Only days from the start to this years Hoofdklasse, many of the leagues’ strongest teams went head to head in the ABN AMRO Cup. With the final against AmsterdamH&BC in front of a home Rotterdam crowd, we met up with Swedish star Johan Björkman to hear about his move from Hamburg to Rotterdam.

Johan, the pre-season is nearing its end, how have preparations been? How has moving to Rotterdam been?

We’ve had a mixed pre-season, but now the squad is complete and the feeling is great. We delivered some good performances, but also discovered areas where we still have work to do as a team. Amsterdam were the stronger team today, but we’re looking forward to the start of the season and seeing how things turn out when we face them, and the other teams, in league matches. Overall, I’m very happy with my first month in Rotterdam, it’s a great team that has helped me settle in to the city.

I’ve also already scored my first goal for Rotterdam, and am looking forward to scoring many more this season!

Before moving to Rotterdam, you spent three years in Hamburg, where you were a prominent figure of one of the most successful teams in the history of European club hockey, winning all of the four big titles (National & European champions both indoor and outdoor) within the space of 18 months. Which of them is the most memorable victory? What are you gonna miss the most?

They were all big experiences, but winning the EHL (Euro Hockey League) was without any doubt the biggest triumph. Coming from Sweden, where we’re still without a water-based or hockey-specific pitch, where sport is a hobby that you invest your own money in, and going all the way to win a competition of champion teams is still unbelievable. I’m definitely going to miss the team spirit that we built up over the years where we were all there for each other, both on and off the pitch.  Although it wasn’t an easy decision to leave, I know that I’ve made friendships for life!

Tell us more about your journey from Sweden to professional European club hockey. What was that like?

I usually say that I’m born in Partille SC but developed in HTHC (Harvestehuder THC). We were a group of guys that decided that we wanted to take our passion for hockey and really challenge ourselves by competing at a European level. After years of hard work, we made it to the top division of European indoor hockey, which is when I moved to Hamburg to really focus on hockey. Despite all of our success, I learnt that I still had lots of potential to learn and improve my game. There’s no doubt that without Bechi, my coach in HTHC, I’d not continued my development in the way I have on a professional level. He taught us what’s required to win, which I still follow today. To play with players like Tobias Hauke, who won two Olympic gold medals and has been named the World’s best hockey player, of course has also been a great asset.

With the success of the years in Hamburg, what are your goals for Rotterdam?

I have high expectations for this season. The Hoofdklasse is definitely one of the strongest leagues in the world and the scale of hockey in Holland is simply breathtaking, especially coming from Sweden. Competition in the league is really intense, and the fact that Rotterdam narrowly missed out on the playoffs (by goal difference) last year just goes to show how small the margins are and how many strong teams there are in this league. We really need to put in 100% in every match to be successful, which I think will help me to develop my game even further. With a strong team, I’m confident that we can win matches and hopefully some titles as well during my time here.

In a few days, you’re one of 141 international players hoping to secure a place in the fourth edition of the Hockey India League. What’s your impression been of the HIL and what are your expectations ahead of the auction?

The Hockey India League is something I think all hockey players have noticed and followed over its first three seasons. It’s an incredible setup and tournament, with players auctioned off to different teams, who consist of the best players from around the world. Playing world class hockey in front of thousands of spectators, travelling around India, and competing against some of the biggest names in hockey would be simply incredible. Given what the HIL has got to offer, I really hope to get the opportunity to play for one of its teams. With 141 players fighting for a theoretical maximum of 48 spots, I’m definitely aware that there is a lot of competition for these spots. I’d love to get this opportunity, and will be following the auction really closely on September 17th!

Johan, you’re probably Sweden’s most known field hockey player, having won championship titles and individual awards, such as the best player and top scorer award at the EuroHockey Indoor Championships in 2014. If you could give some advice to young hockey players from Sweden or any other smaller hockey nation, what would that be?

Take all opportunities you can get to get out into Europe and play, whether it’s a EuroHockey Club tournament in the third division or a contract in Germany or the Netherlands. Regardless of the level, you take away so many incredible experiences, friends, and memories and get to see great countries, cities, and pitches! I’d say go and give it try – You’ve got nothing to loose! 

Johan, thanks for your time, and all the best for the future!

Source: Daniel Gass, Swedish Hockey and EHF Communications Committee

Photograph: The Bjorkman brothers after their EHL win with HTHC