Bandy: Sweden's Best-Kept Secret Sport

From the basics to the fan experience, learn more about Sweden’s favorite winter sport.

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Every winter, high-spirited Swedes brave the cold by the thousands to cheer a nationally celebrated sport known as bandy—pronounced /ban-DEY/—which looks like a hybrid of ice hockey, field hockey and soccer. Although it’s been a favorite in Sweden for over a hundred years, England, Holland and Russia all lay claim to the sport’s beginnings. Bandy just may be the greatest sport you’ve never heard of.

 

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Swedish Origins and Tradition

Bandy was introduced to Sweden in 1895 and first played by the Swedish royal family. Today, it’s wildly popular in Sweden. It’s also a a special favorite of the holiday season with a traditional St. Stephen’s Day bandy match every December 26th.

 

Bandy Basics

Bandy is a fast-paced contact sport played on a large field of ice, with skaters using curved sticks in creative ways to force a small hard orange ball into the other team’s goal.

  • Teams: 11 players
  • Played: On an iced soccer stadium-sized field
  • Gear: A bandy ball (originally red, later orange or cerise), skates and wickedly curved stick
  • Hands: Not allowed, except for the goalie (Because that’s all he or she has! Bandy goalies don’t carry sticks.)
  • Time: Two 45-minute halves, a total of 90 minutes
  • Legends: Gustav "Gurkan" Björkman, David Karlsson, Axel “Acke” Nilsson

 

The Fan Experience

While the on-ice action of bandy is thrilling, the fan experience may be even better. Picture a cold winter evening, thousands of excited, well-bundled fans in their favorite team colors making their way from the train station to the stadium. Team chants, laughter and billows of icy breath fill the chill night air. And in thousands of mittened hands appears a very novel piece of sports equipment. These fans are carrying briefcases!

 

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The Bandy Briefcase

Many fans bring a bandy briefcase to the match. They’re not for work. The bandy briefcase—called bandyportfölj in Swedish and pronounced /ban-DE-port-kful/—is how fans bring bottles of liquor, flasks of hot coffee and even their favorite Original Swedish Snus into the stadium. It’s a way for fans to share their favorite beverages, toast their team and energize their chants and sing-alongs.

 

A Holiday Favorite

Because of the importance of St. Stephen’s Day matches, Swedes associate bandy with the holidays. Many bring glogg, Swedish mulled wine, to the game to toast the season.

 

Hard-Hitting Action and a Shared Fan Spirit

Bandy is a physical, action-packed game. The players have to be tough, but so do the fans. A top match can draw 40,000 people in the middle of a frigid winter. 

So, it turns out just about every fan culture has its “thing.” While Americans turn out by the thousands to throw elaborate tailgate parties, Swedes party it up with the very colorful game of bandy.

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