KIF Örebro: Aiming To Return To Past Glories

KIF Örebro chairman Frederik Sterngard spoke to Ben Gilby about the Damallsvenskan club’s history, which included a Champions League run which led to financial pressures before rebuilding towards their present status.

KIF Örebro can trace their roots back to 1980 when Karlslunds IF men’s club put together a women’s side. However, as Frederik Sterngard reveals, things changed quickly.

“They did not feel that they got enough attention within the club,” he said, “so they started their own women’s club, Karlslunds IF DFF. They did well and advanced all the way to the top tier league, the OBOS Damallsvenskan. The club is placed in tenth place in the all-time table with 372 games played in the league and 495 points earned.

“KIF Örebro have spent 19 of the past 20 seasons in the OBOS Damallsvenskan with 2018 spent in the second tier Elitettan. Today the club has the first team and two youth academy teams (U19 and U17), and also six girls teams.”

That pathway can see players start at the club from a young age, as Sterngard explained. “A girl starts aged six at KIF Örebro and when reaching the age of fourteen we give players an opportunity to join our U15/U16 team and then to try out for joining our academy (U17 and U19). Then we have a lot of collaboration between U15/16 and U17, but also U17 and U19. And in the end players from our U19 train and play games with the first team.  

“However from U17 and up its only elite players. So we don’t have a senior team for those that don’t make it into the elite., These players go to third tier clubs around us in the Örebro area, same with players from U17 and U19 that don’t make it.

“Our academy also attract players from around the region. This year, we have one of the strongest U19 teams we’ve had for a long time and we have also just started our U17 team. So we are spending a lot of money on the academy. We want to produce good players for not just KIF Örebro, but also to the top clubs in Europe.”

This expansion has been particularly impressive amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Örebro badly, as Sterngard reveals.

“It has had a big impact. It made it hard to maintain operations within our elite teams. They were effected by financial losses.

Above: KIF Örebro celebrate over Vittsjo GIK earlier this season. Photo: Hasses Sportbilder

“However, a small budget and help from the government and local partners enabled the club managed to make it through the year. In terms of positive cases, the club has only had a couple. The 2020 season was supposed to start mid-April, but did not start until the end of June. This had an impact on all the players and the pre-season. It did create some stress fractures and also some serious injuries with a whole season being played in fewer months. In the end we managed to end up in seventh place in the league.”

The club enjoyed their greatest season in their history in 2014 when they finished as runners-up in the Damallsvenskan which earned them a place in the UEFA Champions League. It was a campaign that Frederik and the fans will never forget.

“We had a really strong team 2014 lead by Rickard Nilsson. The runner-up position (with 42 points after 14 wins and 6 losses and 32-14 in goal difference) came as a surprise to many, but a lot had to do with KIF Örebro having both good players in the team with a very offensive playing style. Key players in the achievement were Julia Spetsmark, Stephanie Labbé, Sarah Michael and Sanna Talonen.

“Of course, it led to a place in the Champions League for 2014/15 and that was amazing in terms of experience and brand value for our club. It put KIF Örebro on the map. With a win over PAOK and then playing two draws against Paris St. Germain (being eliminated on the fact that it was 1-1 in the home game in Sweden) was hard. The team with Spetsmark, Hanna Folkesson, Elin Magnusson, Lisa Dahlkvist, Sarah Michael and Sanna Talonen was so good.

“The home game against Paris St. Germain saw us achieve our record attendance in our clubs history: 5,976! We are proud of our effort. We know we could have beaten PSG, but this time it was not enough to play two draws.

“However the Champions League experience was not all positive. In economic terms that season was devastating. There were no money in the Champions League back then. So a lot of costs were brought on and our expensive squad did start an economic down spiral in 2016 and 2017.

“This caused serious economic problems with negative capital, making the club almost losing its elite status within the Swedish Football Association, which could have cost us a spot in the OBOS Damallsvenskan. In 2017 the club did not perform well and we were relegated, much due to the financial situation effecting the whole operations.

“Looking back, that one season in the Elitettan was good for the club. It gave us a re-start and the club started to deal with the bad financial position. A new focus on young hungry players and players that had big potential was brought on as the “guideline” for the sports director.

“We also aimed to bring through more local talent. After two years of losses, the club made a profit again in 2018, and the team also did perform securing the spot back to the OBOS Damallsvenskan.

Above: KIF Örebro head coach Richard Johansson. Photo: Hasses Sportbilder

“This was against all odds. A lot of experts did predict the end of the club in 2017 when we were relegated due to our bad financial outlook and the fact that going back up again is very hard. But we did work hard, cutting costs and also putting our new strategy in to place with a new club director and new coaches. Stefan Ärnsved came in as head coach. He stayed on for three years (2018-2020). Now its Rickard Johansson as head coach.

Sweden has, historically been one of the most successful nations in European club competitions. With the big finances at clubs in England and clubs such as Olympique Lyonnais and FC Barcelona, I wondered if Sterngard felt that it was the end of any chance that Swedish sides have of successful runs in Europe.

“This is a hard question, but an important one. I think we need to understand that our biggest strength is that Sweden has over 100,000 girls playing football. If the elite clubs play our cards right we can capitalize on this, making sure Sweden produce good talent for the clubs in the big leagues. That could mean money pouring in to Swedish elite women’s football.

“We also need to build on the fact that Swedish clubs do a lot of good in terms of commercially. We have now started to see big companies picking up on this, investing in the Swedish clubs. This is a big source of income that will grow. The clubs also have to come together and really see it as a mission for ALL clubs to make sure that in the short term FC Rosengård and BK Häcken (formerly Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC) advance to the group stage of the new Champions League format.

“But in the end, money will make all the difference. Still not that much money is being spent on women’s football, but if it develops as we hope the big nations in Europe will advance. I hope Sweden can keep competing on a high level and hopefully we can see that the big focus on gender equality in Sweden can help capitalizing more money in to Swedish women’s football.”

We then turned our focus onto this season specifically. At the present time, KIF Örebro are just below the mid-table mark. “Ahead of this campaign, we did sign a big talent: the Icelandic national team goalie Cecilia Ran Runarsdottir, one of Europe’s biggest talents. We also brought back Jenna Hellstrom (Canadian national team player) who was previously at our club in 2019.  I would say these are two really special signings, enthused Sterngard.

Above: Jenna Hellstrom – an important singing for KIF Örebro ahead of this season. Photo: Hasses Sportbilder

“Then we have a lot of young promising Swedish players such as Anna Sandberg (local product), Cassandra Larsson (youth national team) and also Berglind Ros Augustidottir (Icelandic national team players). Some other strong names that stayed in the club from last year are Karin Lundin (11 goals in 2020) and Elli Pikkujämsä (Finnish national team defender). We are awaiting Heidi Kollanen to recover from a knee injury. She is also a Finnish national team player.

“This season, our new coach Rickard Johansson is implementing a whole new playing style at KIF Örebro. We are going to play more with the ball and try to build up our attacks from the back line (or even the goalie). A lot of work has been put into this with a lot of new players this year and this new playing style. It made us lose more games than usual in the pre-season period. In the Swedish cup we did not have our overseas players ready, which had a big impact and we went out in the group stage.

“Overall this season, we are proving a lot of experts wrong. They did not believe in our new playing style, or at least not that it would pay off so quickly. We are committed to continue working with our young players (our average age is 21) to believe in their own and the team’s qualities.

At the present time, the club are in ninth place with three wins and two draws from their eleven games. However, Sterngard is positive about the campaign.

“We think we will have better form after the Olympic break. Until then, we have a few hard games against top teams (Rosengård, Kristianstad, Linköping and Hammarby) where Jenna Hellstrom is not allowed to play (due to a red card) that will be hard. We hope to reach a top half position in the table eventually.”

“The Damallsvenskan is always a high standard with entertaining football. However FC Rosengård and BK Häcken are now in their own mini league of two teams as they have a lot of national team players and also big financial resources behind them, admitted Sterngard.

“I hope that the Damallsvenskan can continue to give good entertainment and attract good players, or even be the league where the young talented players want to come and get their playing time and showing themselves and everyone else what they are capable of.”

Follow Swedish women’s football on Impetus each week with @DandalBs detailed round-up of all the news. Every Saturday morning all year round.

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