Fans take over shopping mall to protest rule letting just 8 spectators into matches

Fans of Swedish club AIK took over a shopping mall on Sunday to protest against government restrictions that only allow eight spectators inside football grounds for matches.

The nation's government has not given football an exemption to the rule limiting outside gatherings to eight people, thereby fixing the single-figure limit on the number of supporters allowed into stadiums. It recently announced that up to 500 fans could be allowed to attend major sporting events as of May 17, but only once the infection rate is deemed low enough.

As such, only a handful of fans made it through the turnstiles at the 54,000-capacity Friends Arena, in the Solna area of Stockholm, to watch AIK's game against IF Elfsborg in the top-flight Allsvenskan.

Meanwhile, there are no restrictions in Sweden on the number of people able to be in the public areas of shopping malls. Taking advantage of that loophole, a much larger group of AIK supporters were able to gather inside a nearby shopping mall to protest against what they claim is an "absurd" situation.

Before the game on Sunday, the AIK fans took over a central atrium at the Mall of Scandinavia, located directly opposite the stadium. They were decked in club colours, beating drums, chanting and waving flags to draw attention to the large banners bearing the message: "The national sport deserves more than eight people. Abolish all absurd restrictions."

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Across the road, the eight permitted AIK fans filed into the arena two by two and took up their places on the sparsely populated terraces, leading to some very peculiar scenes.

The "crowd" was treated to a narrow home victory, with AIK winning 1-0 thanks to a penalty from veteran midfielder Sebastian Larsson, formerly of Arsenal, Birmingham City and Sunderland.

After the game, Larsson led his teammates in saluting the lucky fans who were allowed in to cheer them to victory.

AIK defender Alexander Milosevic spoke of his support for the fans protesting in the mall, while also expressing frustration at the restrictions.

"I understand the supporters. They want to come back. For many supporters, this is all in life," the Sweden international told Swedish TV show "Fotbollskanalen." "We have restaurants where 100 people can enter in a small area and we can have as many people as possible inside the Mall of Scandinavia, but in a football arena that takes in 50,000 spectators, eight people enter. I have very great respect for the pandemic but I think this situation is a disaster."

This wasn't the first time AIK have been forced to play in front of a drastically reduced audience, with last month's game against Degerfors bringing about similarly odd scenes. Despite the stadium being close to empty, Degerfors forward Victor Edvardsen -- who used to play for AIK's bitter rivals IFK Gothenburg -- revealed he could hear every word being chanted at him.

"I could hear the fans singing 'everyone in Gothenburg smells like fish,'" he told Fotbollskanalen. "It was a shame it was only eight, it would have been much better if it had been 50,000 people shouting it. But I did hear that they were shouting it. It was pretty funny, actually."