Interviews

The big interview: Tomas Brolin – "I was bullied at Leeds, but I don't regret joining them"

Tomas Brolin

Why didn't things work out at Elland Road? Just how good were Parma? And did he hit an elk with his car? Your questions answered in August 2018…

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Photography: Pontus Orre

On the list of weird gifts FourFourTwo has been given down the years, this is definitely up there. Tomas Brolin has just reached into a bag and revealed something very unexpected: a vacuum cleaner nozzle.

Even as he hands it over to us, we’re imagining the conversation with airport security as we explain why we’re taking such a bizarre item back to London as hand luggage. “Er, Tomas Brolin gave it to us? Yes, the Tomas Brolin…”

Forget star names like Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic: only one Swede has been named in a World Cup All-Star Team since 1958 and that man is Brolin, thanks to his performances at USA '94.

Tomas Brolin Sweden 2 Euro '92

Brolin’s now one of the finest vacuum salesmen in Scandinavia, and excitedly shows his product to FFT. “I’ll give you a present so you know what I’m talking about – we sell more than 130,000 each year and this one is the best,” says the 48-year-old, as we convene at the Hotell Kristina in the lakeside town of Sigtuna, a few miles north of Stockholm.

He was only 28 when he surprisingly swapped football for this new venture, bringing his playing days to an end after a move to England with Leeds United went horribly wrong and exposed him to ridicule after some increasingly peculiar incidents. He’s ready to tell his side of the story…

You made your Sweden debut in April 1990. Did you think you had a chance of going to the World Cup at the start of that year?

Gustaf Ekholm, via Facebook

I had my own little dream, yes. I played for GIF Sundsvall but we got relegated. Norrkoping won the title and contacted me, so I went there in January 1990 and the first game was against Gothenburg, the favourites to win the league, live on TV. We won 6-0 and I scored a hat-trick. The manager of the national team [Olle Nordin] was watching and he had one match left before the World Cup where he could try me out, at home to Wales. I scored twice in Stockholm, and when he picked the squad for the World Cup, he couldn’t leave me out!

CLUBS

  • 1984-86 Nasvikens IK
  • 1987-89 GIF Sundsvall
  • 1990 IFK Norrkoping
  • 1990-95 Parma
  • 1995-97 Leeds
  • 1996 FC Zurich (loan)
  • 1997 Parma (loan)
  • 1998 Crystal Palace
  • 1998 Hudiksvalls ABK

How did it feel to score in your first ever World Cup match, against Brazil?

Karin Stenbock, via Facebook

I was only 20 years old, so to make my World Cup debut against a country like Brazil and then score was just fantastic. It was against Claudio Taffarel – I didn’t know we’d be in the same Parma team two months later! Unfortunately we lost 2-1, and then we lost 2-1 to Costa Rica and Scotland too, but for me personally it was a good World Cup.

You joined Parma on the back of your displays at the 1990 World Cup – how did the move happen?

Andy Chatham, London

There was interest from Germany and Spain as well, but when Parma phoned I wanted to go there, as it was Italy. To play in Serie A in the '90s was a very big thing – all of the best players were there. Parma were a perfect fit. As a footballer in other Italian cities you couldn’t go out because the fans were hanging around, but Parma was quiet and you could live close to a normal life.

Parma became really popular during the ’90s. What was so special about that team?

Scott Dunning, Salisbury

We were a young side and just wanted to attack all the time. A lot of teams in Italy were scared to attack – it was 0-0 football. We shocked many clubs when we played like we did. Parma were from a little town who’d never been as high as Serie A before. The aim was simply to remain in the league in the first season.

We didn’t have a training facility, and each morning we didn’t know where we would be training. We would change at the stadium, then travel in a minibus to this pitch or that pitch, almost different every day during the winter. But we had a remarkable first season and finished sixth. Then in the second year we beat Juventus in the Coppa Italia final. It wasn’t only Parma fans who liked us – the whole of Italy found us exciting.

Tomas Brolin Parma 2

When Graham Taylor substituted Gary Lineker against Sweden at Euro '92, did that give you the boost you needed to finish the job?

Stuart Steelyard, via Facebook

No, it didn’t give us a boost. When you’re in the game you don’t think about who’s out or in, but I think that was Lineker’s last minutes playing for England, right? I’m not sure what would have happened if he had remained on the pitch, but we had a very good team. It was a huge win for us and I scored quite a nice goal as well…

I love Barry Davies’ legendary ‘Brolin! Dahlin! Brolin!’ commentary for your goal against England at Euro '92. Have you heard it?

Ese Agboaye, via Facebook

I heard about that, yes. It was a special goal – one-touch all the way and a nice shot from me in the end. I played with Martin Dahlin many times and the more you play together, the easier you’ll find each other. Everyone maybe expected France and England to qualify from that group but it was Denmark and Sweden – a big surprise. After that we thought we could get through to the final, so it was very frustrating to lose 3-2 to Germany in the semi-finals.

Your winning goal against England led to The Sun infamously putting a turnip on Graham Taylor’s head. Did you feel bad about that?

Steven Ross, Wigan

No, I didn’t know anything about that – during that time we were so focused on our own world. How the English mass media treat their players and managers, I don’t bother…

What was Faustino Asprilla like in the dressing room at Parma?  

‘Spurs Lover’, via Twitter

Tino was a brilliant guy. He was our clown in the dressing room and such a fantastic player. You never knew what he was going to do – sometimes that was good, but sometimes it wasn’t so good because even we didn’t know what he was going to do! One year we had a week off and Tino smashed a bus door in Colombia. His foot was a little bit broken, so he was out for a few weeks.

Parma won the 1993 Cup Winners’ Cup Final – how big an achievement was it for the club?

Paolo Todrani, via Twitter

It was maybe the biggest achievement in Parma’s history. They won more trophies but that was the first one. The final was at Wembley against Royal Antwerp. I’d never played there and nearly the whole of Parma made the trip. It was fantastic.

Tomas Brolin Parma 1

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