Ask 100 non Swedes who they think the most famous Swede is and you will get a variety of answers including Bjorn Borg, Abba, Britt Ekland and Alfred Nobel….ask the same question to Swedes and you will almost certainly get one name cropping up that you would not expect – Henrik Larsson. The striker who for so long was a fixture in the Celtic first eleven is idolised in the country, even more so announcing he would spend two seasons with his boyhood club Helsingborgs before he retired.
He duly kept his word and started the 2007 season leading the front line for Helsingborgs IF as they tried to win a title that they had last won in 1999. With no team able to win back to back titles for many a season the opportunity to hit the top was within their reach as they started the season in March 2007. The great thing about the Swedish season is its timing – meaning that football fans based in and around Copenhagen can watch football all year round. And with work giving me the time to spend in this wonderful part of the world a trip across the water to the historic town of Helsingborg became a must once Henrik had finished his stint with Manchester United and returned home.
The club’s centenary season had started well. Favourites Elfsborg, Djurgaarden and IFK Gotenborg had been distracted by European competition and with Henrik scoring freely things were shaping up nicely. With a midweek game on the horizon with Hammerby from the capital I managed to arrange a meeting with my friends from Google in Malmo and hop across the bridge in the early afternoon. The train from Malmo takes around an hour, and deposits you at the transport interchange – where trains, buses and ferries meet. Helsingborg is a major ferry port, with the regular route across to the confusingly named Helsingor in Denmark. In fact Helsingborg was part of Denmark for centuries, and has been one of those strategic locations that has seen a fair bit of action. Today in true flat pack form it is better known for the fact it is the global HQ of Ikea.
All of the main fun in the town is located within a 5 minute walk of the station, with pavement bars and restaurants lining the narrow pedestrian zone on the way up the hill to the stadium….Ah yes – the stadium…The Olympia Stadium…Open since 1898 and named after……pass. It has certainly never hosted the Olympics, nor does it look like Mount Olympia and so where on earth the name came from I do not know. It was due to be demolished next year, and rebuilt exactly the same size about 500 yards away but the club eventually saw sense and realised the current stadium was more than adequate enough to host the UEFA Under21’s championships.
With Henrik back in the fold tickets are not exactly easy to get, and so I had to rely on the media pass again. The club had produced a special Henrik-inspired media pack, with a Henrik badge, Henrik CD and a special Henrik endorsed housing estate brochure…Do you get the picture of how much Henrik means to these people?
One of the nice things about football at Helsingborg was that they had invested in the small things. The singing of the nation anthem before the game was unusual considering it was a normal league game – made all the better by the very blonde, very cute singer. The teams emerged to a ticker tape welcome, and with the sun setting over the stadium the scene was set hopefully for a classic, and the teams didn’t disappoint, serving up a six goal treat with Henrik scoring a brace on the way to a 4-2 win….and that is about it – nothing remarkable on the 90 minute journey from Copenhagen, nothing remarkable about the pcituresque town, a great game and finally a text book trip back. If only every trip was as easy as this!
About The Olympia Stadion
The Olympia Stadion is one of the most atmospheric stadiums in the Swedish top division. It can hardly be called traditional as it is a mixture of the old and new, perched on a hill high above the historic port city of Helsingborg. The stadium was originally opened in 1898 as a multi-sport venue and was further developed during the 1990’s when the main stand and east stand were rebuilt, and the athletics track removed.
The stadium is one of the most famous in Swedish football, and unusually the hardcore fans can be seen to congregate in one particular corner on both the terrace and the seated area. The views from the main stand and the east stand are very good, although the setting sun during the summer months does cause an issue for those seated in the latter. Away supporters are located in the corner of the north stand terrace. Expect lots of co-ordinated singing and a few ticker-tape showers.
Who plays there?
Helsingborgs IF were founded in June 1907 although their formative years brought little joy in terms of success. The club played in the regional leagues until the end of the First World War when they began to dominate Swedish football, but never quite winning the honours. All that changed in 1929 when the team at last lived up to their potential by winning the Championship. They followed this up by retaining their title in 1930, and went on to win the trophy in 1933, 1934 and 1941 when they completed the domestic double.
After the Second World War ended in 1946, and football returned to normal in Sweden, the club struggled to compete with the big teams, and found themselves on a number of occasions in the 2nd division. They returned in 1993 to herald a new era of success for the club. In the late 1990’s the team at last delivered the goods again by firstly winning the Swedish Cup in 1998 and the following season the title for the final time.
The club have played in Europe a number of times – in fact they played in European competition every season from 1996/97 through to 2002. During that period the most notable success was playing in the Champions League in 2000/01 when they beat Inter Milan over two legs to qualify for the group stages along with Paris Saint Germain, Rosenborg and Bayern Munich. They will once again return to the UEFA Cup in 2007 after winning the Swedish Cup in 2006 by beating Gefle IF 2-0.
The club is managed by Scot Stuart Baxter who has been playing and managing in Sweden since the mid 1980’s. Their most famous player, without doubt is ex-Celtic and Barcelona legend Henrik Larsson who promised the club he first made his name with at least one season at the end of his career. He was good to his word, despite turning down an offer to stay at Manchester United where he was on loan during 2006/07. Larsson was actually voted Helsingborgs Player of the Century in 2007. One notable feature of the team this season is that they have more sponsors on their kit that a Formula One car – with 6 different sponsors on the short and 2 on their shorts.
How to get there
Most visitors will arrive at the central station which is close to the ferry terminal and adjacent to the bus station. If the weather is nice then the best way to reach the stadium is to walk through the pedestrian area opposite the station, stopping at a few hostelries along the way before taking one of the paths that wind their way up the steep hill. Once you are in the park area, keep heading eastwards and the stadium will come into view behind the houses. The walk from the station takes around 15 minutes. There are a number of special buses laid on for the football that run from the bus station.
Getting a ticket
Swedish football is enjoying a renaissance, and with the signing of Henrik Larsson, Helsingborg have become a very attractive team to watch now, and so tickets can be in short supply for some matches. However, the good news is that it is easy to book a ticket in advance using http://www.ticnet.se where tickets go on sale around 6 weeks prior to the match. Tickets can also be purchased from the stadium. Ticket prices depend on the opposition, but in general you will pay 105SKR for a place on the terrace for most matches, rising to 145SKR for the game versus Mälmo, whilst a good seat would be 175SKR and 245SKR respectively.
Helsingborg is very compact and you will really not need any public transport once you arrive unless you are planning on going up the coast towards Gothenburg, or southwards towards Landskrona and Mälmo. Local buses will get you a bit further a field if you need to – they run from the central bus station which is attached to the train station.
Local Hotels & Bars
Despite its relatively small size, Helsingborg is a popular city, both as a landing point for ferries from Denmark and further a field but also on the main Swedish west coast train line. However, it does have a number of good hotels which means that you should not have many issues in finding a bed for the night. There is a small tourist office at Rådhuset and they can be contacted on +46 42 10 43 50. Their website is http://www.helsingborg.se. The following hotels are central, good value and near all of the action.
Clarion Grand Hotel – Stortorget 8-12
Tel: +46 42 38 0400 http://www.clarionhotelhelsingborg.se
Best Western Hotel Helsingborg – Stortorget 20
Tel: +46 42 37 18 00 http://www.bestwestern.com
Elite Hotel Marina Plaza – Kungstorget 6
Tel: +46 771 788789 http://www.elite.se
The city also has some reknown restaurants that unsurprisingly have some excellent seafood. The following are some of the best that you will find, and don’t have too high prices.
Restaurant Amica – Rönnowsgatan 19 (Tel: +46 42 13 0715)
Wärdshuset Gamlegård – Nor Storgatan 9 (Tel: +46 42 147950)
Lagmarks – Sundstorget 3 (Tel: +46 42 14 8830)
The main concentration of bars and cafés are close to the station in the pedestrianised side streets. Here you will find traditional pubs as well as pavement bars where you can sit outside and enjoy some excellent Swedish food and drink. The following should be a stopping off point if you have a night out planned in the city.
Bara Vara – Fågelsångsgatan 23
Crombar – Drottninggatan 7
Gretas Krog – Furutorpsgatan 38
If you want to find somewhere to watch a game from back home then head for one of the following that show regular live Premiership games.
The Charles Dickens – Södergatan 43
The Bishop’s Arms – Södra Storgatan 32
Pub Norrbro – Norrbroplatsen 7
Nearest Airport – Kastrup Copenhagen (CPH)
Telephone: +45 3231 3231
Despite being in a different country, Copenhagen’s main airport is the nearest airport, located around 60 miles to the south across the Øresund Bridge. It has three terminals – two dedicated to international and intercontinental flights, and the remote Terminal 1 is dedicated to internal flights. Easyjet are the main budget carrier to fly to Copenhagen. They fly here daily from London Stansted. BA and SAS also fly here from London Heathrow. Snowflake, SAS’s budget brand fly twice daily from London City. Sterling are Denmark’s biggest Budget airline – they fly three times a day from London Gatwick.
From Copenhagen Airport train station under terminal 3 you can catch an hourly train direct to Helsingborg. The journey takes around 75 minutes – but make sure you are in the right carriage as the train often divides at Mälmo Central. A return ticket costs 265DKR.
Other Airport – Mälmo Sturup Airport (MMX)
Telephone: +46 40 613 10 00
Ryanair fly into Malmö’s small and compact Sturup airport. . Buses link the airport to the central station, where you can change onto a train to Helsingborg. The bus takes around 40 minutes and costs 25SKR.