In 30 days time the holiday plans for thousands of Danes and Swedes for next summer will be decided. One, or potentially both, will certainly be heading off to South Africa to watch their country in the 2010 World Cup. The decider is on the 10th October when the two countries meet in Parken in Copenhagen. Denmark, sitting pretty on top of Group A know that a draw will all but confirm their place in the finals and damage Sweden’s play off chances let alone what a win would do.
Passions run very high between the countries. You only have to look back two years to a qualifying game in the run up to Euro2008. Sweden had come to Copenhagen, on top of the group and raced into a 3-0 lead. The Danes rallied and pulled it back to 3-3 with ten minutes to play. Then Sweden were awarded a penalty, with the Danes being reduced to ten men. A fan ran onto the pitch and assaulted the referee, the game was abandoned and awarded to Sweden, thus eliminating Denmark and sending the Swedes to Austria.
The two countries live next door to each other in a cordial way. Danes and Swedes mix on a daily basis, the Swedes heading over to Denmark to buy their alcohol, and the Danes setting up homes in Sweden to benefit from lower taxes. Whilst the opening of the Oresund Bridge has opened up a whole host of new opportunities, the legacy of their centuries of conflict can be seen up the coast. Thirty miles north of Copenhagen is the town of Helsingor, home to Hamlet’s castle. Just a mile across the water is Helsingborg, home to Henrik Larsson and Ikea. A regular ferry across the water has run for centuries and it was this route that I was planning on taking all in the name of football. The narrow stretch of water has always been closely guarded by the Danes, and used to be a huge source of income as they taxed all foreign boats trying to pass by – and those that refused to pay were fired upon from the castle battlements.
I was going to take in a game in either country, crossing between them on this narrow channel via ferry. First up was to be a game at the old national stadium, Osterbro. Next door to the shiny new Parken stadium sits the old ground, now an athletics track but also used by a couple of Danish Second Division (East) teams including Skjold. As the game kicked off at 7pm it would finish in time for the start of the Champions League, and McGraths bar opposite would be a perfect venue for that avenue of pleasure. I hopped on the train at 6pm – rush hour. Now not for the first time in my stint in Copenhagen I walked into a carriage full of drunks. In fact the train was going nowhere as one of them, in an attempt to vomit had got his head stuck in a bin. His mate, who had obviously just pissed himself – whether in laughter or incontinence had pulled the emergency cord so we were stuck. Eventually a railway worker came, got out an allen key and removed the top of the bin, with drunk number one’s head still attached and we were on our way. The rest of the carriage hardly batted an eyelid as if this was a normal occurence!
Skjold 1 Vanløse 1 – Osterbro Stadion – Tuesday 15th September 2009
I was in luck for this 2nd division game as a chap who had worked for me for the past few years brother played for the visitors (a few stops along the Metro) and so I was invited to the “hospitality” area once I had paid my 80Dkr to enter the ground. The stadium had gone through a massive redevelopment phase in the past few years to turn it into a first class athletics venue complete with iconic statues around the edge of the pitch. The crowd was no more than 73 – OK I admit I counted them twice, and most were also invited to the “hospitality” area, which turned out to be a big grill where sausages were being dished out free of charge and beer was on sale at a bargain 20Dkr (bear in mind that a bar would charge 3 times that normally and you can see this game was worth coming to!). With the sun setting on another beautiful sunny day in the capital of cool we sat and enjoyed the moment, trying to ignore the poor showing of football on the pitch which was about the same level as Brimsdown Rovers from a few weeks ago despite only being the 3rd tier of Danish football. Half time and no goals but three sausages, setting a personal best and beating my 2 1/2 bridies (Scottish pasty things) I did in the 15 minute interval at Inverness Caledonian Thistle back in 1999.
A goal apiece in the second half was scant reward for such a loyal crowd which had swelled as soon as the turnstile operator had gone for a pee with people from the bars around the ground who realised it was half the price for a Carlsberg outside, and simply walked into the ground, got their beer and walked back out again. With 10 minutes to go I headed off, timing my 2 minute walk to the bus stop with perfection as the 1A was just arriving, and exactly 13 minutes later I was on the sofa flicking between Besiktas v Man Utd and FC Zurich v Real Madrid with a Carlsberg gold in my hand. Sometimes I love Denmark.
Twenty four hours later and I was on the train north to the wonderful town of Helsingør where I was to hop on the short fifteen minute crossing (almost Channel ferry type as well as opposed to Woolwich Ferry with duty free, bars and 1000SEK fruit machines) to Sweden for the Cup Semi-Final between Helsingborgs IF and IFK Goteborg. With the Swedish season coming to an end, both of these teams were keen to end the season on a high. The visitors were within one point of top spot coming into this game with just 6 weeks to go in the season, whilst Helsingborgs, still with king Henrik Larsson up front were just outside the European spot in 5th place. Both teams had got here with relative ease and the winner would be playing AIK Solna in the final in Stockholm in October.
The stadium is located on top of the hill overlooking the whole town and the Oresund straits across to Denmark. The downside is it is bloomin’ hard walk uphill to get to the ground. Despite talk making the local front pages for years, the stadium still had not gone through its redevelopment programme, and the latest date for work to commence is now in 2010. Quite why this is necessary to simply built four new stands with the same capacity is lost on me, but then again what do I know about football stadiums! It had been over two years since I was last here (see post here) and this time I had bought a ticket in amongst the “lively” home fans….
Helsingborgs IF 1 IFK Goteborg 3 – Olympia IP – Wednesday 16th September 2009
When I eventually got to the stadium I remembered why it was called Olympia…Nothing to do with the Olympics movement but that the steepness of the hill reminded locals of Mount Olympia in Greece. I needed oxygen, or beer which ever I found first. Unsurprisingly it was the latter that won and I had forgotten all of my lessons from previous trips and took a big slurp of non-alcoholic larger….yum yum…On the opening day of the Allsvenskan back in sunny April this fixture attracted over 13,000. Tonight there seemed to be a third of that in the ground (later confirmed as 4,851), and I counted a disappointing 93 away fans, although a few had decided to sit in the home end around me and pitched their flag on the concrete wall (more of that in a moment!).
Another fact that is unusual about the ground is that the hardcore home fans locate themselves in the upper tier of the seats, at the far end to the away supporters on their open terrace. None of this traditional crowd behaviour here I can tell you. The teams were taking this game as seriously as the crowd judging by the line ups. Now we all know modern football is a squad game but IFK’s team pushed this to the limit. Normally a team’s squad numbers from 1 to 11 reflect the starting line up at the beginning of the season. For this game the total numbers on the back of the IFK team was 156 – take away the goalie (number 1) and the average was 15.5!
The game started with both teams playing open attacking football. After 5 minutes a message was boomed out over the speakers and on the TV screen – a 0-0 draw would pay out at 11.65 (in our betting terms this is around 15/2). This encouraged the visitors to attack and they had the ball in the net on 11 minutes when the IFK centre forward lost control of a ball in the penalty area, pushed the defender over and as he fell he inadvertently kicked the ball into his own net. The referee in these situations has a duty to award the goal for the end of season “blooper” tapes but in this instance he had a humour failure and disallowed it! With the away fans singing a plausible rendition of “You’re just a small town in Denmark” to the home fans the opening goal came five minutes later as a corner could only be punched onto the head of the unaware Sebastian Eriksson and he said that you very much….seconds later we were informed that the odds of a 0-1 win were 11.03 (still around 15/2).
The game continued at a pace and both teams forced corners (more than 12 – 14.75) and free kicks in dangerous positions. IFK’s Tobias Hysen should have doubled the lead when he took the ball around the keeper but blazed wide on thirty minutes much to the amusement of the home fans. And they had more to cheer a few minutes later when Erik Sundin got on the end of a decent knock down and smashed the ball home for Helsingborgs to draw them level (7.67 on a 1-1 draw).
The highlight of halftime was seeing Henrik Larsson warming up on the pitch and trying to hit the crossbar from varying distance – unfortunately we didn’t get any odds for doing this. Both teams emerged on time but stood around like lemons whilst the TV company conducted an interview with an ex-pro on the pitch, completely ignoring the referees requests to fcuk off! The second half was barely a minute old when two tough looking chaps wandered past me and made a beeline for the IFK flag hanging a few yards away. Within seconds riot police and undercover cops pounced on them, beating them to the ground with batons. Some of these undercover cops had been sitting next to me during the first half. So this was a honey trap, and the two home “fans” had fallen for it and were lead away. Shocking tactics!
The temperature plummeted in the second half and even a spicy hot dog and an appearance from Henrik Larsson couldn’t warm me up. In the 76th minute our friend Hysen went round the keeper again but this time slotted the ball home (1-2 was a bargain at 9.31) and IFK made sure with a couple of minutes to go when Theodor Bjarnason made it three (8.17). I decided this was my queue to leave, retracing my crampons I left on the upward ascent.
Helsingborgs is a great looking small town. Lots of cobbled streets, bars and restaurants that looked very tempting, but I needed to be back on the ferry and back home. As we sailed past Hamlet’s castle I could imagine him on the battlements laughing at those Swedes shivering across the water. A young couple stood close to me on the deck and it was obvious from their conversation and animation that he fancied losing his “sea cherry”. She was having none of it and he gave up in the end, perhaps recalling the words of the Bard when he said “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. I’ll get my coat…..