The Aimless Wander
Stockholm was not, if I am honest, somewhere I saw myself visiting. No reason. I guess I just had other cities on my ever expanding wish list. Uefa's decision to host the Europa League Final here and United's decision to actually be okay at football and beat teams they should be beating so they qualified for the final, however, was inspired. The stadium was great, as it should be if it is going to host a major final, and the city is a genuine delight. The trip, the match, the whole event was overshadowed by the terrorist attack in Manchester. Maybe the triviality of a football match to distract or to watch merely as evidence of carrying on was exactly what the city needed. Maybe it wasn't. As trivialities go, football is perhaps the most clear example of indulgent, western capitalism. But it can bring people together.
And, if nothing else, it brought me to Stockholm. If I am honest, I did little research before my trip. I noted my hotel was coincidentally near the Jewish Centre, which was convenient. United sent me instructions of how to arrive at the ground and, of course, there were thousands of fellow fans to follow blindly like sheep. I was not expecting much - except, perhaps naively given our season, a United victory and safe passage to the Champions League.
The football match won, I could not have been more delighted with Stockholm. I had a small glimpse of it the day of the game, but I spent most of my time trying to acquire Kosher food and talking to Jewish Ajax Fans. On Thursday, however, I wandered around. Aimlessly. As the title indicates. And what a pleasant city Stockholm is. It's beautiful, of course it is. But then many cities are. There is a river that cuts through the city, turning it into a collection of small islands connected by bridges. But then many cities have rivers. Stockholm does not stand out as especially beautiful or unique. But the sky was blue and the sun was out the entire day and you just got the feeling that this was how it was meant to be. As if somehow Stockholm ceased to be Stockholm if the sun was not out, everyone would go home and wait for the next sunny day. And the river glistened and the streets buzzed, completely ignorant of the fact the day before they had been filled with loud chants and empty alcohol cans and glasses. Some cities are characterised by the fact they are just delightfully pleasant places to wander around. Stockholm fits into that list with consummate ease, so wander I did.
Through the old city, past the tourist shops. Into a coffee shop with writing all over the walls, over the bridges. Past happy United fans, near beautiful churches. I stopped for a few moments to take in the blue sky and appreciate the sun. For more than a few moments in front of the hundreds of post-it notes of love, hope and peace where a truck used to ram into civilians came to rest. I found a copy of Plato in Swedish and myself utterly lost trying to find the central station. It was a whistlestop tour, I did not see everything. Not even close. But I never intended to. This was supposed to be a trip to watch a game of football whose importance had been thrown into sharp perspective. Stood in front of those post-it notes you realise just how meaningless football can be and, indeed, is. It was a simple memorial, perhaps not a permanent one but a hugely important one. A reminder that so much more unites us than divides us.