end he decided to sit out another 90 days to rejoin IFK. He had to reapply for membership – but was denied. The humiliation hurt him badly. Chairman Torsten Johansson advised him to apply again and he got back into the fold. The reason behind this treatment was a letter to Nalle Halldén, written by Ericson as he left the club. He had explained ’his situation and his feelings’ in detail.
“Why did I even consider leaving the club I loved so much, my friends, and our great board? Why?” Well, he had his reasons: “In the long run it was frightening to be a fringe player. Those awful Sundays, when I wasn’t even allowed to travel with the team. I wandered aimlessly in Norrköping, knowing exactly what they were up to. Now they’re playing cards. Now Carlbom cracks another joke. Now they’re unpacking at the hotel. They eat, they rest. And finally it is time for the walk to the stadium. The dressing room, the polished shoes, that lovely smell of newly washed shirts. Now they all stand up, ready to go. The clattering of studs against the floor. All those voices in the stadium. They’re lining up in order. ‘Come on guys!’ Running onto the pitch, the cheers, the first touch of the ball. Does it feel alright? At last the prolonged signal of the referee – and the game is on!” Did he really hate it or just love it more than he was able to grasp? He certainly couldn’t be without it.
The Swedes had impressed Charlton Athletic manager Jimmy Seed in such a way that he agreed to help the club set up a tour of England in early November. IFK finished the autumn in second place behind AIK after a so-and-so goalless draw against Halmia in Halmstad. After that game they went straight to Gothenburg and their flight to London. They opened at the Valley (October 29), then faced Sheffield United (November 4) before reacquainting with Newcastle United (November 6) and finishing at Molineux in Wolverhampton on November 11. All opponents were First Division sides except for the Magpies, who had dropped out in 1934.
IFK caused quite a stir in England with the BBC offering short-wave radio transmissions in Swedish and the team – in their strips! – visiting the BBC TV studios. Comparisons with the Dynamo Moscow tour a year earlier were inevitable. The Russians had beaten both Cardiff City and a reinforced Arsenal side while drawing against Chelsea and Rangers.
Charlton Athletic had won two and drawn two of their last five games, beating Everton 4–1 five days before. Still, Sven Person scored the first goal late in the first half. Bill Robinson and Chris Duffy put Charlton ahead. Gunnar Nordahl was brought down, Wigren converted the penalty and Person hit the winner six minutes before time when goalkeeper Sam Bartram was unable to punch a cross far enough.
Roy Peskett concluded in the Daily Mail: “Norrköping shouldn’t be confused with Dynamo but still are one of the most elegantly playing sides we have seen here since the Austrians at Stamford Bridge [in 1932].” Peskett was impressed by Erik Holmqvist and likened him to Hughie Gallagher and Alec James for pure entertainment. Daily Mirror described Holmqvist as ’a Scandinavian Raich Carter’. Jimmy Seed, who had praised Gunnar Nordahl after their last encounter and given him a £10,000 price tag, reconsidered and now thought Holmqvist was the man.
The 3–2 win was a good result, considering Knut Nordahl (another of Czeizler’s conversions) had been withdrawn from inside-right and played his first game at right-back. Nils Liedholm debuted as his replacement up front. Knut suffered an injury that would keep him out for the next two games.
Sheffield United had been warned and immediately put pressure on the Swedish defence. It didn’t come as a surprise. Czeizler had instructed his defenders to stay calm and remain grouped around Lindberg in goal. IFK won 5–2 but most critics didn’t know what to make of the game. Sheffield United had been in possession for most of the time, a situation unfamiliar for Norrköping, but lacked the necessary punch in front of goal. Instead IFK went ahead 3–0 (Person and two goals by Liedholm), lost it a bit when Forbes and Brook were able to make it 3–2 and then, towards the end made it 5–2 through two goals by Gunnar Nordahl.
Sheffield manager Dugald Livingstone offered a plausible excuse: ”We simply do not have any 90 minute players in our game today. Everyone is on rations and our sportsmen are not getting enough meat and butter. They are only good for 30 minutes in each half.” Norrköping had scored two goals in each half during the last 15 minutes.
Their unexpectedly good results meant interest for the two remaining games almost exploded: 22,000 at the Valley and 17,000 at Bramall Lane was good but not remarkable. Newcastle was another matter. United had been beaten soundly by Norrköping in May and actually lost all three games in Sweden without even scoring a goal. The Geordies flocked to get a glimpse of these phantoms: 47,000 turned up at St James’ Park. The opening was familiar. Goalkeeper Garbutt mishandled a shot from Erik Holmqvist and Sven Person scored on the rebound. Jackie Milburn tied after 31 minutes, Gunnar Nordahl hit a cross from Person (2–1) and Erik Holmqvist made it 3–1 two minutes before halftime. The pressure was on Lindberg for most of the second half. He conceded another one from Milburn but also got some relief from the bravery shown by wing-halves Rosengren and Wigren, two experienced and very fit veterans who did their best to break up the Newcastle attacks. Knut Nordahl had recuperated and made another good showing.
Last but certainly not least: Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. A symbolic finish against the best of their four opponents. Wolves would finish third in the table this season. Norrköping drew a crowd of 33,000 but faced a somewhat depleted Wolves, who fielded four reserves in place of absentees Tom Galley and Dennis Westcott (both injured), Jimmy Mullen (who was in Germany to play a military game) and Billy Wright.
Wolves: Williams; McLean, Pritchard; Crook, Cullis, Miller; Maguire, McIntosh, Pye, Forbes, Hancocks.
IFK: Lindberg; K. Nordahl, O. Holmqvist; Rosengren, E. Stéen, Wigren; Carlbom, Liedholm, G. Nordahl, E. Holmqvist, Person.
The Wanderers opened the game without hesitation, determined to beat these continental upstarts. Wing-halves Rosengren and Wigren again sacrificed themselves as a bulwark in front of the defence, withstanding wave after wave of attacks. Right-half Bill Crook put the home team ahead with a shot from outside the penalty area five minutes before half-time. Gunnar Nordahl equalised 15 minutes into the second half, served by Person and all alone in front of an empty net. Wolves played it rough and some of the Swedes complained afterwards, meaning some of the tackling was over the top. But generally the team was drained. ”We couldn’t have played another game” said Gunnar Nordahl. ”Pity we faced the best team while in such a bad state.” IFK remained unbeaten and had also earned good money. Attendance totalled at 119,000, the total cost of the tour was 40,000 kroner and the profit 15,000 (roughly £1,000).
Norrköping finished 1946-47 in their usual commanding style, with nine wins and a draw from the remaining ten spring games, and topped the table six points ahead of AIK. Liedholm kept the inside-right position and Ericson re-emerged in the last game, scoring a goal in the 6-3 win at Djurgården and once again watching as his team mates were handed the medals.
But Ericson’s time would come. The team had been together for a few years, most of the players were about to turn 30 and injuries were a problem during the opening weeks of next season. Sven Person was out for the first nine games (he usually got injured when the national team was about to be picked). Ericson gladly filled his place at outside-left. Then, in the third game, Carlbom suffered a career-ending leg break away to Djurgården. Georg Ericson was suddenly cemented in the line up and 1947-48 became his, individually, most fruitful season with IFK.
IFK used their reputation during 1947 to host Chelsea (4–1), Hibernian (3–1) and Austria Vienna (4–4). Even mythical Dynamo Moscow came knocking. The date was set for October 26 and the game was located to the national stadium at Råsunda in Stockholm. It was a great occasion with nearly 37,000 watching. It also became an eye-opener.
Georg Ericson recalled later in life: “My God, when Trofimov, their right-winger, flew past our left-back Oskar Holmqvist. Oskar was frozen to the ground and Trofimov was so fast. That was a sight to behold. But I couldn’t help thinking that the bell was tolling for us as a team.” IFK scored first (Erik Holmqvist), Dynamo went ahead the minute before half-time and then continued pumping through the second half, eventually getting three more goals during the last ten minutes to win 5–1. Konstantin Beskov got three of the five. There is a telling photograph with Solovjev turning away after scoring 2–1, Malm retrieving the ball from the net while Lindberg and Rosengren are still lying on the grass, looking at each other in despair.
Ageing or not, IFK Norrköping were still good enough for another league win, four points ahead of Malmö FF. Ericson played in a regenerated fury, scoring eight times. His name was frequently mentioned in connection with the national side as the 1948 Olympics beckoned. He managed to repress the constant pain from his wobbly knee. Then, in the 18th game of 22, against IFK Gothenburg away – bang! – he got a knee into his left thigh, just above the wobbliest of knees, and suffered a contusion. The gold medal was his but he had to receive it in ‘civvies’. He could also stop thinking about going to London.
Nevertheless, IFK Norrköping supplied five of the regulars in the Swedish team that went on to win the Olympic gold medals; Lindberg in goal, Knut Nordahl, team captain Rosengren, Gunnar Nordahl (scorer of seven goals) and Liedholm, the latter placed at left-wing by manager Putte Kock and coach George Raynor. They wanted to compose a team made up of the eleven best players available and as a consequence also put Malmö FF right-half Kjell Rosén at outside-right.
The Swedish and Danish amateurs set things in motion in London. Both teams were stuffed with good players, all up for grabs by professional clubs in Italy and France who knew they wouldn’t have to bother paying transfer fees. Stade Français, beaten twice by Norrköping in June 1948, went for Gunnar Nordahl. But that courtship only caused anxiety. His autumn season after the Olympics wasn’t very impressive; only six goals in ten games. The French still wanted him. But he declined, and said no thanks at the last minute. Dane John Hansen didn’t hesitate, though. He signed for Juventus and Gunnar felt the mounting pressure.
A couple of days into the new year Nordahl got a telephone call at the fire station. A representative of Fiat, based in Stockholm, said the AC Milan secretary Gianotti was on his way to Sweden. Nordahl was surprised, but not in a pleasant way. “I’m good”, he said. “No reason to bother, I’m not leaving Sweden.” Some days later, when Nordahl got home from work, Gianotti was sitting on the sofa, doing his best to have a conversation with Gunnar’s wife, Irma. Gianotti showed him a contract. Gunnar called Lajos immediately and told Gianotti “Let’s meet again tomorrow, in Stockholm.”
Lajos Czeizler who, for once, had been overwhelmed when Sweden won Olympic gold and kissed Gunnar on both cheeks, agreed to help. Gunnar was impressed by the offer but Lajos had a thing or two to say. They went to Stockholm and got their proposed adjustments approved. Then Gunnar called his wife and told her about the terms. Her answer was short and simple: “Sign!”
Gunnar left alone for Milan, nervous and out of shape as he hadn’t played for two months. He was greeted by at least 7,000 fans when he got off the train. Later that night, while trying to get some rest in room 64 at the Hotel Bristol-Schmidt, the doubts came back. ”What am I doing here?” Luckily he scored in his debut, at San Siro against suburban neighbours Pro Patria (3–2) and got 16 goals in 15 outings that spring.
The officials of AC Milan were impressed and decided to make some changes. Coach Giuseppe Bigogno was relieved of his duties, as were Irishman Paddy Sloan and Icelander Albert Gu∂mundsson. Lajos Czeizler became the new coach in the summer of 1949 and the two vacant spots for foreigners (three were allowed) were filled by Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren, the latter from IFK Gothenburg.
Czeizler was in turn replaced at IFK Norrköping by Englishman Eric Keen who had played for Derby County, got four caps for England and lately had been in charge of the Egyptian Olympic team. Keen only lasted a couple of months, unable as he was to adjust to life in Sweden (no pubs!), and was sacked in November during a trip to Italy. Keen was succeeded by Austrian Karl Adamek, who would stay for seven years and win the league three times. He would become the first IFK coach to lead his team in the European Cup, against Fiorentina in 1956-57.
Czeizler spent most of his remaining coaching career in Italy. He won the Scudetto with Milan (and the Swedes) in 1951, left the club the year after and then had comparatively short stints with Padova, the Italian National team, Sampdoria and Fiorentina. During 1957-58 he was engaged by the Swedish FA to keep an eye on the Swedish players in Serie A and advise team manager Nalle Halldén and coach George Raynor on which ones to pick for the World Cup in 1958. Czeizler eventually succeeded countryman Béla Guttmann as coach of Benfica. When Gunnar Nordahl turned up for a game with son Thomas he was, of course, heartily greeted by his old mentor who also said: ”For chrissakes don’t tell them how old I am. They will sack me immediately if they find out.” This was in 1963-64 and he had just turned 70. He retired to Budapest, where he died in May 1969.
Georg Ericson didn’t have many miles left in him as roving/raging left winger after that final injury in 1948. He returned briefly when four players had been lost to Italy in quick succession and the team slipped to mid-table. He gained his real significance as team manager when he succeeded Nalle Halldén in early 1956. He would lead IFK to a further five league championships but would also see the end of the dynasty. IFK had last won the league in 1963 when they once again were in the race three years later, one point behind Djurgården after 16 of 22 rounds. At that stage they lost striker Ove Kindvall to Feyenoord. He said goodbye with four goals against AIK (6–0) and still stood as top scorer with 20 when the league was finished and Djurgården crowned champions. Incidentally Sweden scrapped their amateur status to become part-timers (with contracts) the following year.
As an idealist he was sometimes a difficult man, outspoken to a fault when provoked. But he mellowed with time and became outrightly loved as national team manager during the 1970s. Sweden made a good impression during the World Cup in West Germany in 1974. They had a great game against the hosts in the semi-final group, but lost 4–2. Watch the highlights of that game on YouTube, especially when Ralf Edström blasts a volley past Sepp Maier (1–0). After the re-run of the shot the camera turns to Ericson on the bench. His face is glowing with a priceless pride and sheer happiness that tells us ”Yes, it has been worth it, if only for this moment.” He retired five years later. It was time to get a replacement for that knee joint.