The warning sounded over and over, first in Swedish and then in English. A fire had been detected. Please evacuate the stadium. The players left the field. Outside, fire crews were arriving. But in the stands, as a thick cloud of smoke wreathed and coiled in the floodlights, nobody moved. The fans were going to make the game happen by sheer force of will.
It was a game they had been anticipating for some time. The top two teams in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s elite league, had gone into the final day of the season separated by just three points. A quirk of scheduling fate meant that their last game was with each other. Malmo, the host, had to win to claim the championship. Elfsborg, the visitor, needed only to avoid defeat. It had been billed as a guldfinal: a gold-medal match.
The idea of a single game that decides the destiny of a league title is vanishingly rare in modern soccer, where championships are won over the course of a season rather than in a winner-take-all final. It has not happened in England since 1989, and Italy has not produced such a denouement in more than half a century.