Interview: Carl Pontus Hjorthén, director of “The Last Proletarians of Football”

Short interview by OffsideFest with Carl Pontus Hjorthén about his brilliant IFK Göteborg documentary ‘The Last Proletarians of Football’

IFK Goteborg 1982 UEFA Cup3The film was written and directed by Martin Jönsson and Carl Pontus Hjorthén, with music by Ian Person, guitarist of former Swedish rock band The Soundtrack of Our Lives (producer Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm has also been a member of the band), it tells the story of the Swedish club’s astonishing success from a lowly second division club in the 1970s to beating Germany’s powerhouse club SV Hamburg in the 1982 UEFA Cup final, 3–0 away (having already won the first leg 1-0 at home), the first ever European trophy won by a Swedish club. Made even more astonishing by the fact the team consisted entirely of non-professionals who worked as plumbers, chefs, clerks when not playing football.

Oh and the manager happened to be one Sven-Göran Eriksson.


Driving through Spain, where they were shooting their first documentary, “Mari Carmen Spain-End of Silence” (a roadmovie that won the audience award at Barcelona 2009 Docúpolis festival), filmmakers Martin Jönsson and Carl Pontus Hjorthén spent their time talking about those things that had marked their teenage years. Obviously, IFK Göteborg was on the list. The chat became “The Last Proletarians of Football”, a documentary that narrates the epic story of an amateur team that in the first half of the 80s discussed the hegemony of the most powerful European clubs.

What was this “Swedish model” that ended up transferring its social concept to organize IFK Göteborg personality?
It was a welfare model. It was established in Sweden between the 70s and 80s under the Olof Palme’s Social Democrat mandate. It was based on equality, social justice and collectivist rather than individualistic thinking.

Was IFK Göteborg a unique case or the rest of Swedish football clubs were also made up by working class players?
In those years football in Sweden was completely amateur. What made IFK so special was the success they had in European competitions.

What was the secret of their success?
Thinking as a team rather than individuals, although should be also emphasized the tactics instituted by coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Is “The Last Proletarians of Football” the tale IFK Göteborg success but also a report of the changes experienced by the Swedish society since then?
Yes. The idea was to analyze football in a social and historical context but also tell a classic tale, almost magical. A David vs. Goliath type story (mythological giant here played by FC Barcelona and Hamburg SV), but with a tragic end: the death of Palme and the painful defeat in the comeback game against FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou. For some people it’s kind of a taboo linking football with politics, but sometimes what happens in stadiums is a reflection of society.

The climax of this story is 1986 European Cup semifinals against FC Barcelona. Did both teams exemplify totally opposite football conceptions?
Yes, that was it. Swedish, Spanish and Catalan TV Channels aired special shows where comparing both team players’ lives. They made features on Tord Holmgren, who was a plumber, and Johnny Ekström, who worked in a warehouse. Also visited IFK star Torbjörn Nilsson, who was a cook in a beer brewery. And that made us feel very proud and identified with our team.

Scoring a hat trick, in Barcelona the comeback game is remembered as Pichi Alonso’s night. 30 years later, how is that match remembered in Sweden?
Not forgotten. It’s still very present in the minds of IFK supporters and I think it’s a traumatic experience for some players.

Nobody talks about it in Barcelona, but the film hints at the possibility that the comeback game could have been rigged.
Yes. Don’t know if it was because an explanation for the defeat was needed, or because there really was something fishy on the game, but rumors like this came out. It’s like a tale with different details depending on who tells it. I can also figure out that FC Barcelona suffered enormous pressure to win that game. Who knows, it doesn’t matter now.

Could it be possible a tale like this in modern football?
Don’t think so, mainly because modest clubs can’t retain their top players. What’s the current situation of Swedish football? Miserable.

Music lovers will find a special attraction in the music of the docummentary, because it was composed by Ian Person, guitar player of the great band The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. Kalle Gustafsson, bass player, was one of the producers. How were they involved in the project?
Only Ian, a real IFK supporter, could be the music composer of this film. His style reflects very well the essence of a working class city like Gothenburg.

Like music, film or literature,… football is culture?
That is one of the main messages of the film.

What other team or player could inspire a documentary?
I can imagine too many. Is there any on Hristo Stoichkov?


Offside Fest
OffsideFest. Cinema Fora de Joc is Barcelona football documentary film festival. We truly believe that football should be understood as a sport, but also as a social and cultural phenomenon. Football is an expression of the greatness of humanity, and these documentaries reveal some human stories that illustrate the greatness of football.

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