Football only politer

In my quest to see a game in every country in Europe I had cruelly missed Sweden off my agenda for far too long. In the early part of this century the Oresund bridge/tunnel opened to a great fanfare, linking Copenhagen to Malmo in one swish structure, and in the process joining two arch enemies together. Denmark and Sweden are so similar in many ways, but they will never admit it. They are all blonde and blue eyed, they have the same (type) of currency, they love a beer and they are both prohibitively expensive. Relations between them have soured over the past few weeks after the Euro 2008 qualifying game in Copenhagen in June 2007 when a Danish fan attacked the referee and he abandoned the game – why oh why didn’t someone do that to Graham Poll years ago!

Anyway, with another work trip to Copenhagen in the diary, a swift look on UEFA.com found an opportunity to “hop across the pond” – FC Malmo v Halmstad. Malmo is almost visible from Copenhagen – a silhouette in the distance, past the nuclear power station. Sleepy little Malmo….Coming over the Oresund Bridge you are immediately hit with how neat and tidy things are in Sweden. That is not to say that Copenhagen is messy – but the huge amount of redevelopment in the city has meant that the presence of cranes and building sites does tend to obscure the image of “Wonderful Copenhagen”. Well manicured lawns, the absence of any grafetti and pedestrians and cyclists alike waiting for red lights to change was certainly an eye opener.

However, we were here to check out the football scene in Sweden, and a drive past the iconic Malmo stadium 90 minutes before kick off didn’t fill us with confidence that it was a hotbed of football. In fact the presence of a team coach was the only visible sign a game was going to start soon. Even the bars close by were empty..Having been told by everyone in Denmark that the beer is Sweden was “expensive” – and that is coming from people who do not bat an eye at paying £5 for a pint, we had to go into a complex fag-packet calculation for a workable exchange rate (trying to change Swedish Kroner into Danish Kroner into Sterling is not the easiest thing to do) to find out a beer was 45p, or was it £4.50?? However, a couple of pints soon put us in the football mood, and being typically English we waited until two minutes before kick off for the 5 minute walk, only realising it was more like a 20 minute hike.

However, with very little atmosphere in the stadium we made an assumption that they must be waiting for us to double the attendance. A bargain 110 Swedish Kroner (£8 or £80) got us through the turnstiles to be met with a crowd of over 18,000 – where had everyone come from?? And where was the noise? Down one side of the stadium the Malmo fans stood shoulder to shoulder underneath their flags with slogans like “Malmo Massive” and “No One Likes Us” (being in Sweden where everyone is so polite you almost expected a sign underneath saying something like “and that is really upsetting”), politely clapping when something exciting happened.

The stadium is certainly unique in design. Built for the 1958 World Cup Finals, it has lots of curves and corners – the main stand looks like a huge white wave from a distance. Behind each goal there was a bank of terracing, set back from the pitch by an athletics track. Whilst the stadium was busy, the ends were empty and we delighted in the fact that beer was being served from an open bar. Now this being a football match with “hardcore” fans you would have expected queues around the block. But not here.  Everyone seemed happy to sit and watch the game so we took the opportunity to have a beer and a burger.  Great plan except the burgers were organic reindeer ones and the beer was non-alcoholic.  Alex was inconsolable.  Not only was it his first match but we had promised real beer.  He saw through our ruse in a flash and started remonstrating with anyone and everyone.

The football was pedestrian to say the least.  The visitors Kalmar came to Malmo sitting on top of the table and they looked more like league leaders than Malmo who seemed content in playing the ball around the midfield without any idea as to how to break down the Kalmar defence. With 15 minutes on the clock the visitors took the lead with a well worked free kick from the edge of the penalty area.

Five minutes after the break it was 2-0 as Kalmar beat a non-existent offside trap and made light work of a 3 v 2 situation.  On that note Alex headed back to the bar,only to return looking shocked a few minutes later…”They have run out of beer” he stammered.  Whilst it wasn’t real beer, he could at least pretend but now that avenue of pleasure had been closed to.  There was only one thing left to do, as by now the noise he was making, like a smackhead being told that the methadone had now run out, was waking up the locals.  We headed for the exit and back to the central station where we managed to get a final beer in Finnigans Sports Bar before it closed (at 9pm!) and then onto civilisation across the Oresund in Denmark.  Too much of a bad thing is good for you but when it is all so polite it is hard to stomach.  “Next time” Alex vowed “we do things my way”…judging by his nickname of Dr Colonic I will make sure our traveling plans are separate for a few months at least!

How to get there
The stadium is located south of the main city centre, in a very green residential area. It is a 20 minute walk from the central station, or around 10 minutes from the bus station. Bus number 2 runs close to the stadium, although these get very busy before the game. A taxi from the central station will cost around 75Skr.

Getting a ticket
Whilst attendances are on the up at the Mälmo Stadion, there are still plenty of spaces for those turning up to pay on the gate. The average attendance over the past few seasons has been around the 14,000 mark, making them the second best supported team in the Allsvenskan behind AIK. Tickets can be bought in advanced from the website http://www.ticnet.se. Tickets range in price from 200SKR in the upper tier of the main stand to 125SKR behind the goal on the terraces. At the gate these prices are reduced to 180SKR and 110SKR respectively. The main Mälmo fans congregate on the terraces of the lower side stand. If you are watching an early evening game then it may be best to avoid the main stand due to the issues caused by the setting sun.

Getting around
The city centre is relatively small and it is easier to walk than wait for the local buses. Trains run to the outskirts of the city, and on to places such as Trelleborg and Helsingborg. A new railway tunnel is being constructed under the city centre at the moment that will alleviate some of the congestion in the city centre.

Local Hotels & Bars
The opening of the Øresund Bridge has given a new lease of life to the city of Mälmo. Whilst it has always been known as a pretty little city, the influx of visitors from across the water has lead to increased investment, and the general tidy up of the major areas. In the summer the city is a great place to visit, and like many Scandinavian cities, there are loads of outdoor activities that attract families to spend time here. The tourist office in the central station is a good starting point for new arrivals to find their bearings, as well as finding a hotel room if you haven’t found one before arriving. The following are good options if you have a chance to book one before you travel. They can be contacted on +46 40 34 1200. Elite Hotel Savoy – Norra Vallgatan 62Tel: +46 40 66 44 850 http://www.elite.seRica Hotel – Stortorget 15Tel: +46 40 660 95 50 http://www.rica-hotels.comRadisson SAS Hotel – Ostergatan 10Tel: +46 40 698 40 00 http://www.sas.radisson.comSweden is not known for its contribution to world cuisine, but it does have a few good places to eat. Unsurprisingly fish and seafood feature heavily on most menus. The following are all highly recommended if you have a chance to visit.

Rådhuskällaren – Stortorget 1 (Tel: +46 40 79020)
Hipp – Kalendegatan 12 (Tel: +46 40 974 030)
Smak – St Johnannesgatan 7 (Tel: +46 40 505035)

In terms of bars, then head for the area around Lilla Torg where most of the action takes place. Here you will find a mix of trendy cafes, laid back bars, traditional pubs and nightclubs. The following are three good options for various points in the evening.

Kulturbolaget – Bergsgaten 18
Brogatan – Brogatan 12
Caramello – Stortorget 25

If you are in need of a place to watch some Premiership football then head for the following bars in town that show games all weekend long from around Europe.

The Bishops Arms – Norra Vallgatan 62
The Pickwick – Malmborgsgatan 5
Paddy’s – Kalendegatan 7

Nearest Airport – Kastrup Copenhagen (CPH)

Telephone: +45 3231 3231

Website: http://www.cph.dk

Despite being in a different country, Copenhagen’s main airport is the nearest airport, located around 15 miles to the west of Mälmo 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.To get to Mälmo from Kastrup airport, simply catch one of the three trains per hour from the station under terminal 3. The journey time is 23 minutes and you need a train from track 1. A single ticket costs around £8. A bus also runs from the airport costing 100DKr.

Other Airport – Mälmo Sturup Airport (MMX)

Telephone: +46 40 613 10 00

Website: http://www.lvf.se

Ryanair fly into Malmö’s small and compact Sturup airport. Despite the fact that the airport is located across the water in Sweden, the completion of the Øresund Bridge, means the two countries are now permanently linked. It is approximately 17 miles from the city centre. Buses link the airport to the city centre, taking around 40 minutes.

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