I had never heard of bandy until moving to Sweden. Itâ€™s one of those winter sports that needs a real winter, not like ice hockey. Bandy is essentially a cross between hockey and soccer played outdoors on ice. Skates, sticks, two goals, a small orange ball and a minimum of padding are really all that is required (check out International Bandy for a more nuanced description). And Sweden loves it.
Personally, I believe sport is a great window into the culture of a country. The stereotypical stoic Swede enduring the cold and dark winter for example is on display at a bandy game. Bundled up, braving the elements, never resting as they cheer on their team. It is quite the site. Although bandy might not be at the top of your sporting list when youâ€™re thinking of European destinations whilst doing your Europe travel planning. And thatâ€™s ok.
Because as a casual fan, it means you will stand outside for two 45 minute halves in below freezing temperatures. You will struggle to keep track of the bright orange ball in what has to be one of the fastest sports youâ€™ve ever witnessed. Youâ€™ll marvel at the corner strokes as the opposing team lines up in net hoping not to be hit by the ball in any sensitive area. You might even notice that the goalies for one of the teams are wearing pink.
What youâ€™ll most definitely notice are the not so casual fans. The hearty supporters whose eyes dart expertly back and forth between the ball and the open rink ahead. The fans who sing songs dedicated solely to their bandy team. It is an impressive show of dedication and an impressive display of athletic ability.
If you ever find yourself in Sweden on a cold winter night (or Russia, Norway, maybe even Finland) with a couple of hours to kill bandy is a great way to see a bit of local European culture. Just make sure to follow the crowd to the local bar afterwards to get warmed up.