In 1901 beloved Swedish author and illustrator, Elsa Beskow, published one of her classic children's books, "Peter in Blueberry Land". That same year, for the first time, the sport of Bandy was played at the Nordic Games in Stockholm. Bandy quietly became the winter team sport of Europe. Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway played the 11 on 11 version, as did Estonia and Latvia. Most other European countries played with 7 on 7. In 1913 the first 7 on 7 European Championships were held in Davos, Switzerland. England won the tournament, becoming European Bandy Champion. The other seven countries that competed were Austria/Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.
But Bandy had a problem. A rival. Ice Hockey. Hockey could be played on a smaller, easier to maintain, ice surface. It was a fixture in Canada and in the eastern and northern US. The 1920 Olympics, however, provided the true kiss of death. Ice Hockey was included in the Olympic Games. Bandy was not. In response, Bandy disappeared thought most of Europe. Was forgotten. As if it never existed. Bandy only survived in the Nordic countries and the Soviet Union.
By 1947, when Elsa Beskow published one of her final children's books "Peter and Lotta's Adventure", only four countries continued to play bandy. Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Soviet Union were all alone in the bandy universe. And so it remained for the next thirty four years.
The winter sun rose on the year 1981 with a new member in the community of bandy nations. The United States had joined the bandy world. By the late 1980s Canada, Hungary and Holland followed. In Helsinki 1991, for the first time ever, there were 8 nations competing in the World Championships. Four in an A pool and 4 in the B pool. Not since before World War I had so many countries participated in a bandy world championship.
A number of sportswriters in the Swedish Press responded to the doubling of bandy nations in just ten years in a clever way. Even Hilarious. They coined a phrase to describe the new bandy countries.
Derogatory both in intent and tone. The Blueberry Nations were deemed so small and undeveloped that they were not worthy of skating in the same World Championships as the original four.
In 1993 Blueberry USA built an artificially refrigerated bandy/speedskating rink in Roseville, Minnesota. Magnus Skold was the man who connected the City of Roseville with the technology necessary to build the rink. With the rink complete Magnus proposed to the International Bandy Federation that the US host the 1995 World Championships at Roseville. Both the A pool and the B pool. Nine countries total as newly independent Kazakhstan was now fielding a national team. The IBF approved. They awarded the 1995 World Championships to the USA and the American Bandy Association. The IBF did not inquire how the ABA, with less than 300 members, could finance and organize the week long tournament. They knew Magnus Skold very well and had no doubt he would get the job done. The ABA drew up an estimate of the costs. Over $136,000. For hotel and meal expenses. Transportation. Ice Rental. Referees. Tournament programs and souvenirs. Medals. Banquets. Etc. As of one o'clock in the morning on Sunday October 30th 1994 the money necessary had not been secured. At 2am that morning Magnus was standing together with Stig Larsson, the Chairman of the SJ Train Company. They were watching the annual 2am game in the round robin of the World Cup in Ljusdal. They were among 6000 other spectators. By halftime, at 2:30 am, Magnus had secured a promise from Stig that SJ would cover the remaining costs of the World Championships.
The money was raised. Still a tremendous amount of work and organization to be done. A small group of volunteers to rely on. An effort like this had never been seen in the history of bandy. Never even contemplated. But we pulled it off.
At the opening banquet, as President of the American Bandy Association, I gave a speech to the gathered players, leaders, referees, VIPs and journalists. The fact that they were all here in the United States was amazing given that fifteen years previous US Bandy did not exist. The fact that an organization of less than 300 could make this happen was extraordinary. The fact that three of the five main organizers would also be skating for the USA in the tournament was almost beyond belief. I wanted them all to know and understand the herculean effort that had gone into our arranging the tournament. I wanted them to roll with the flow and accept the glitches and issues that were certain to arise in the course of the week.
I did not share that fact that I was an organizer and a player while working full-time with two children under the age of three and that if anybody felt like saying thank you to my wife Cathy for allowing all this that would be greatly appreciated. I didn't want to make it about me or too personal.
The tournament was a success both on and off the ice. According to almost everyone. Sweden defeated Russian the championship match. Over two thousand spectators attended the game. By far the largest crowd in US bandy history. Leif Klingborg, the Head Coach of Sweden, summed up the week:
"It was a fantastic happening that the US arranged the World Championships. For everyone involved this was a new dimension to be able to travel to the US. Players, coaches, supporters were very satisfied with the arrangements'
"Thank you US Bandy for this and everything you have contributed to our dear sport".
Unfortunately, Bert Falk, Aftonbladets' legendary bandy journalist, did not share in the enthusiasm of Leif Klingborg and the rest of the bandy community. Falk returned home to Sweden where he proceeded to write a number of articles ripping on the organization of the tournament and thus, in effect, on the organizers themselves. He had many complaints:
"terrible press service"
"lack of VIP perks"
"lack of a television contract"
Falk concluded his tantrum by sarcastically applauding the IBF for accepting such amateurism in its entirety and with the awesomely clever quip that the US had arranged two bandy tournaments in one. "Their first and their last"
The main organizers of the tournament, including Magnus Skold and I, did not take personal offense to the vitriol that spewed from Bert Falk's pen. Had we done so I would have begun this story with the following:
"Once upon a time there was a very small minded
Swedish sportswriter who visited Blueberry Land. It was too bad his not open eyes couldn't see the forest for the blueberry bushes"