The World Cup hosted by Sweden in 1958 is most keenly remembered for the emergence onto the world stage of a precocious 17-year old by the name of Edson Arantes do Nascimento. In the World Cup final of that year the youngster famously scored two of the five goals that Brazil put past tournament hosts Sweden. The 5-2 victory sealed Brazil's maiden World Cup triumph ending an eight year hangover that was born of Brazil's shock loss to Uruguay when hosting the tournament themselves back in 1950.
Such is the nature of the World Cup that every tournament has its own side stories and subplots that make it the global phenomenon that it is. The Sweden team that lost to Brazil on June 29th 1958 had its own incredible story, a tale that started with an Olympic gold medal victory in the London games of 1948. Sweden were led by what would later become the famous Gre-No-Li a triumvirate that consisted of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordhal and Nils Liedholm. Throughout the 1950's these three players would go on together to wreak havoc for AC Milan and are rightly remembered as pioneers of a golden age in Italian club football.
Had it not been for the fact that professional players were unable to compete in the World Cup in 1950 many in Sweden believe their side would have been primed to take home the ultimate prize. The Swedish fans argument derived from the dominant performances that they had exhibited in their 1948 Olympic games victory. Bereft of their three best players, in 1950 Sweden respectfully bowed out as the third placed team in the tournament.
As the decade rolled on Sweden inexplicably failed to qualify for the 1954 World Cup held in Switzerland, however as hosts in 1958 qualification would not pose a problem. As well as having home advantage the Swedes would be boosted by the fact that with a change in FIFA regulations professional players were now permitted to represent their national sides. Both Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm were both the wrong side of thirty, yet at the ages of 37 and 35 respectively both would play a part in Sweden's march to the final. With Gunnar Nordhal retired from the International stage it was a young man born in Stockholm who would rise to the occasion, in doing so he both galvanised a country and lit up the tournament, providing the type of spectacle that the watching world would lap up. For three weeks in June that year the Swedish public be-knighted a new hero into their fold, his name was Kurt Hamrin.
As attested to in Sven Goran Eriksson's autobiography 'Sven: My Story' when reflecting on the 1958 World Cup a young Sven recollects the following..
...The tournament was held in Sweden and everyone followed it on the radio or on television. We did not have a television, but someone else must have had one as i distinctly remember watching a fuzzy broadcast of one of the games. Highlights from the matches were shown in the cinema. Kurt 'Kurre' Hamrin was our favourite Swedish player. He was from Stockholm, but he had relatives in Varmland and spent summers there...
For many of the world's countries looking on from afar Kurt Hamrin would have been an unknown and marginal figure, except perhaps in Italy. Italy for the first and only time in their history had failed to qualify for the World Cup and so were cast as mere observers, solemn witnesses to the action that unfurled across Sweden in what proved to be a feast of International football.
In Italy they already knew about Hamrin. Brought to the country in the 1956-57 season at the behest of the Stockholm branch of FIAT which doubled up alongside every other international branch of FIAT as a scouting network for the Agnelli family owned football club Juventus. Under strict Italian football regulations Hamrin had debuted in Serie A as one of only two foreigners allowed in any given team. Hamrin had shown great potential for a player so young, forging his own path yet following in the footsteps of his fellow countrymen who had trail-blazed up and down the Italian peninsula during the first half of the decade.
Unfortunately for Hamrin a series of injuries was to blight his time with Juventus, so much so that after only one season at the club the Turin based team opted to let the young Swede go. 23 games and 8 goals had been deemed not good enough for a player to occupy one of the two vested foreign player positions in the side. Hamrin was sent out on loan to Padova with a question mark in relation to his perceived frailty hanging over his head. This would be a turning point for the youngster, teaming up with the soon to be legendary Italian coach Nereo Rocco. In the 1957-58 season under the tutelage of Rocco, Hamrin would set Serie A ablaze scoring 20 goals in 30 appearances skyrocketing the provincial also-rans to their highest ever position in Serie A. Hamrin was at the heart of Padova's endeavours as the club amazingly finished the season third in the league table.
As the 1957-58 season drew to a close so the 1958 World Cup loomed large on the horizon. Hamrin had been a Swedish international since 1953. A popular player among both his peer group as well as the Swedish fans, he had introduced himself to the Swedish public at large back in 1953 when in front of 80,000 partisan Hungarians he famously scored an equaliser for the Swedes that in the process denied ' The Magnificent Magyars' a team consisting of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor victory in front of their home fans in Budapest, the match ending in a 2-2 draw. In Sweden they knew in Hamrin they had a special talent, in Italy their attention had been roused, but it would be the World Cup of 1958 that would set the stage for Kurt Hamrin to announce his talent on a global scale.
In Sweden's second game of the group stage Hamrin would visit his talent upon an admittedly weakened Hungarian team once more. Scoring twice in Sweden's 2-1 victory, a 3-0 victory over Mexico in their opening group game and a 0-0 draw against Wales in their last group game was good enough to see Sweden in to the quarter finals. There they would face the Soviet Union, Hamrin was on the score sheet again in a solid 2-0 victory that would set up a semi-final clash against the then current World Cup holders West Germany. With the eyes and ears of the world firmly fixed upon the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Hamrin would seal the deal for his country with the third goal in a 3-1 victory for the host nation. A goal of such beauty that to this day it is still talked about with hushed reverence, not just in Sweden but amongst football aficionados the world over.
Picking the ball up in his favoured wide right position Hamrin casually started to walk with the ball at his feet, with all the nonchalance of a child kicking his ball home on the walk back from school. There appears to be no apparent threat to the German defence. After four touches of the ball at this pedestrian pace a German defender rushes in to attempt to dispossess the 23-year-old Swede. Suddenly Hamrin takes his cue and turns on the burners, easily outpacing his opponent he cuts inside at the byline only to meet a second German defender, Hamrin slips the ball through his frantic opponent's legs leaving the defender sprawling on the floor as he advances towards goal. The German keeper Fritz Herkenrath was stalling at his near post and with the German defence closing in Hamrin waited and waited till finally Herkenrath committed himself leaving Hamrin to craftily dink the ball over the goalkeeper in to the back of the net. A truly astonishing goal, one that would confirm Sweden's advancement to the World Cup final. That night on June 24th 1958 in front of nearly 50,000 people the legend of Kurt Hamrin was born.
1958 is a standout year in the career of Kurt Hamrin, the darling of his nation his 4 goals in 5 starts in the World Cup helped him to fourth place in French publication 'France Football's' Ballon d'Or (or as it was more commonly know at the time in English 'The European footballer of the year') awards. No mean feat for a player who had been discarded just a year earlier by his then club Juventus. Juventus loss had been Padova's gain but with a successful World Cup campaign behind him it felt only natural that the sprightly winger would move on to new climes.
Enter Fiorentina, during the 1957-58 Serie A season the Tuscan club had on the final day of the season just pipped Padova in to second place in the league standings. The Florence based club were on the look out for a new talent having just released not only their right winger but the player nominated in 1996 as the best player in the entire history of Fiorentina. The great Julinho was a right winger from Brazil whose talent was such that had it not been for the ban on professional players attending World Cups, reputedly he would have been ahead of Garrincha in the pecking order of the Brazilian national team of 1950. Julinho was a god in Florence having taken Fiorentina to new heights securing the club's first ever scudetto in 1955-56 as well as taking them all the way to the European Cup final in 1956-57. Objectively one could say that these would not be easy boots to fill.
It would take a special player to take up Julinho's mantle, the sort of player required would have to be one who themselves could prove capable of etching an indelible mark onto the collective canvas known as Fiorentina's history. Whether that task was figurative or based in reality, one can say with absolute certainty that Kurt Hamrin not only rose to that challenge but matched and perhaps in some quarters would even be considered to have surpassed the staggering precedents that had been set for him.
Hamrin enjoyed nine years with Fiorentina, in those nine years he broke club records. With 208 goals across all competitions for the club he is Fiorentina's highest ever goalscorer. To put this in context aside from Gabriel Batistuta who sits in second on 207 goals for the Viola, the man in third is Italo-Argentine Miguel Montuori who in a distinguished career of his own with Fiorentina bagged 84 goals across all competitions. Hamrin sits fourth in all time appearances for the Viola with 362 appearances to his name. Of those 362 appearances 289 came in Serie A resulting in 150 league goals for the club. Simple maths shows that in one of the toughest defensive leagues in the world, where players were not offered the protection that they are nowadays Hamrin averaged over a goal every two games for Fiorentina. In the Fiorentina pantheon he is unquestionably one of the greats. Looking at his career beyond his time at the Viola furthermore cements his legacy among exalted company in football's grand history. Hamrin spent 15 years as a professional in Italy racking up 400 Serie A appearances which is to this day a record for a foreign player. Hamrin's combined total of 190 Serie A goals leaves him in eighth position on the all time list, one of only two foreigners who make the top ten (the other being his fellow countryman Gunnar Nordhal who sits third on the list on 225).
This was a player of the highest calibre and as such he took no time in settling into his new Tuscan surroundings. In 1958-59 Kurt Hamrin met Miguel Montuori the two Viola players clicked almost instantaneously. Goals were to follow, followed by more goals. In Hamrin's first season with the club Fiorentina accrued 95 goals in 34 league games, only the 'Grande Torino' team of the 1940's have ever scored more goals in a one off season. Alas Fiorentina were to narrowly miss out on the scudetto, coming second to AC Milan finishing only three points off of the Milanese club. Hamrin scored 26 goals in his first season with the club a feat that he would repeat in his second season also. Honours were to follow in the 1960-61 season Fiorentina won the Coppa Italia. The final was held in Florence, having beaten Juventus 3-1 in the semi-final the Viola defeated Lazio 2-0 in the final, in doing so both avenging the club's 1958 1-0 Coppa Italia final loss to Lazio, as well as making up for a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat after extra time to Juventus in the 1959-60 final of the same competition.
For Fiorentina the 1960-61 season also proved pivotal on the European stage, the Viola captured Italy's first ever European club crown winning the inaugural UEFA Cup Winners Cup beating Glasgow Rangers over the course of a two legged final. Fiorentina won the first leg in Glasgow 2-0 and then followed it up with a 2-1 home victory, Hamrin netting the second goal on the night to make it 4-1 on aggregate his goal both making sure of the victory as well as helping to deliver another piece of silverware into the Fiorentina trophy cabinet. Hamrin was to later go on to win another Cup Winners Cup trophy with AC Milan. It was a tournament that seemed to bring out the best in the talented Swede. In 8 appearances in the tournament Hamrin scored 6 goals 3 of which came in the final of the competition. In a one legged final in 1967-68 in the late autumn to winter of his career Hamrin scored both goals in AC Milan's 2-0 victory over Hamburg.
In the 1963-64 season Kurt's knack for putting the ball in the back of the net won him another record. As Fiorentina visited Bergamo to face Atalanta in an away fixture in the league. Fiorentina ran out 7-1 victors with Hamrin notching 5 of the 7 goals scored. To this day this remains a record as no other player has scored 5 goals in an away fixture in Serie A.
The last medal Kurt Hamrin collected whilst donning the famous purple shirt came in the 1965-66 season when once again Fiorentina won the Coppa Italia this time defeating surprise finalists Catanzaro 2-1. Fittingly as it was to be his last success at the club Hamrin managed to grab a goal in the victory.
Hamrin's career was a long and storied one, loved by the fans his elegant quick footed style combined with his prolific goal scoring ability understandably endeared him to Fiorentina's legion of supporters. The love in was mutual as to this day Kurt Hamrin still resides in Tuscany and calls Florence his home. So it was with a heavy heart that the man from Stockholm departed Fiorentina. In 1967 rather prematurely Fiorentina's club directors decided that Hamrin was too old for their vision for the future and with that the right winger come forward was offloaded to AC Milan.
At AC Milan Hamrin was to join up with his one time manager of Padova Nereo Rocco. Hamrin was to enjoy an Indian summer that no Fiorentina fan would have begrudged him. Whilst with Milan Hamrin completed his medal collection winning a scudetto in 1967-68, as well as in the same year adding the aforementioned second Cup Winners Cup medal to his growing collection. In 1968-69 he added the icing on the cake by winning the European Cup as the Rossoneri overcame Ajax 4-1 in the final of that year's competition. Needless to say this left many in Florence red faced, how could they have encouraged a man with so much talent still left in his boots to leave the club?
Kurt Hamrin's golden career fizzled out with a short stint at Napoli and then a move back to Sweden where he played one season for IFK Stockholm before retiring in 1972. However it is with one club that Hamrin remains synonymous and that club is Fiorentina, in the history of the club he is a colossus. For a foreign player to stay nine years at one club is quite something. Remarkably Fiorentina have had a couple of foreign players who have shown that kind of loyalty. In this day and age it is more than a rarity, we will probably never see their like again. A sad thought but one that also helps paint a picture, an enduring image of the man they dubbed 'the little bird'.