Osborne Anderberg is a short, dumpy middle-age Swede, not obviously cast in any heroic mold. But he seemed conscious of a date with destiny when, three days before the fight, he skipped across the lawn at Grossinger's training camp to greet his countryman, Ingemar Johansson.
"Hej Ingemar," he shouted, eyes bright with the excitement of a devout pilgrim at the end of a long journey. Big Ingemar smiled back with delighted affection.
"Hej Osborne," he returned, and, then, turning to the small crowd of trainers, newspapermen and members of his family, he announced, as though bringing on the main event at a big stadium, his "mystic right" held high: "This is Sweden's No. 1 boxing fan. He follows me everywhere I fight—Denmark, Germany, England and now all the way here."
Fifty-four-year-old Osborne Anderberg of Goteborg, Sweden, is certainly the most persistent of the hundreds of Swedish fight fans who traveled the 3,000 miles by ship and plane to cheer on the greatest fighter in the history of their small country. These Swedes were convinced of Ingemar's triumph, and they wanted to be on hand to savor, personally, every aspect and moment of it.
July 5, 1959
Most of them, however, and especially Osborne, were to find the pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium pocked with frustration, disappointment and—in the case of Mr. Anderberg—actual physical injury. As the heroic did in ancient treks, Anderberg finally made it to the 2:03 minute mark of the third round, but a lesser fan would have given up boxing, Sweden and even Ingemar long before the rain stopped falling Friday night on Yankee Stadium.
In Goteborg, Anderberg's main interest is sports—soccer (which he played for the city of Goteborg until he was 34), trotting (he owns four horses which "at least are not losing money"), track and field and, of course, boxing and Ingemar. He is such a sports fan that his wife is separated from him. His secondary concern is with his business of timber exporting. He is a member of a celebrated sporting group known to Swedish fans as the "wooden foxes" because it is composed of 10 lumbermen who habitually take 10 seats in the first row at all the big fights. Because they always bet on Ingemar and because Ingemar has not lost in 22 times as a professional, they have come to be considered rather foxy.
On June 19 Mr. Anderberg took off gaily from Goteborg for New York as part of a special travel-bureau package deal designed to cover Swedish fans' air tickets and hotel bills, the total sum to be paid in Sweden with Swedish kronor at special lower prices. Anderberg figures the trip will cost him $1,000, a considerable sum to a Swede, even a prosperous one.
Osborne's troubles began in the plane. He was sitting in the economy section next to a window, through which cold air blew down upon him throughout the night and kept him awake. His sports training, however, has disciplined him into ignoring such trifling inconvenience, and he passed his time discussing Ingemar, with whom he is on an informal du basis.
He was not bothered by the stories of Ingemar's training habits, which the Swedish press had reported to include nightclubbing. "Ingemar is a man who goes his own way and he feels happy doing it. And I think it is absolutely wrong for other people to talk against it. We have a Swedish word for Ingemar—sarling. It means—what he feels suits him, he does. I think the world would be a lot better off if there were more like him."
Next morning at 7:30 in Idlewild airport's main lobby, Mr. Anderberg groggily peered with tired eyes at a new land. Everything fascinated him. He chose to compare the U.S. with Britain rather than with his own country. "All these chaps seem smart and clean here. It makes a good first impression, and many people keep their first impression. Have you ever come from Tilbury in London and taken the boat train to St. Pancras? Shocking. I don't know why there's no style in England."
After spending 90 minutes crawling through early-morning traffic on the Long Island parkway system, Mr. Anderberg reached his hotel on Lexington Avenue where he released another unexpected first impression. "Then we [Swedes] always thought when we came over here we would see the people pushing the people around. But they don't. They push more in Sweden, especially in Stockholm." Looking out at the 9 o'clock rush from subways into office building, he added, "They are so calm and steady here. I guess you have been through your pushing period and we're just getting into ours."
Next morning Mr. Anderberg, with two other Swedes, set off for Grossinger's to begin the worst day of his stay. On Lexington Avenue he got out of the car, became confused, because traffic in Sweden runs on the left side of the road, didn't look at what he was doing and slammed the car door on his finger, almost cutting it off.
An hour and a half later, with eight stitches and a small fracture under a large white bandage on his right index finger, Osborne was still optimistic. "You know, that chap on the desk didn't even ask me my name, just got on with the job. In a Swedish hospital they would have asked a lot of silly fool questions. They all make the long face in Sweden, you know."
On the New York Thruway, Mr. Anderberg ran into more complications. The driver of his car was halted by a state trooper for not keeping over on the right. Waving his bandaged finger, Mr. Anderberg tried to help. He felt strongly that it was more than unjust to interrupt the passage of Swedish fans to Ingemar. The trooper evaluated the situation differently. "Is that guy a Swedish diplomat?" he growled. "Well, tell him we can't help him and he better get back in the car and calm down."
Back from Grossinger's, where he had a pleasant moment with Ingemar, Mr. Anderberg found he still had two days to kill before the fight. He also found other Swedes, confused and running out of funds, huddled together pathetically in the lobbies of various New York hotels. Osborne, using his fluent English, became the spokesman for the Lexington Hotel delegation, numbering over 50.
It was, for instance, Mr. Anderberg who discovered the nearby delicatessen to which he brought other Swedes so that they could buy bottles of milk, Cokes, orange sodas, butter, bread, cheese and salami (Mr. Anderberg found a substantial order came to only $2.71). They took it all back to their rooms at the Lexington to avoid restaurant prices. The difficulty with the delicatessen food was that as the fight was postponed and the Swedes waited and waited, it began to make its presence in the room increasingly noticeable.
It also was Mr. Anderberg who stood up to a Swedish journalist who was briefing the Lexington delegation one day in the hotel's Florentine Room. The newspaperman was saying to the fans that even if Ingemar won he would not take home a penny as his purse already had been attached by Eddie Machen. Suddenly, Mr. Anderberg was on his feet shouting, "Well, you better go and say to Ingemar that we are all behind him," and turning to the Lexington delegation he reminded them of the old Swedish saying "When everything goes against a man, then the worth of his friends is proved."
Ingemar's business back home has not been going well. A tractor, left uninsured, was robbed of expensive parts which had to be replaced. Ingemar's manager, a somewhat battered but pleasant Swedish ex-professional heavyweight named Gunnar Nilsson, but known by all in Goteborg as Silver Gunnar because he took a silver boxing medal in the 1948 Olympics, has turned out to be better with his fists than with Ingemar's figures. But Osborne was not going to distress his hero with such news at this time.
The postponement was the final blow to the fans. Most of them, like Anderberg, were booked on planes leaving for Sweden on Friday. The confusion which resulted in trying to change these reservations was monumental. All day Friday Mr. Anderberg and the Lexington delegation ran back and forth to the telephone booths shaking their heads. "We are still on 15 minutes' call," said Osborne and added sadly, "We are not supposed to leave."
Meanwhile, despite his bad finger, he had sent 80 cards at one mailing back to Swedish fight fans, reporting the latest on Ingemar and the fight. He had also managed to get into his autograph album, with the help of Ingemar, the signatures of almost every famous living American heavyweight prizefighter.
Once Mr. Anderberg got to the Stadium at 7:30 Friday night he was not impatient but sternly resolved. For a few moments he stood in front of the plaques in center field. Gehrig and Huggins were completely unfamiliar names, but he pointed at Babe Ruth's and said, "We know that chap even in Sweden." Looking around the empty Stadium he observed, "No good for soccer, too round."
Then he gave up sightseeing and marched across the infield through the rain. When he reached Section 3 he found his seat and sat down alone and throughout the entire hour-and-a-half shower stared fixedly at the brightly lit but empty ring. It was doubtful that even another postponement would have caused Mr. Anderberg to move out of the rain. He had arrived at the Stadium, and he meant to stay until every light was turned out and he was ejected.
The tension of watching and waiting began to show when he first saw Ingemar appear in the Stadium on his way to the ringside. He noticed Edwin Alhquist, Ingemar's adviser and Anderberg's friend, walking along behind the fighter and waving wildly. "Nerves, nerves," snapped Mr. Anderberg reprovingly, waving back with at least equal enthusiasm.
After Ingemar had batted down Patterson for the seventh time, Osborne jumped down from his chair and, with other Swedes, surged toward the ring. He did not get to Ingemar but he found Alhquist. His eyes were red, and the words would not come.
Minutes later they had come back. He bought a Swedish flag and roamed about the Stadium, shouting gaily to any Swede he saw, "Heja Sverige" (Come on, Sweden).
When a New York fight fan, also in his 50s, saw the Swedish flag and cried, "Your boy can hit," Osborne ran over to him and shouted, "I know, I know, but you didn't believe it here in America. We knew all the time in Sweden."
At the Stockholm Restaurant on 51st Street, Mr. Anderberg finally got to shake Ingemar's hand. Ingemar pushed through the eating, drinking, singing mob as they shouted:
Ja ma han leva
Ja ma han leva
Ja ma han leva
Uti hundrade ar.
Yes, may he live long,
Yes, may he live long,
Yes, may he live long,
For a hundred years.
Ingemar made straight for him, shouldering his way through the crowd. "That's fine, Ingemar, that's fine," was all Osborne could say.
The next day Mr. Anderberg flew from New York to London after seeing the film of the fight in Ingemar's suite (1429) in the Commodore Hotel. At every knockdown, he shouted "Heja!"
As he left for the plane, his painful but glorious trip drawing to a close, he stood on Lexington Avenue and delivered a sincere farewell speech to his American friends. "All us Swedes are going back, and even if Ingemar had not won it, we would have remembered that the Americans are so friendly and kind, you might say, we are leaving with a good feeling and that's a good thing, I think."
Then the round, Chaplinesque little figure began moving up Lexington Avenue, but suddenly he stopped, turned around and came back. "You know the best feeling I have about Ingemar? It's just that he is not doing things only for himself. He's doing them for his family, and he's so pleased by little things. That's the feeling I have for him."