Camping Swedes bring peace, pack bikinis

Sweden soccer fans are seen in Kiev, Ukraine, June 15, 2012. (GLEB GARANICH/Reuters)

Sweden soccer fans are seen in Kiev, Ukraine, June 15, 2012. (GLEB GARANICH/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:28 PM ET

KIEV - We're not sure if Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg was crammed into one of the many pup tents that make up Camp Sweden.

A betting man would have to wager that even a down-to-earth guy like Stalberg would be enjoying one of this city's better accommodations, given the type of digs a National Hockey League player enjoys on the road.

Wherever he stayed, the one-time Toronto Maple Leaf definitely was in town Friday, tweeting a photo of the mass of yellow-clad Swedes in the streets.

Of course, had he found himself at Camp Sweden, well, it wasn't like he would be slumming.

As you approach the camp, that becomes fairly obvious. Indeed, the first thing that strikes you are the white sandy beaches, the volleyball games being played, the number of people frolicking in the water and, of course, the number of bikinis catching some much-appreciated Ukrainian rays.

Camp Sweden was set up on Trukhaniv Island in the middle of the Dnieper River, which majestically slices through the western edge of Kiev. More than 5,000 Swedes have called this home and made the most of it despite the odd hiccup, like Friday's chilly breezes. Or the fact that developers had not finished some of the things they had promised would be ready in time. Like outhouses.

There have been complaints about a lack of toilet paper, too. But that hasn't stopped them from enjoying themselves.

For much of this day leading up to Sweden's huge game against England, they would do exactly that.

During an organized march in the late afternoon, an estimated 20,000 Swedes, all in good spirits and not looking for a fight, made their way toward Kiev's Olympic Stadium. It quickly became apparent they were filled with song, not hate.

That didn't stop officials from preparing for the worst.

Getting off the subway four hours before match time, there were police everywhere. On foot. On horseback. Most carrying guns. They lined up in front of the stadium as if they were protecting hallowed ground.

It was all a bit unnerving.

QMI Agency colleague Morris Dalla Costa has experienced far too much of this scene in Poland, where the fan violence has been well-documented. Truth be told, most experts feared Ukraine would be the centre for most of these incidents, not places like Warsaw. But as Euro 2012 runs well into its second week there has been very little unruly behaviour in Ukraine.

Still, the law here is not taking any chances. In the three-block walk from the metro station to the stadium press centre, you have to go through four police barriers. Every time you ask a cop a question, you get the same stoned-faced look. People have been so friendly here, but it's obvious these guys mean business.

Suddenly the Swedish parade arrives. Thankfully no incidents are visible. That's a pretty tall order, considering initial estimates had Swedes outnumbering English supporters 20,000 to 3,000 at the game.

Three hours later, the Yellow Army dejectedly flows back into the streets. Sweden has blown a 2-1 lead and lost 3-2 to England. The Swedes officially are eliminated from advancing to the final eight.

For one particular guy dressed in yellow from head to toe, there is a consolation.

"Maybe I'll go for a swim when I get back," he said, headed for Camp Sweden.

Let us know if you see Viktor Stalberg there, would you pal?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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